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Gaudreau starring in Flames resurgence

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- Johnny Hockey?

Johnny Holidays.

There’s something about the Christmas season that resonates with Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau, who was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week on Monday.

“It’s always exciting to be honoured for something,” Gaudreau said. “I was fortunate enough to get honoured this week. It was a lot of help from [Sean Monahan] and [Jiri Hudler] and a ton of guys in this locker room that have helped me throughout the whole week and the whole month too.

“Our whole team has been playing well. When your team’s playing well, you’re going to play well individually. The points are coming, too; the wins are coming, too.”

They’ve come. In bunches.

Gaudreau had five goals to help the Flames to two wins -- both at home -- to help establish a new franchise record for consecutive home victories at 11. He recorded a hat trick in a 4-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 22, then scored twice in a 5-3 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 27.

The honour comes 364 days after earning the same nod.

The circumstances? Eerily similar.

Gaudreau was named NHL First Star of the Week for the week ending Dec. 28, 2014. He led the NHL with five goals and shared the NHL lead with a plus-5 rating to power the Flames to two wins.

He recorded a natural hat trick, his first career three-goal game, in a 4-3 come-from-behind victory against the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 22, 2014, to halt an eight-game losing streak. At 21 years, 131 days, he became the youngest Flames player to post a hat trick since Joe Nieuwendyk. Gaudreau added two goals in a 4-1 win against the Oilers on Dec. 27, 2014, too.

“I mean, I like Christmas,” Gaudreau said. “Who doesn’t like Christmas? I think it’s probably coincidental. We’re playing really well right now at home. I’m shooting the puck a lot and getting shots on net and creating scoring chances with shooting the puck. We’ve got to keep doing that.”

The 22-year-old is seventh in NHL scoring with 17 goals and 39 points in 35 games this season.

Only Patrick Kane and Tyler Seguin, each at 33, have more points at even strength than Gaudreau’s 32. Only Jamie Benn, with 31, and Kane, at 30, have more points at home than Gaudreau’s 29.

Only Joe Pavelski, with six, has more game-winning goals than Gaudreau’s five.

No player has more than Gaudreau’s five overtime points.

“His one-on-one skill out there, I’d put him up there with anyone in the league,” Flames defenceman Mark Giordano said. “He’s quick; he’s dynamic. Real impressive. He’s really competitive. It’s nice to see a young guy come into the league and really want to be a difference-maker. You look at the goals he’s been on in game-winners. He’s right up there for me.

“He’s got it. He’s got that fire for sure. He’s a guy who’s obviously an offensive guy with a lot of skill and makes plays. I think the biggest compliment to him is he’s a difference-maker. He doesn’t just rack up a lot of points. Those are important goals he’s scored for our team, and big points in games.”

Gaudreau’s rise, in just his second season of pro hockey, isn’t a surprise.

“You just saw practice … he loves to play,” Flames coach Bob Hartley said. “He comes to play; he comes to practice. This is not a job, it’s a passion and when you have that, you always challenge yourself to become better. I sit with Johnny and we talk as a coaching staff with Johnny -- he always wants to learn.

"Watch him backcheck; watch him in our zone. He wants to be the best. He doesn’t just want to be a playmaker or a goal scorer, he wants to be someone who helps his team win and for me that’s very important.”

Competitiveness, Gaudreau suggested, isn’t a new element in his game.

Then again, neither is success.

Accolades, too.

“All my life I’ve been pretty competitive,” he said. “Bob preaches on us how important practice is. I’ve got a lot of leaders in this locker room. I just try to follow them. You see how hard they work in practice and as a younger guy it’s really contagious. It’s fun working with these guys.”

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