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GO, JOHNNY, GO

Gaudreau is heating up at just the right time and is leading the charge with a point-per-game pace in 2020

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

Heeeeeere's Johnny!

For weeks, he was quietly cooking up thrills, plotting his way onto the highlight reels, and trending the right way with strong showings in all three zones.

But now, it's clear - he's officially rounded the bend.

Here, at the most critical point in the season, the stunning and spry Johnny Gaudreau is up to his old tricks, leading the charge and playing his best hockey of the year.

"He's really stepped up," said linemate and longtime pal Sean Monahan. "He's obviously putting the puck in the net, and when you're producing, it obviously gives you confidence.     

"Johnny is a great player. We've seen it for many years and we're going to see it for many more to come."

Gaudreau is a point-per-game player in his last 27 tilts dating back to the turn of the calendar, and has a pivotal powerplay strike in two of his last three to help kickstart the Flames' offence.

He'll enter Sunday's divisional clash with the Vegas Golden Knights on a four-game heater, with five points in a span that saw the Flames win three of four, including a pair of one-goal decisions.

He's been especially potent at home this year, with 33 points (13G, 20A) in 32 dates at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

 

Video: ARI@CGY: Gaudreau puts home PPG from the slot

 

Gaudreau isn't immune the criticism he faced earlier in the season. He wasn't putting up points at the same pace as last year, when his career-high 99 helped the Flames win the division title.

But in the eyes of his teammates, Gaudreau doesn't get nearly enough credit for how he handles the adversity, fights through it, and demands better of himself to lead the team offensively.

"He wants to be the guy," Monahan said. "He wants the puck on his stick. "When things are going his way, he gets frustrated, he gets angry. You guys (the media) might not see it, but we see it as players.

"He's one of the best players in the league for a reason."

Especially of late, he certainly has been.

While typically known as a playmaker, Gaudreau has developed more of a shooter's mentality in recent weeks.

We saw it prominently on display in last week's win over the Florida Panthers, when he rifled home a powerplay tally with a wicked shot off the left circle.

That was no-doubter in the truest sense of the word - leaning deeply into that incredibly whippy, 55-flex cue and beating the goalie with an absolute dart, top shelf.

It was more of the same in Friday's victory over the Coyotes, when he opened the scoring on a similar play, but on the opposite side of the ice. This time, from the right circle, he took one step into the middle and tattooed his 18th of the season into a familiar spot, up under the bar.

"He's been really good," Ward said. "Playing with a lot of energy, he's playing all three zones. He's been good for us."

 

Video: CGY@FLA: Gaudreau pots far-side wrister for PPG

 

Ward went on to praise the "directness" of Gaudreau's game that, truly, has been a focus for the entire team recently. In a practice many weeks ago, the coach halted the session and scolded the troupe for over-passing during a 3-on-1 rush drill. It was hardly an indictment of Gaudreau's game, specifically, but as the boss barked orders and re-started the drill, the Flames began to execute plays with precision, thanks to a focus on getting pucks on net and crashing the paint in hopes of burying a rebound.

Simplicity is the key.

"We want to make the opposition's goalies make as many saves as we possibly can," Ward said. "The fact that our guys are starting to be a little more direct, it's good for us and I think it results in more goals.

"When you look at the best goal-scorers in the NHL, it's because they shoot the most, right? If we shoot, the better our chances are of creating more goals."

Simple, but effective.

In his last 27 games, Gaudreau has 98 shots on goal - or an average of 3.6 per game. In the previous 42, from October to New Year's, he had 110 - or an average of 2.6 per game.

In other words, a massive improvement.

"I feel great," Gaudreau said, classically casual about the tear he's been on recently. "A lot of opportunities, a lot of chances to score and the team's playing well. It's been a great couple weeks here."

But he does feel any different than he did earlier in the season?

"Nah," he said, brushing it off. "Now, I'm getting my looks and they're going in. That's the way it goes throughout the season - ups and downs - but you have to stick with it.

"I'm playing well, our team's playing well, and you've got to keep doing those little things. [If you do], it's a good recipe for success."

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