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Hartley sees more in struggling Hudler

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- The expectation on Jiri Hudler was great. The execution, though, has yet to be.

A career-high 31 goals, 45 assists and 76 points last year led to high hopes on the Calgary Flames forward, but instead the reigning Lady Byng Memorial Trophy winner has struggled through the first half of the season.

“You look at production year after year,” started Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley on Hudler, who finished eighth in NHL scoring last April. “Some guys, they’re going to get a slower year. Jiri still has lots of good hockey to play in him. He’s a fierce competitor. He’s a guy that takes care of himself. He works on his game. It’s probably not the start that he would want but at the same time, there are still plenty of games to play. We count on him.”

The start has been slow.

Five goals. Twenty points. Thirty-three games.

It’s put him on a 12-goal, 48-point pace in 2015-16, nearly a 40 percent reduction in production.

“He’s missed quite a bit of chances,” Hartley explained. “Sometimes other teams are keying on our top guys a lot. That’s why once in a while I’ve been switching lines, bringing a little size to Johnny [Gaudreau] and [Sean Monahan], and at the same time trying to get Huds with other linemates where they can get different match-ups.

“It’s all a matter, obviously, of how we play and also the opponents.”

Hudler remains third in team scoring a year after leading the Flames.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting a few breaks,” Hartley said. “I think the chemistry between Johnny, Mony and Huds. We’ve seen them before. When they’re at the top of their games they’re dominant. It’s just a matter of keep working with them. We have lots of confidence in those three guys.”

The 22-year-old Gaudreau is on pace to shatter his rookie campaign of 24 goals and 64 points. He is tied for sixth in NHL scoring with 17 goals and 39 points in 36 games and, if he keeps step, will finish with 39 goals and 89 points.

The 21-year-old Monahan, second in team scoring, has 12 goals and 36 points. He’s projected to score at least 27 goals for the second consecutive season, and would flirt with his second-consecutive 60-point campaign.

Hudler’s numbers haven’t exactly meshed.

“We talk to every player,” Hartley said. “We make sure that we have a good communication line. Obviously it’s our job also, once in a while we ask the players, ‘What can we do?’ We always have suggestions to the players what they should do, but in the role coaches can certainly help.

“We’re dealing with everyone. The more we help our players, consequently we help the entire team.”

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