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Gaudreau off to strong start for Flames

After struggling at beginning of last season, left wing has nine points in first six games

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

CALGARY -- Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau is feeling it early.

And Gaudreau, who slumped to a disappointing start a year ago, is enjoying his most productive opening to a season as a result.

"It's just nice -- you don't have to worry about the outside people giving you a hard time or anything like that, and the team is winning and everything is going well right now," Gaudreau said. "But there will be another month and next thing you know, you've gone two or three games without getting on the scoresheet and your team is losing and, you know, you're facing some adversity.

"I try to just play my game every single night. Whether I get a point or not or get on the scoresheet, I think it's most important if the team wins."

Gaudreau has helped the Flames to a 4-2-0 start, and has nine points (two goals, seven assists) in six games. He is the first Calgary player to have nine points in the first six games of a season since defenseman Phil Housley in 1994-95.

"Johnny's a special player," Calgary center and linemate Sean Monahan said. "We know that. We see him out here all the time. He's doing what he does best. Right now he's confident and he looks good. He's having a good start for himself.

"Sometimes you get it right away and I think right now Johnny's feeling it. When he has the puck he's making plays, and backchecking hard and doing all the little things. I think that's when Johnny's at his best."

Video: CGY@VAN: Gaudreau sweeps home a PPG to pad lead

Gaudreau, however, wasn't at his best a year ago.

He struggled out of the gate in 2016-17 after missing all of training camp awaiting a new contract.

When he did sign a six-year, $40.5 million contract worth an average annual value of $6.75 million, one day before the start of the season, Gaudreau scored one goal, two assists and was minus-7 through his first six games.

He didn't hit the nine-point mark until Nov. 10 -- a span of 15 games.

"He just looks freer and less pressure on himself," Flames coach Glen Gulutzan said. "This is a player that really cares about the group. He cares about the team and his teammates and he wants to do well and he wants to win. I think last year a lot of the business side of it can get to a guy who is pretty pure at heart of the game. I just see him a lot freer now, creating every shift and helping us at both ends.

"The puck's glued to his stick and his feet are moving 100 miles an hour. He's just quick. He is most nights, but sometimes it just seems like that puck is around him all the time."

This time last year, it wasn't.

This year, it has.

"He probably uses it as fuel," Monahan said. "Johnny's a competitive guy. He remembers everything. He wants to win and he wants to help this team win by doing his job. I think he's doing a great job of that right now."

Gaudreau will have plenty of motivation to try to continue that when Calgary hosts the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; SNF, FS-CR, NHL.TV).

Video: Johnny Gaudreau is named No. 33 on the list

He and Monahan will be flanked on the right wing, after all, by the NHL's all-time second-leading scorer in Jaromir Jagr, who has one assist in three games since signing a one-year contract with the Flames on Oct. 4.

The single point, No. 1,915 of his NHL career, came on a Gaudreau goal in a 5-2 win at the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.

Plenty more to come, they hope.

"It's pretty cool to play with a player like that," Gaudreau said. "He's skilled. He's smart with the puck. He can protect the puck down low like no one else. I think it's going to be a good fit.

"Hopefully we can build some chemistry and go from here."

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