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NHL Heritage Classic

Gaudreau, Flames' top line show positive signs in Heritage Classic

Forward combines with Lindholm, Tkachuk to create chances, score only goal against Jets

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / Senior Director of Editorial

REGINA, Saskatchewan -- The Calgary Flames walked out of a snowy Mosaic Stadium looking for positives to build on, despite the sting of an overtime loss in the 2019 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic, as they continue a road trip that could define the early portion of their season.

Calgary's 2-1 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday was a microcosm of their season to date. They looked great for long stretches and then lost their focus in the third period, allowing Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey to tie the game on the power play with 4:11 left in regulation before forward Bryan Little won it 3:04 into overtime on a 2-on-1 break that featured a defensive lapse by the Flames.


[RELATED: Complete Heritage Classic coverage]


"The result, when you end up with a loss, they feel like it went like most of the others," coach Bill Peters said. "I thought we were in good shape, I thought [the Jets] pushed in the third, I thought we didn't execute on a line change in the third that led to a penalty. We failed to clear on a penalty kill on the tying goal and we got ourselves on our heels a little bit on the penalty in overtime.

"Some things we could definitely do better, and we'll learn from it and move on."

The Flames have had trouble finishing games and it explains, in part, why they are 6-5-2 this season. Calgary came into the Heritage Classic off a 6-5 shootout win against the Florida Panthers on Thursday, but they led that game 4-2 in the third period before allowing three consecutive goals and being forced to rally late.

That inconsistency helps explain why the Flames have stitched together consecutive victories once so far this season, wins on home ice against the Philadelphia Flyers and the Detroit Red Wings Oct. 15-17.

There were hints at the Heritage Classic that suggest better days could be ahead for the team that finished first in the Western Conference last season with 107 points (50-25-7), the second-best record behind the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Goalie David Rittich, for one, set an NHL outdoor game record with 43 saves.

Video: CGY@WPG: Rittich shuts down Roslovic on rush

"He was tested, tested a lot late, and he did an awesome job, making sure to get us that point," forward Matthew Tkachuk said. "He made some crucial saves."

Perhaps more importantly, the reconfigured first line of Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm and Johnny Gaudreau played well, showing signs that better offensive production could be on the horizon.

The Flames are desperate to find signs of the prolific offense that scored 289 goals last season, an average of 3.52, tied for second-best in the League. In 13 games this season, they have 34 goals, a 2.62 average per game, 23rd in the NHL.

Each member of the top line played an important part on Calgary's goal. Tkachuk knocked a puck out of the air near the blue line to keep the play alive in the attacking zone. Gaudreau earned his seventh assist of the season with a feathered pass past Jets defenseman Dmitry Kulikov that Lindholm slammed home for his team-leading seventh goal.

Video: CGY@WPG: Lindholm taps in Gaudreau's feed for PPG

That goal was scored on the power play; but even though the No. 1 line did not score at even strength, it dominated for long stretches against Winnipeg.

The wings on that line are looking for more consistency. Gaudreau has three goals in 13 games; he had an NHL career-high 36 last season. Tkachuk has four goals this season after having an NHL career-best 34 last season.

The line was credited with 13 shots on goal Saturday, with Tkachuk and Gaudreau each having six. Gaudreau had three prime scoring chances, including a breakaway in the first minute of the game.

"We were talking on the bench that we felt really good and we were getting so many chances," Tkachuk said. "Maybe if we were playing indoors or on clean ice, some of them would go in, but that is just the way it goes tonight.

"We didn't get one at even strength. For a line like us that is counted on to produce, you have to find a way to get one at even strength, no excuse. We have to put one in and maybe it's a different game."

Peters liked what he saw up and down the lineup enough to say he will keep the new alignment together for several games to build on the momentum he witnessed Saturday.

The Flames continue their road trip against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; FS-CR, SNF, NHL.TV). Games at the Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals will follow.

Tkachuk said he believes the seeds set for the Flames during the two days of team bonding and line experimentation in Regina can fully blossom during the eight-day road swing.

"I think this sets up the rest of our road trip," Tkachuk said. "Getting together in a city where nobody has really played before and nobody is used to, we spent a lot of time hanging out with each other, a lot of travel. I think this does bring us together."

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