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Johnny Gaudreau might be just 5-foot-9 and 157 pounds, but he’s not sneaking up on anybody. Although he’s just 24, the Calgary Flames winger is already established as one of the scariest men in hockey to defend.
Last year he fell slightly short of expectations — still putting up 61 points — but he has been a top-10 points getter in the league before and his speed changes games. With that in mind, it would be hard for an offensive outburst from him to come as much of a surprise. What he’s doing right now, though, is on a different level.
On Monday night, Gaudreau potted a goal and added a helper to bring his points streak to 10 games. He’s scored in six straight, and the last five have been multi-point efforts. All of those numbers are unprecedented in his career and as a result of them he now sits third in the NHL with 31 points — or first in the non Kucherov-Stamkos bracket.
It would be unfair to say he’s doing anything differently per se, but rather doing the same things better and more consistently. He’s still burning defenders on the rush, he’s still finding air-tight passing lanes, and he’s still doing an excellent job of holding the puck the extra second to find the perfect play. Everything is classic Johnny Hockey — just more of it.
For example, on Monday the goal he scored was exactly the type of tally we’ve seen from him so many times before.
There’s not much more to the play than speed to press his advantage on the out-of-position defence and a wrister to finish. Just because it’s simple, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. A slower player wouldn’t have had as much time and there are plenty of wingers who wouldn’t execute that shot on a squared-up Braden Holtby.
He scored a similarly-typical Gaudreau goal on a breakaway against the Philadelphia Flyers two nights prior.
When you picture a Gaudreau goal, that’s pretty much what it looks like. Breakaway speed and then a perfect shot. Really it’s the shot that makes it, because there are players that can get free but can’t finish like Michael Grabner for most of his career.
Despite the fact Gaudreau is rarely banging pucks from right in close he still tends to run above-average shooting percentages, which is no accident. When the Flames winger gets time to shoot he can do so with impressive precision.
His goal against the Detroit Red Wings last week was a perfect example of what he can do with his shot, putting it over a prone Justin Abdelkader into the top corner.
As impressive as these highlights are they don’t tell the whole story of Gaudreau’s torrid run because he’s a playmaker first. The Salem, N.J., native ranks second in the league in assists with 21 and has 11 in his current streak.
Unsurprisingly, a few of these assists have come on the rush, like his setup of Jaromir Jagr’s only goal as a Flame against the Detroit Red Wings.
Gaudreau shows excellent patience on the play and slides the puck perfectly under Jonathan Ericsson’s stick to find a man rather familiar with the back of the net. Considering the contrast in size, speed, and age, a line with Gaudreau and Jagr would be a lot of fun, but it’s probably not imminent for the Flames. Even so, the goal was a nice cross-generational moment.
More often than not, Gaudreau’s trigger man is Sean Monahan, who has excelled at making his star linemate’s creative passing count. Against the New Jersey Devils, Monahan scored a nice goal sliding behind the defence and roofing one over Keith Kinkaid.
What makes this play so impressive from Gaudreau’s perspective is that he doesn’t take the puck cleanly, but still manages to find a passing lane right to the net between two defenders. Part of the reason he’s able to do that is because the defence collapses on him when he loses the puck and Monahan comes free. Some of the best Gaudreau-to-Monahan goals come from the former’s ability to draw defenders in.
The prettiest assist of Gaudreau’s recent run is precisely that kind of play.
When Gaudreau wheels, he sucks the Capitals in and Monahan is left all alone at the doorstep. He then threads the needle to his man and the goal is a no-doubter. Monahan is dangerous in his own right, but Gaudreau is a different animal and his opponents have to recognize that.
It’s hard to say whether we’ve learned anything new about Gaudreau in the last few weeks. We’ve seen most of what he’s done from him before.
The difference is that right now he’s doing it more consistently. Almost every player in the NHL has the skill to do something pretty from time-to-time, the difference is who can do it every night. Right now, Gaudreau is doing it every night — usually more than once. It’s hard to say if he’s a new man or just the best possible version of the one we know, but either way, anyone drawing the Calgary Flames in the near future should be very afraid.
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