CALGARY — At a point in the season when the numbers aren’t pretty for the Calgary Flames, it was Darryl Sutter who brought up stats that said plenty about where his team is at.
With lots being made about the coach’s decision to return Jonathan Huberdeau to the left side on which he set an NHL record last season with 85 assists, Sutter laid out pretty plainly why the Flames sit five points back of a playoff spot.
“Bottom line is Naz(em Kadri) and Johnny play together… and when you look at when they get a goal, or an assist, we have a good record.
“When they don’t, we don’t.”
“I don’t think it makes much difference what position he plays, it’s more about the whole game for him.”
It’s not a stretch to suggest Huberdeau’s offensive struggles, and to a lesser extent Kadri’s, go a long way towards explaining how disappointing the Flames’ season has been.
Yes, goaltending has been the biggest issue, but with all the one-goal games the Flames have lost, it’s safe to say that with a bit more finish these two newbies could easily have positioned the Flames closer to the division lead.
As Sutter alluded to, when Huberdeau and Kadri are held scoreless, the Flames are 3-15-2.
When both get a point, they’re 16-3-5.
Which brings us to Sunday’s 5-1 win over Ottawa, in which both finished with two points.
“This year obviously hasn’t been great,” said Huberdeau when asked about how much he and Kadri put on themselves to create offence.
“We try to get on the scoresheet — we’re supposed to produce.
“I don’t know what our record is (when they do), but that’s going to help the team if we do.”
On Sunday, it was the difference.
Leading 2-0 six minutes into the second period, Tim Stutzle tapped in the biggest gift of his 32 finishes this year after an exchange from Jacob Markstrom and Mikael Backlund caromed in front of an open net for a tap-in.
Given how snakebit the Flames have been all year, it threatened to be a turning point in a game against a hungry, young Senators team that has surged back into the playoff race.
Enter Huberdeau’s silky mitts.
One minute later, he tipped in a pass from Kadri that had bounced off Artem Zub, hit Huberdeau’s stick mid-air and wound up beating Kevin Mandolese.
It was fortunate, but certainly no fluke, as the hand-eye required, “made it look sick,” as one scribe put it.
“That’s a big play of the game — when they did score we came right back,” said Sutter, before breaking into a smug grin.
“Johnny came in on the right side and buried it.
“Jarome Iginla played right wing, who scored most of his goals over there.”
For the record, Sutter was pointing to his left.
Also for the record, Huberdeau’s goal came while streaking down the left side of the ice — the side he has said repeatedly he’s more comfortable on.
The side that earned him an $84 million payday this summer.
Sutter said he tried him on the right — as he did with Matthew Tkachuk quite successfully last year — to make room for lefty Jakob Pelletier.
Why did he return him to the left side?
“Production,” said Sutter before the game.
Six minutes after Huberdeau’s 13th, he and Kadri combined to set up Noah Hanifin to put the game out of reach.
The Flames are now 6-0-0 when the two both have at least two points in a game.
“A building block for sure,” said Kadri of his new line with Huberdeau on his left and Dillon Dube on the right.
“That’s something we’ve got to continue to push and we understand that when we’re on top of our game, we can be a very effective line and a dangerous line to play against.
“So a step in the right direction, for sure.”
The Flames should make no apologies for beating an Ottawa club that got in at 2:30 a.m. from Vancouver and lost an hour due to the time change.
Those are the wins you need to be a playoff team.
The Flames now sit five back of Colorado and six back of the Jets, who won their second in a row on Sunday.
Full credit to Rasmus Andersson and Elias Lindholm (with his 200th) who scored in the first, helping the club overcome an overturned goal by Tyler Toffoli, and giving Markstrom the support his 30 saves earned.
On any other night the Flames goaltender might have been the story.
He was that good.
But with the team’s most important forward now back to where he’s happiest, Huberdeau’s productive night on Kadri’s left earned top billing.