Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau, centre, celebrates his goal with teammates during second period NHL hockey action against the Vancouver Canucks in Calgary, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. Just three games into a condensed season, the Calgary Flames are already on a break. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

After a strong start, Calgary Flames get early breather in short NHL season

After a strong start, Calgary Flames get early breather in short NHL season

CALGARY — Just three games into a condensed season, the Calgary Flames are already on a break.

A 2-0-1 start for five points out of a possible six is momentum the Flames will try to carry through their five days off before hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday.

Days off will become precious in Calgary’s 56 games over 115 days, although the Flames weren’t desperate for a breather this early in the schedule.

The time is nevertheless welcome, says head coach Geoff Ward, with a half-dozen new players in the lineup.

“If we had a team that had been together for a long, long time, I’d probably be looking at it maybe not as much of a positive thing as it’s going to be for us,” Ward said Wednesday.

“These days are good for us just with how many new players we’re trying to assimilate into our lineup.

“It allows us to really reinforce a lot of things, allows us to evaluate more things and allows our players to become more comfortable playing with each other, so this week for us has been real timely.”

Calgary posted two straight home wins over the Vancouver Canucks after opening the season with an overtime loss to the Jets in Winnipeg.

The Flames enjoyed a gentler start to their regular season than Vancouver’s four road games in six days, but Calgary’s heavy lifting starts immediately following the break with nine games in 14 days, including back-to-back games in Winnipeg.

“We’re going into an awful lot of hockey once this break’s over,” Ward said.

Three games is a small sample size, but the Flames can feel encouraged by an abundance of goalscorers and the performance of new goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who was signed in the off-season for US$36 million over six years.

Eight different Flames have put the puck in the net with Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk leading the way at two goals apiece.

“When you get some balanced scoring like we have early, it just makes everybody believe a little bit easier,” Ward said.

Gaudreau, Lindholm and Sean Monahan each have four points.

The emergence of Lindholm, Tkachuk and Dillon Dube as a potent line takes production pressure off of and defensive attention away from Gaudreau and Monahan, who worked well with newcomer Dominik Simon in Monday’s 5-2 win over the Canucks.

Simon, who has spent time on Sidney Crosby’s wing in Pittsburgh, provided the screen for Gaudreau’s first goal of the season and Calgary’s first goal of that game.

“He’s a smart hockey player,” Ward said of Simon.

“He can think ahead like Johnny and Monny do. There’s a lot of things there that we like about the potential fit of them.”

Markstrom is so far living up to his price tag with a 32-save shutout against his former Canuck teammates in his first outing against them Saturday.

The six-foot-six Swede was a difference-maker Monday when the Flames were outshot 16-4 in the first period.

Calgary’s power play produced six goals on 16 chances for a 37.5 conversion rate, and gave up one short-handed goal.

The Flames have killed all but one of their opposing teams’ man advantages for a 91.7 success rate.

“Outside of a couple of periods, we liked our work and we liked our compete an awful lot,” Ward said.

“There’s some areas we can be better in terms of staying with things, producing a little bit more.

“All in all, we liked how we played on both sides of the puck. Our special teams we’re real happy with.”

The break gives Dube time to heal from whatever lower-body injury took the 22-year-old out of Monday’s game against the Canucks.

Ward isn’t ruling him out to play Sunday against the Maple Leafs, who face the Flames again two days later at Scotiabank Saddledome.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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