CALGARY — Sam Bennett got a rare chance to play on Calgary’s No. 1 line and he took full advantage.
Playing centre in place of Sean Monahan, who had the night off, Bennett had three assists — twice setting up goals by Johnny Gaudreau — as the Flames picked up their first pre-season win with a 4-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes.
“This game is a mental battle. Confidence is a huge part of it,” said Bennett, who saw his point total plummet to 26 points last season after scoring 36 points as a rookie. “Wherever you can get it, however you can get it, you want to use it to your advantage and just roll with it.”
Sporting a new-look beard, Bennett looks different off the ice this year. But more importantly for Calgary, he also looks different on it. He’s been excellent in his first two pre-season games.
“We all want things quickly in this league but usually, if I go back on my experience with the young guys that I’ve had and the skill set that he has, it doesn’t always come when you want it,” says Calgary coach Glen Gulutzan.
Bennett’s stat line on Friday, in addition to the three assists, also included a plus-2, a game-high six shots (tying him with Gaudreau), and an impressive 17-8 dominance in the face-off circle.
“He’s a lot more confident and comfortable now and that’s a big thing,” said Gulutzan. “He’s poised to have a great year.”
The way they were finding each other all night, you would never have known Gaudreau and Bennett have rarely played alongside each other.
“A real easy player to play with and he makes me better,” Bennett said about Gaudreau. “He makes guys around him better and that’s the thing about all-star players, they have that effect on guys.”
It was a similar sentiment from Gaudreau, about Bennett.
“It’s easy to build chemistry when you’re playing with a player with the calibre of skill he has,” said Gaudreau.
At 12:30 of the first period, it was Bennett setting up Gaudreau’s one-timer for a power-play goal that tied the score 1-1.
With Calgary up 2-1 late in the second, Bennett’s slick bank-pass sprung Gaudreau on his second breakaway of the period. As he fended off defenceman Adam Clendening and after being stopped initially by Louis Domingue, he got just enough of the puck on the rebound to get it over the goal line.
Micheal Ferland and Mark Jankowski, with his third goal in as many games, also scored for Calgary (1-3-0).
Mario Kempe and Dysin Mayo scored for Arizona (1-1-0).
Playing against his former team, it was a better night for Flames goaltender Mike Smith. After surrendering four goals on 13 shots in a half-game on Monday, he went the distance, finishing with 15 saves.
Domingue allowed three goals on 19 shots in his 40 minutes of work. Adin Hill was sharp in the third period for Arizona, stopping 15-of-16 shots.
Notes: Flames LW Matthew Tkachuk (hip) skated with the club today and is expected to make his pre-season debut on Monday when Calgary plays in Winnipeg.