Through their first seven games of the 2022-23 season, things are going fairly well for the Calgary Flames. Their 5-2-0 record on the year is good enough for fourth in the Pacific Division as of Tuesday morning despite having played far fewer games than their opponents, and, while not unexpected, their 24 goals on the year show how much talent they possession from an offensive standpoint.
What is surprising, however, is where that offense is coming from. Players like Mikael Backlund and Brett Ritchie are tied for second in the goal-scoring category with three, while Rasmus Andersson’s seven points trail only Nazem Kadri for the team lead. Two very notable names missing when it comes to the top offensive producers on this team are Jonathan Huberdeau and Elias Lindholm, who have yet to form much chemistry on the top line.
So far this season, Darryl Sutter has elected to play Tyler Toffoli alongside Huberdeau and Lindholm on the top unit. This came as little surprise, as most expected to see Huberdeau get a chance with Lindholm and most envisioned the two being quite successful together. While it’s still early, the pair has struggled to put points on the board so far — especially at even strength.
Through his new squad’s first seven games, Huberdeau has just one goal and five points. Although not terrible numbers at first glance, what sticks out most about those point totals is that just one of them has come at even strength, while the other four have been on the man advantage. Lindholm, meanwhile, has fought it even more, registering just two goals and three points on the season, all of which have come on the power play. And, while Toffoli has been the best of the trio with three goals and five points, just two of his points have come at even strength.
In one sense, this doesn’t seem very surprising as many expected it would take Huberdeau some time to mesh with his new team. That said, Kadri has fit in like a glove right from the get go, as he is already up to nine points on the year and looks to dominate every time he hits the ice. That hasn’t been the case for Huberdeau nor his linemates who are not only struggling to put up points, but scoring chances in general.
Many Flames fans have pointed out the struggles of the top line as of late, with some suggesting it may be time to explore other options in an effort to get everyone going. It appears Sutter agrees, as the veteran coach flirted with some different combinations at practice on Monday afternoon.
These changes are a clear wake-up call to the group, even though it’s unlikely these units will stay this way for long, as a player like Milan Lucic simply isn’t top-six caliber at this point in his career. That said, the bruising winger may be able to open up some ice for Lindholm to help him out of his slump. As for Huberdeau, Sutter seems to be hoping that playing with the team’s hottest forward in Kadri will get him going.
The good news for the Flames is that despite some of their top guns not playing to the best of their abilities yet, they are still finding ways to win games. It speaks volumes to the amount of depth this team has, something that general manager Brad Treliving deserves a lot of credit for. Once some of his most skilled players get on track, which they will, this group will be downright scary for opposing teams to face off against. Until that comes, expect Sutter to continue tinkering with the lines to try and find the right match.
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