Off The Draw
Because right now they comprise the best line in hockey. And nobody seems to know it.
While barroom conversation on the subject tends to center around the Alex Ovechkin–Nicklas Backstrom unit in Washington, or the Tyler Seguin-Jamie Benn-Jason Spezza group in Dallas, or whatever trio Sidney Crosby happens to be a part of these days, Calgary’s unheralded line has quietly established itself as the one most capable of changing the course of a game. Since the beginning of March, the combination of Gaudreau, Monahan and Hudler has torched opposing goalies for 25 goals and 55 points. No other line comes close.
The three were at it again on Monday night against the Stars, combining for two goals and five points in a 5–3 road victory that drove a stake through the heart of Dallas’s playoff chances. More important, the win gave the Flames a three-point cushion over the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings.
Naturally it was Hudler who tied the game early in the second period, and then set up Gaudreau for the winner minutes later.
With those two points, Hudler reached the 70-point plateau and, unbelievably, moved into a tie for seventh in league scoring. It’s been a remarkable season for the 31-year-old winger. Before this year, his best-ever campaign was in 2008–09, when he scored 57 points for the Red Wings.
Amazingly, Hudler is the league’s leading scorer at five-on-five with 55 points, just ahead of Ryan Getzlaf, Tyler Johnson and Vladimir Tarasenko, all of whom have 53. And Hudler’s 23 points in March are the highest any player has scored during a calendar month this season.
It’s easy to see why things are going Hudler’s way. He’s getting more pucks to the net—he’s on target to reach a new career high of 162 shots—and his shooting percentage is hovering at a personal best of 19.9%. Part of that is luck—Stars coach Lindy Ruff accurately referred to Hudler’s goal on Monday night as “bizarre.” But a bigger part is the chemistry he has with his young linemates.
Monahan was living in a hotel early last season when Hudler moved the rookie into his own home. And he did it without the encouragement of the team.
“He's been unbelievable,” Calgary coach Bob Hartley said of Hudler recently. “A leader on and off the ice.”
Monahan has certainly benefited from Hudler’s experience. He’s been the season’s most impressive sophomore, playing a dominant big man’s game that defies his age. He’s the first member of the 2013 draft class to score 50 career goals, and his 92 total points since the start of last season rank second behind only the top pick in the ’13 draft, Nathan MacKinnon of the Avalanche.
“There are guys who just know how to score,” Flames forward Joe Colborne said of Monahan in the Calgary Herald. “ ‘Mony’ [doesn’t need] seven or eight shots a game, but if you get him the puck in the slot, he’s not going to miss. He’s shown that not only during this recent hot stretch, but the whole time he’s been playing in the NHL.
“It’s his patience, how smart he is. He gets it and it’s off the stick so quick, but he still has that patience to see where the goalie is, and you never see him putting it in the crest [in the middle of a goalie’ jersey]. He finds those corners and puts it in a spot the goalie has to make a great save or it’s going in.”
Gaudreau, meanwhile, scored his 60th point of the season in the win over Dallas, becoming just the 11th rookie since 2005–06 to reach that mark. The NHL's Rookie of the Month for March and a surefire finalist for the Calder Trophy, he’s given hope to a generation of undersized players and established himself as one of the most exciting offensive craftsmen in the game.
Of course, after he notched the game winner on Monday night, Hartley only wanted to talk about a shot that Gaudreau blocked.
“That’s the culture of this hockey club,” Hartley said. “You don’t pick and choose your jobs. You have to get dirty. Johnny was right in that shooting lane and that was a huge block. If he doesn’t block it, that puck may be well in the net and you never know what can happen.”
It was a nice effort, a sign of Gaudreau’s commitment—a quality that's required when playing for Hartley. And it was one more reason that his line is the best in the game.
• Former referee Paul Stewart points the finger of blame at the NHL and NHLPA for this huge failure.
• If hockey doesn’t work out for Tristan Harper, he might have a fallback career as a model. Or perhaps as a lumberjack.
• Eric Duhatschek makes the case for Calgary’s Bob Hartley as the best choice for coach of the year. My only quibble is that it shouldn’t take a playoff berth to seal the honor. Hartley has done a brilliant job regardless.
• Matt Larkin makes the case that this team will win the Stanley Cup.
GALLERY: Rare SI photos of Gordie Howe in honor of his 87th birthday
Rare SI Photos of Gordie Howe
<italics>Mr. Hockey turns 85 on March 31, 2013, yet it has been only 33 years since he last skated in the NHL. To mark the legendary right wing's birthday, SI.com has compiled photos from throughout his 32-year Hall of Fame career.</italics> Here, Howe (center) sits next to Red Wings teammate Red Kelly during a game against the New York Rangers in December 1954. Although just 26, Howe was already in his ninth NHL season. Detroit won its second straight Stanley Cup that season as Howe made his eighth straight All-Star team. In all, he won four Stanley Cups and made 23 NHL All-Star teams during his career.
Howe and the Red Wings battle the Montreal Canadiens in October 1957. He scored 33 goals and 77 points in 64 games that season and won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL's MVP, his fourth of six such honors. His rugged style of play was summed up by the expression "Gordie Howe hat trick" -- when a player has a goal, an assist and a fight in the same game.
Howe poses for a portrait with Red Wings teammate Ted Lindsay in the locker room at Olympia Stadium in Detroit in January 1957. Howe, Lindsay and Sid Abel were known as "The Production Line" and the trio finished first, second an third in scoring during the 1949-50 season.
Howe and Bill Gadsby talk on the ice during a break in the action of a game against the Canadiens in October 1963. Howe spent 25 seasons with the Red Wings and still holds eight franchise records, including games played (1,687), goals (786) and points (1,809).
Howe poised to to score against Buffalo Sabres goalie Joe Daley in January 1971. The 1970-71 season was his last with Detroit.
On the bench with teammate Alex Delvecchio during a game against the Sabres in January 1971.
After coming out of his two-year retirement in 1973 to join the NHL's new rival -- the World Hockey Association -- Howe watches from the bench as his Houston Aeros play the Alberta Oilers in February 1974. He won the first of his two Avco Cup championships with the Aeros that season, ultimately producing 37 points in 26 postseason games during the two title runs.
In addition to bringing Howe out of retirement, the Aeros signed both of his sons. Mark Howe (right) was the WHA's Rookie of the Year in 1973-74 while Marty (left) scored 90 points.
At age 45, Howe scored 100 points for just the second time in his career during the 1973-74 season.
Howe tapes his stick before a game against the Vancouver Blazers in February 1974. That season, he won the Gary L. Davidson Trophy as the WHA's Most Valuable Player. The award was renamed the Gordie Howe Trophy a year later.
At age 49, in November 1977 before a New England Whalers game against the Quebec Nordiques. Howe left Houston for the WHA's Whalers after the 1976-77 season, moving with his sons Mark and Marty.
Resting in a hot whirlpool in November 1977. Despite his 49 years, Howe had an impressive season in which he racked up 96 points (34 goals. 62 assists) in 76 games.
Mr. Hcckey admires his 50th birthday cake before a game against the Cincinnati Stingers. When he returned the NHL the next year as the league absorbed the Whalers, he became the oldest player in NHL history, and he remains the only person to play in it at age 50 or older.
The How family at home in Connecticut in December 1979. The 51-year-old Gordie was in the midst of his final season of pro hockey. He would later return for one shift with the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League in 1997 to become the first player in the sport's history to play professionally in six consecutive decades.
Relaxing at an autograph session in Deerborn, Mich.
At Mike Modano Arena in Detroit. The 1,071 pucks next to the Hockey Hall of Famer represent the total number of regular and postseason goals he scored during his illustrious career in the NHL and WHA.