Johnny Gaudreau arrived at Rogers Place in flip flops, a protective mask, and his unruly dark curls cascading around his face.
Unruly being the operative word.
“No barbershops in the bubble,” said the 26-year-old who was spotted earlier in the week on the NHL’s Zoom calls, wearing a bun in his hair (although he wasn’t alone as linemate Sean Monahan was also sporting a bun). “I mean, we’re expecting to be here for two months. So, at some point during those two months, I’m going to need some scissors so I’ll need one of my teammates to chop a little off for me because it’s getting a little bit outrageous here.
“That’s the story of my hair over the past six months.”
Thankfully, there is actual hockey to talk about now as the Flames and Jets hit the ice on Saturday night in the NHL’s late game of the Stanley Cup qualifiers.
Gaudreau did seem in a jovial mood following the team’s morning skate, which is closed — league-wide — to the media and public. Perhaps being relaxed is a key for the Flames’ star winger, who is under an immense amount of pressure and scrutiny in this series and beyond. It has been well-documented how little Gaudreau contributed in last year’s post-season, five-game dispatching at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche.
When one reporter asked about how Gaudreau can contribute to the energy factor, which is somewhat absent due to fans not being allowed in the NHL’s “bubble,” he deadpanned:
“I mean, don’t put it past me — I can throw a big check out there,” Gaudreau said, with a sly grin.
The media were muted on the call but were chuckling at his quick-witted response.
Truth be told, Gaudreau said the right things about making an impact. At this time of the year, it’s the little things.
“Backcheck, being smart with the puck at the bluelines, being smart in your own zone,” he said. “And when that offence does come, try and find the net and get the guys going with a goal or a nice play. I think those are the little things I can do.”
But there’s no secret. Gaudreau’s production was nowhere close to his career campaign of 2018-19 which saw him rattle off 99 points and 36 goals in 82 games. In 70 games this year, he notched 18 goals and 40 assists.
Of course, it’s what he does from here on out that matters.
“Just looking back at my game throughout the year, there was a little bit of a downfall in my production there,” Gaudreau said. “But we’re in the Stanley Cup qualifiers right now and we’re competing for a Stanley Cup. You put that season behind you and we’re a team here now and I’m excited to be here with the guys and we have a great opportunity as a team to do something special in this crazy 2020 year.
“I’m just really looking forward to being part of that group with our guys.”
HECKUVA YEAR FOR HELLEBUYCK
It’s no secret that this series will go through Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
But with a netminder that good — Vezina Trophy-winning good — it’ll be hard for the NHL’s best marksmen to try and get the puck past him.
“Obviously traffic and getting in his eyes, that’s something that is difficult for most goalies,” pointed out Gaudreau. “That’s a big point there, getting bodies in front of him, get out secondary chances on rebounds and I think we’ll be successful.”
Milan Lucic agreed.
“You’ve gotta make him work,” he said. “Those second and third shots, those are the ones that end up being big goals, especially in the playoffs, by making a goalie work. Getting in his eyes, making him feel uncomfortable. He’s obviously a big part of their team — probably the Vezina winner this year.
“So, that’s going to be one of our biggest challenges this series.”
It’s officially on.
That is, of course, a wager between Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman which would see the winning Mayor take over losing Mayor’s Twitter account for 12 hours.
Plus, the loser must change their profile pic to one wearing a Saskatchewan Roughriders mask.
“We’ll see how your @NHLFlames handle a #WPGWhiteOut Mayor .. GO @NHLJets GO!” Tweeted Mayor Bowman.
Mayor Nenshi (@nenshi) Tweeted back: “Well @Mayor_Bowman, the @NHLFlames will have your whiteout seeing red. I accept your stakes. I hope the @NHLJets and their fans love seeing Flames facts for 12 hours straight! #GoFlamesGo #CofRed”
AROUND THE BOARDS
For the duration of the 2020 Stanley Cup qualifiers and playoffs, the Flames will be wearing the initials of long-time president and CEO Ken King who passed away on March 11. The team released a photo of the helmet decal and cufflinks on its Twitter account on Saturday … The Calgary Flames Foundation will be selling 50/50 tickets online throughout the duration of the Flames’ post-season, available for purchase on the team’s website … After much media speculation, the Flames sat Mark Jankowski for Game 1 and inserted Zac Rinaldo into the lineup. Jankowski was benched for much of the third period on Tuesday against the Edmonton Oilers which gave some indication on the coaching staff’s decision … There was a home touch to Saturday’s game as Flames’ anthem singer and country music star George Canyon belted out ‘O Canada’ and was accompanied by longtime Saddledome organist Willy Joosen.