With Mark Giordano out there was no way around it: someone on the Flames’ back end was going to have to step up and attempt to fill that void.
Dennis Wideman has certainly done his part, registering eight points in eight games since Feb. 27 while playing increased minutes. That stretch includes three multi-point games, perhaps suggesting that his well of offensive production hasn’t quite dried up just yet.
But few could have predicted the team’s defensive juggernaut Kris Russell would also be able to step into that role – seamlessly at that. But in a season that has been full of pleasant surprises for the team, Russell is just another in a long list.
The 27-year-old, who was getting between 20 and 23 minutes per game going back to late January, saw his ice time increase to as much as 32:22 in Giordano’s absence. Since then he has played at least 26 minutes in seven of eight games, capitalizing on the opportunity.
After failing to register points against each of the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers, Russell put together a four game point streak, amassing eight points in that span. To put that in perspective, in the 59 games before then he had 20 points.
Not only has his ice time – and, as a result, his productivity – increased, but his contributions have extended beyond even the atypical offensive production. He has seen more time on the power play and the team has been the better for it. Russell contributed five points on the power play, equaling his contribution from the previous 59 games.
Of course, the play of Russell alone hasn’t powered the Flames to a 5-2-1 record since Giordano went down Feb. 25.
His improved play has coincided with the collective surge of the Sean Monahan-Jiri Hudler-Johnny Gaudreau line. So great has this line been, in fact, that Hudler was recently named first star of the week, while Gaudreau has pulled into a tie with Filip Forsberg for the rookie scoring lead.
In particular, since the calendar turned to March the trio has been nearly unstoppable – combining for 30 points between them. Only against the Colorado Avalanche did any of the three fail to register a point – ending each player’s seven game point streak. Despite the recent hiccup, it’s hard to deny the effect these three have had on the team’s success.
And in the midst of all this, Mikael Backlund – whose role with the team this season has been a roller coaster ride – has put together a career-best eight game point streak. That, too, has no doubt had a tremendous impact on the team’s performance.
While it’s unlikely the team will be able to continue such a run without their best defenceman, the team should be encouraged by the fact it has proven it can have success without Giordano.