The query was simple, but it also posed a return question from Calgary Flames coach Darryl Sutter.
Are you getting enough out of your best players, Sutter was asked in advance of Game 4’s contest at Rogers Place with either an even series or a significant hole to climb out of on the line.
“If you’re talking about Lindy’s line? Is that who you’re asking about?” Sutter pondered back.
“They were a really good regular season line for us,” he continued.
“Every game is like a life of its own, and the series becomes that. It’s how guys play against other guys. That’s what it boils down to in the end always when you look at it. It’s been like that forever. It’s not specific to one player.”
Specifically, however, Calgary’s top trio of Elias Lindholm, Johnny Gaudreau, and Matthew Tkachuk has struggled in back-to-back losses against the Edmonton Oilers, leaving the Flames with a 2-1 deficit heading into Game 4 on Tuesday.
The line, the NHL’s most productive trio in the regular season, has combined for four goals in the series, with Tkachuk’s hat trick in Game 1 contributing to 75% of that total. Lindholm’s lone tally also game in the series opener, meaning the top trio hasn’t found the back of the net in 120 minutes of action.
Gaudreau has totalled five assists in the Battle of Alberta thus far, including three in the opener and two in Game 2. All three were blanked in Game 3.
Lindholm is a team-worst minus-4 in the series, and, collectively, the line sits at minus-7 through three games — a direct result of being on the losing end of a frequent match-up against the likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Lindholm and Tkachuk led the Flames with 42 goals this season, and Gaudreau reached the 40-goal plateau for the first time in his career. Gaudreau also had a team-leading 115 points (40 goals, 75 assists), and Tkachuk and Lindholm each totalled career years.
“We’ve just got to get back to playing our game, not defending too much,” Lindholm said Tuesday. “We’ve been a really good line throughout the season. If we play like that as we’ve done, we’ll be fine. We’ve just got to get back to our game, all of us.”
If not, the series can probably expect to be wrapped in five games.
Because Edmonton’s top players have been the top players in the series, torching the Flames off the rush to the tune of 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) in the first three games of the Battle of Alberta. Sprinkle in Evander Kane’s four points, including a hat trick in Game 3 on Sunday, and that bumps up the total to 23 points.
“We’ve got some guys that can play better,” Sutter admitted. “Generally top players kind of control that part of the game pretty well.”
It doesn’t just fall on Lindholm’s line.
Calgary’s defence has equally struggled in shutting down McDavid and his group and goalie Jacob Markstrom hasn’t played to his Vezina Trophy candidacy form. Markstrom’s sporting a 5.74 goals against average and .853 save percentage in the series.
“He hasn’t been hung out to dry,” Sutter admitted. “The last game was his best game.”
A step, perhaps, in the right direction.
Another by the rest of the group could even the series and stop the sky from falling in Calgary.
“We’ve got to play a good road game,” Sutter said. “Everybody’s got all these philosophies on how we’re supposed to play or what we’re supposed to do. We’ve got to play a good road game because we lost at home.
“It’s not that complicated. We’ve got to play a good road game. And it’s very difficult. If you look, off the top of my head, I think the Western Conference on the road is what, 15-16, the records? Something like that? It’s difficult. It’s not as easy as you think it is. We might play our best game of the year tonight.
“But do you win or do you lose? We find out.”