A year ago, if you told Calgary Flames fans that Johnny Gaudreau would visit the Saddledome in a different uniform in 2022-23, they likely would’ve guessed the playmaker would be wearing a Devils or Flyers jersey. Instead, Gaudreau played his first NHL game against the Flames in Calgary while wearing another jersey — that of the Columbus Blue Jackets — on Monday.
Gaudreau made the most of his return to his old stomping grounds, fuelling a Blue Jackets comeback with two nifty assists. Despite their best efforts, Columbus would eventually fall 4-3 in overtime, putting a damper on the superstar forward's return party.
Flames fans let Gaudreau have it in first game back
To little surprise, Flames fans welcomed Gaudreau with an endless stream of boos in his return to Calgary, including when he first touched the puck.
The boos were especially loud when the former Flames franchise player drew a penalty shot. Fans showed great pleasure when he missed the net on his attempt.
Plenty of those lucky enough to get in the building enjoyed mocking Gaudreau’s choice of free-agent destination with signs like these.
Granted, some admitted a truth others might hide: that he is sorely missed in Calgary.
It didn’t take long for Gaudreau to make an impact — although he didn’t want to give Flames fans a reason to cheer. Just minutes into the game, Gaudreau drew a penalty shot on a breakaway. The 29-year-old missed the net by some distance on an uninspired attempt that lifted the Saddledome crowd to its feet in delight.
As much as fans reveled in jeering Gaudreau, they did him a solid as the team honoured his memorable nine-year run in Calgary.
Here’s the full video from the Flames:
Johnny Hockey puts his stamp on the game
As mentioned, Gaudreau earned himself a penalty shot in the first period. Through the opening frame, there was another near-miss or two for Gaudreau, but the Flames dominated much of the play on their way to a 1-0 lead at the break before adding a second goal in the next period.
Maybe it was just a matter of time before the man of the hour made his mark, as Gaudreau collected two powerplay assists in the second. First, Gaudreau sent a nice pass to Kirill Marchenko to shrink Calgary’s lead.
In a connection the Blue Jackets likely expect to see for years, Gaudreau and Patrik Laine connected on the man advantage again to tie the game at 2-2.
The game would end in Hollywood fashion, with none other than Gaudreau losing the puck at the Flames' blue line, resulting in a two-on-one the other way and Dillon Dube ending the game in overtime.
Blue Jackets in cellar despite Gaudreau addition
Through his first 47 games with the Blue Jackets, Gaudreau’s been his high-scoring self, generating 13 goals and 33 assists for 46 points. Those numbers aren’t on par with Gaudreau’s sensational contract year finale with the Flames, where he blew away previous career-highs with 43 goals and 115 points.
Overall, near point-per-game production falls in line with Gaudreau’s typical NHL output. For all of the Blue Jackets’ many issues, Gaudreau’s $9.75-million cap hit doesn’t look like one of their biggest problems (at least not yet).
The Blue Jackets left Monday's game tied for the fewest points in the NHL (14-30-3 record for 31 points in 47 games played), while the Flames hover in the West's playoff bubble (23-16-9 record for 55 points in 48 contests). While Columbus is playing for pride — and maybe to give Gaudreau a boost — the Flames must balance the mixed emotions of Gaudreau’s return with larger aims to improve their playoff chances.
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