CALGARY – The skyward scream that punctuated the moment said plenty about the frustration leading up to it.

Jonathan Huberdeau finally had something to celebrate.

After spending his first month as a Flame bouncing from line to line, struggling to find any semblance of rhythm, Huberdeau was sidelined three games last week by a pair of injuries.

He was welcomed back Monday morning with a third-line assignment and a frank rationale behind it.

“Because we’ve slotted him everywhere else and it hasn’t worked,” explained Darryl Sutter.


A lot to take in.

Cue his game-opening goal against the LA Kings, which saw his animated celebration kickstart a 6-5 win the Flames dearly needed for their confidence, never mind their point total.

“It was good, obviously, to get a goal – it’s been a while,” said Huberdeau of the elation that followed his 200th NHL snipe, a deft reload on a whiffed shot he quickly finished from the slot.

“It’s a good team win. That’s all that matters.

“It was better. Getting in the right direction. Got some scoring chances, but obviously you always want better.” 

It was the response Sutter was looking for from the $84 million man, whom the coach tasked earlier in the day with one simple request.

“Perform,” he shrugged.

“He’s a good player, he’s got to get going. Enough talk about it.”

Playing on a line with Mikael Backlund and Trevor Lewis, Huberdeau’s return saw the team jump out to 5-2 and 6-3 leads before needing a stellar Jacob Markstrom stop with 20 seconds left to preserve their second win in a row.

Not the way the coach drew it up, but plenty of progress offensively to re-build confidence. 

“I thought (Huberdeau) was engaged early on tonight,” said assistant coach Ryan Huska, who spoke in Sutter’s stead afterwards. 

“I think he’s still trying to find his way a little bit for sure, and now he’s got to figure out some new guys to play with. He’s a good player. He’s going to do that. It’s just a matter of time. It was nice to see him get something early on tonight because that will probably help him for sure.”

Huberdeau’s third line assignment allowed Adam Ruzicka to stay on the top line, where the young Slovak scored for the second-straight game and combined with Elias Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli for a goal apiece and eight points.

Safe to say Huberdeau will likely start the upcoming six-game roadie alongside Backlund, as all four lines scored 5-on-5 goals in the first period alone.

Finally, some chemistry up front for a team struggling to score goals.

Sutter’s significant line revamping saw Andre Mangiapane score with the help of linemates Nazem Kadri and Milan Lucic, before Brett Ritchie scored on a fourth unit that featured Blake Coleman and Dillon Dube at centre.

And while the Flames’ defensive play clearly still has room to improve, the team that entered the game ranked 21st in goals per game finally found a little mojo.

Most importantly, No. 10.    

“This guy hasn’t forgotten how to play, he’s a hell of a player,” said GM Brad Treliving, in defence of his prized summer acquisition and subsequent signing.

“I think we get a little bit carried away with numbering all the lines. We’ve got a lot of different people to move around the lineup and I know the coach is trying to find some chemistry throughout our lineup.

“He was banged up a couple games before he missed time and his last game was very much his best.

“Let’s not forget there’s been a lot of change with Jonathan – location, linemates, style of play.

“These aren’t excuses, it’s just the reality. I’m not worried about him.”

Good, as the spotlight will remain firmly fixed on the man with two goals and five assists in 12 outings, as his club departs for Florida Tuesday where they’ll play the Lightning Thursday and the Panthers Saturday.

The perfect time for him to have scored his first even-strength goal as a Flame.

“It hasn’t been the best for me, but it’s early and we went through a bad stretch as a team as well,” said the 29-year-old who was acquired with MacKenzie Weegar and two other assets for Matthew Tkachuk this summer.

“I don’t feel pressure. I want to be the best I can be out there. It doesn’t matter what line I’m playing, I want to be effective.

“I want to go out there, not think too much and just have fun.”

Perhaps such merriment officially started Monday night.