A dominant first line is an essential piece to any winning team in the NHL. Dressing the best line in the NHL every night? Now that’s a luxury and exactly what the trio of Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Elias Lindholm have been for the Calgary Flames this year.
Through 63 games, there’s no doubt the Flames’ first line has set the standard in the NHL, with all three forwards on pace for career years, despite recently being broken up by Darryl Sutter.
While there’s so much to analyze about each player, let’s take a closer look at Elias Lindholm. He’s been everything the Flames could wish for from their number one centre. He’s putting up the points, scoring goals at an elite clip and playing elite defensive hockey. So let’s take a step into the film room behind the stats, and see what is making Elias Lindholm so effective.
Lindholm’s shooting prowess
It’s no secret Lindholm is scoring more this year. He’s on pace for a 40-goal season and has been on a scoring tear over the past two months. Since February 2, Lindholm has 17 goals in 22 games, good for top five in the NHL through that span. Not too shabby if you ask me.
So what’s helped Lindholm score at such a blistering rate lately? Let’s take a look at a goal that shows just how quickly Lindholm is able to send pucks to the back of the net in literally in a blink of an eye. It’s a beautiful goal, a simple goal and a treat to look at, but it’s Lindholm’s confidence with the puck that I want to highlight.
There’s zero hesitation to his game, he receives the puck from Gaudreau and in an instant, it’s off his stick and in the net. Decisiveness is imperative to any goal scorers game, and Lindholm has had it in spades lately.
I chose this play because it displays two trends which I want to emphasize in Lindholm’s game. The first, he’s shooting the puck more than ever this year. Through 63 games, he’s peppered goalies with 178 shots, good for an average of 2.83 shots-per-game. His career high is 182 shots in 81 games (2.25 shots-per-game), which he set back in his first season with the Flames in 2018-19. It’s safe to say he’s going to break that this year, and as we can see above, Lindholm’s newfound love for shooting the puck is paying off.
That brings us to trend number two; that being Lindholm’s elite underrated wrist shot. Lindholm gets a lot of credit for being a great offensive player, but I’m not sure his shot gets enough attention around the league. Here’s a goal he scored in 2016 versus the NHL’s best goalie in the last decade in Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens.
Lindholm absolutely rips this one past Price, and keep in mind this was six years ago. He’s only gotten better since, and is scoring snipes like this regularly for the Flames today. What’s really impressive about Lindholm’s shot, is his ability to not only pick corners, but also power the puck past elite-calibre NHL goalies. Here’s a more recent goal versus 2021 Vezina Trophy finalist, Philipp Grubauer.
Not much to this goal other than Lindholm corralling a loose puck, putting his head down and powering this one past Grubauer. What is does show however, is the velocity Lindholm is able to generate on his wrist shot to purely overpower goalies. Grubauer is set on this play, challenging the shot and staring down the shooter. There’s not even much of a screen, Lindholm just straight up beats him.
The consistent threat of a powerful, and accurate right-handed shot is something Flames fans have missed since Jarome Iginla‘s departure in 2013. Now Lindholm is not Iggy, but if he does manage to hit the 40-goal mark this season, he’ll be the first Flame to do so since the former Flames captain did back in 2010–11. If he manages that, not so sure his shot will be underrated anymore.
These next clips demonstrate Lindholm’s compete level, and more specifically his intensity and effort when pursuing the puck defensively. This is a quiet part of any hockey player’s game that rarely gets enough attention.
However, these plays show how Lindholm’s compete level can lead to tangible results for the Flames. What’s even more impressive about these plays, is Lindholm is out-battling elite NHL players, which as a first-line centre he matches up against every night.
For example, look at this overtime goal versus the Colorado Avalanche from a few weeks ago. Mikko Rantanen, who stands 6’4″ and weighs 215 lbs, is comfortably stick-handling and looking to make a backhand pass to Nathan Mackinnon. In the blink of an eye, Lindholm slides in with a clever stick-check to strip Rantanen of the puck.
This play is made possible by Lindholm’s positioning, but it’s his effort level and smarts that allow him to quickly dispossess Rantanen of the puck. The tangible result here is Lindholm’s bank pass that springs Gaudreau for a breakaway and the overtime winner against the best team in the NHL.
An elite defensive play leading to a goal, and in this next clip we see an even better example of Lindholm’s exemplary puck pursuit. Here Lindholm chases down John Carlson through three zones and out muscles him for the puck whilst shorthanded.
Lindholm’s able to win this puck battle with positioning again, as he manoeuvres his way in between Carlson and the opposing net—a cardinal sin for any defensive player. With a strong shoulder and a huge burst of speed, Lindholm beats Carlson for the puck and scores a shorthanded beauty against Vitek Vanecek.
This is an amazing individual play, leading to yet another a tangible result, all stemming from superb defensive smarts and positioning with a whole lot of will and effort. It also displays Lindholm as a scoring threat on the penalty kill, where he’s been crucial to the Flames strong penalty killing this season.
This last clip is a bonus example of Lindholm’s defensive play. It’s a simple stick check that takes away a Grade-A scoring chance, but again watch Lindholm’s puck pursuit coming off the bench to make the play. He’s quick and decisive, closing in on Alexander Barabanov with speed and neatly lifts the stick of the Shark’s shooter to nullify the scoring chance.
It’s little plays like this that differentiate Lindholm as an elite two-way centre in the NHL, a title he has earned and more than lived up to this year. These are three distinct examples of Lindholm’s defensive impact on the puck, but if you watch his game night after night, you might be surprised just how often he makes plays like this. And as we’ve seen, Lindholm has a great ability to turn little defensive plays into tangible results on the scoreboard for his team.
Time for some recognition
With a better understanding of what makes Elias Lindholm special and an elite two-way centre in the NHL, it’s clear his hockey sense is off the charts. Lindholm makes game-breaking plays night in, and night out for the Flames and deserves recognition as one of the best centre’s in the league.
Yes, he plays with elite offensive players, but that doesn’t take away from his defensive play, as well as the individual efforts he makes to create offence. It’s time Lindholm gets his recognition, and hopefully some playoff success this year will finally give him that. Because make no mistake, Elias Lindholm is an elite number-one centre.