CALGARY — Centre stage belonged to Jonathan Huberdeau for Sunday’s pre-season opener.
He didn’t disappoint.
Greeted with a warm welcome by a sparse Saddledome crowd that likely reminded the longtime Panthers star of his days in Florida, he responded with a power-play goal that put smiles on the faces of everyone in the building, including his.
“I got a little lucky on that goal,” he said of the backhand he put into an empty net from close-in after an attempted cross-crease pass from the right side of the net deflected back to him atop the paint.
“It’s always fun to find the back of the net, even in pre-season.”
The focal point of a retooling this summer that brought him and MacKenzie Weegar to Calgary as part of a swap for Matthew Tkachuk, it was fitting the man who signed an eight-year extension scored from the exact same spot ol’ Chucky scored plenty of his goals.
The big left winger said he prefers to play the half wall on his off side while on the man advantage, allowing him to see everything in front of him and dish with the best of ’em.
“I’m not a guy with a big one-timer,” smiled the veteran who led the league with 85 assists last season.
One day after Elias Lindholm admitted it’s far too early for the team’s refurbished top line to have built any chemistry, he, Huberdeau and Tyler Toffoli pieced together a few nifty passing plays team brass expects to see plenty more of as the pre-season continues.
“It was good to get out there and get some chemistry — obviously we have a lot to work on,” said Huberdeau, whose line combined for five shots on goal.
“Keep things simple early. It was the first game, it’s just going to get better. We’ll all get better as a line.”
His big takeaway from his Flames debut was the altitude.
“The altitude is much harder, you can feel it,” he said, before being asked when he noticed it.
“When you get winded in the third shift of the game. It’s a home advantage. I’ve just got to get used to it.”
Weegar is expected to be paired with Chris Tanev, who was given the first pre-season game off following off-season shoulder surgery. In Sunday’s 4-0 win, Weegar looked steady on the right side of a pairing with Connor Mackey.
COLEMAN WELCOMES FORMER ADVERSARIES
The Flames also got goals from veteran PTO hopeful Cody Eakin, Brett Sutter and Blake Coleman, who admits he’s thrilled to have his former Battle of Florida foes — Huberdeau and Weegar — on his side.
“That was the first thing we talked about when we texted each other: ‘Man, we hated playing against one another,’” chuckled the former Lightning champ.
“We always went at each other, me and him and Weegs. We had some good battles. Every game was always a little chippy.
“We didn’t fight, but we were probably in 100 scrums. Huby is not going to trade one for one with me. He’s too smart for that.”
Coleman was at a house party outside Dallas late on the Friday night when word his two former rivals would be joining him in Calgary.
“Everyone kind of went quiet for a minute, wondering what was going on,” he laughed.
“Half the people there didn’t even know hockey, but they were still all fired up.”
So was the rest of Calgary.
What can Flames fans expect from the duo?
“When I played him, Huby was almost impossible to defend,” said Coleman, who said the trio has had a chance to get to know one another since arriving in Calgary.
“He’s one of those guys that no matter how much you wanna get in their head, they find a way to produce.
“Weegs is just solid, he does everything well. He reminds me of Hani (Noah Hanifin) in that there aren’t any holes in his game.
“He can produce offensively and just another guy you hate going to the net against.
“Glad we’re on the same side.”
THE SCOUTING REPORT
The most impressive player in the game was Dan Vladar, who stopped all 15 shots he faced in two periods, including a breakaway stop on Arshdeep Bains and a cross-crease beauty on Danila Klimovich.
Oscar Dansk stopped all four shots he faced in the third.
• Sutter’s goal came in the dying seconds, when he batted in a puck in the crease, doing little to impress dad.
“He’s scored here before,” said Darryl Sutter of his 35-year-old son, a Flames draft pick in 2005, who re-signed in Calgary this summer to play with the Wranglers after eclipsing the 1000-game mark in the AHL.
“We’ve been doing it for 50 years, all of us (Sutters), maybe even more. Not much difference.”
• Sutter said it was a typically sloppy pre-season opener, in which his top line got better as they went on.
When asked about Jeremie Poirier, who has impressed many through camp with his hands, Sutter was blunt, as always.
“He’s good with the puck. Lots of work to do.”
When pressed on that work, he continued: “Sticks, angles, checking, important parts of the game.”
• It was an eventful evening for Rasmus Andersson, who took a high stick in the face before whiffing on consecutive one-timers on the ensuing power play. He drew a loud response from the bench later in the evening when he blocked a shot on a penalty kill.
• The game in Calgary was part of a split-squad evening that also saw the two teams battle in Vancouver where a farm-heavy Flames lineup won 3-2 in overtime over a veteran Canucks team. Michael Stone was the overtime hero, while Mitchell McLain and Ben Jones also scored for the Flames.
Dustin Wolf was the winning goalie, stopping 26 of 28 shots in a game the visitors outshot their hosts 45-28.