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Tight defensive play of Gaudreau, Tkachuk key to Flames’ success

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Of all the gaudy stats Johnny Gaudreau has posted over the course of his NHL career, perhaps none are more shocking and impressive than this one.

Ditto for Matthew Tkachuk.

In the midst of Tuesday’s win over the Blackhawks, a rare Tkachuk turnover in his own end wound up in the back of Calgary’s net.

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The goal ended a string no other NHLer could boast, as it was the first time this season Tkachuk was on the ice for a 5-on-5 goal against.

Ditto for his linemate, Gaudreau.

They were the last two players in the NHL with over 100 minutes of ice time at 5-on-5 to not allow a goal.

Of forwards with over 250 minutes at 5-on-5, only one player comes close to such defensive perfection – linemate Elias Lindholm, who has been on the ice for only two 5-on-5 goals in a quarter of a season.

Next on that list is Filip Zadina of the Red Wings with six, while Pierre Luc-Dubois and Kyle Connor of the Jets are at nine.

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“They’ve done a good job in our defensive zone,” said Gaudreau of his linemates, who’ve provided a steadying influence while he’s taken massive strides in his approach to playing in his own zone.

“Obviously, Lindy is pretty good back there. He’s good down low and getting pucks out, and getting them to us wingers on the wall. I think we’re just playing well. A lot of fun right now.”

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Keep in mind, they aren’t a checking line.

They are a scoring line, which also happens to be something they’ve been proficient at this year too, slinging the puck around on many nights with the creativity of hockey’s version of the Globetrotters.

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No line in the NHL has played more minutes as a trio than Calgary’s top unit, playing five minutes more than Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson.

Only a few lines have scored more than the Flames trio, which has seen Gaudreau and Tkachuk score nine times, followed by Lindholm at eight.

But none have been stingier defensively.

To that point, Lindholm leads the league at plus-19.

The next closest forward in the loop is Johnny Gaudreau at plus-15.

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Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

Tkachuk is at plus-12.

Dominance.

Few league observers would have believed in training camp that Calgary would have one of the league’s best lines.

But even coach Darryl Sutter, who continues to remind media-types his team is bereft of elite scoring, admitted recently it’s one of the league’s top trios.

Sutter says their proficiency has helped set up the team’s secondary scorers, like Andrew Mangiapane, who is amongst league leaders with 15 goals.

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“Who draws the most attention? Matthew and Lindy and Johnny,” said Sutter, answering his own question.

“So you’re expecting those guys behind them to beat who they are playing against, either in the checking department, the puck battle department, the possession department or the scoring department.”

They certainly have, leading the team to a 12-3-5 record that has Calgary sitting atop the Western Conference.

The Flames lead the league with a plus-30 goal differential, thanks to a relentless forecheck that has the team tilting possession stats, creating plenty of scoring chances and keeping the puck out of their own end.

Having the league’s best goaltending tandem helps too, as the Flames are the only team in the league averaging under two goals against per game.

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Gaudreau is back to being the energized, engaged playmaking wizard he was three years earlier when he finished with 99 points and fourth in Hart Trophy voting.

His 23 points have him sitting sixth in the NHL, alongside linemates who are both in the top 25.

“They’re two really smart, skilled players,” said Gaudreau.

“I’ve said it before, you like playing with players and trying to create chemistry. With two players like that, they see the ice so well, and they make plays in the offensive zone.

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“At times at the blue line the play might not be there and the play is to dump it in.

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“But they can make a skilled play to make it turn into a 2-on-1 or an odd-man rush.”

Lindholm and Tkachuk have long been 200-foot players with offensive upside, while Gaudreau continues to add defensive responsibility to his repertoire.

His backchecking even included a big hit on Erik Haula Sunday in Boston.

“I was just happy I knocked him down,” said the diminutive Gaudreau, who smiled when asked if it was a “back to the gym” moment (in honour of a blast by Mark Giordano last year he punctuated by yelling at the victim, “back to the gym.”)

“No, I don’t deserve to say that. I belong in the gym, at all times.”

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Heisman Watch: Bryce Young reminds us why he won it last season

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Bryce Young reminds us in Week 4 why he won college football’s top award last season. Here’s the updated Heisman watch.



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Washington's Wayne Taulapapa speeds past defenders for a 34-yard touchdown

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Washington Huskies Wayne Taulapapa speeds past defenders for a 34-yard touchdown against Stanford.



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Kansas State upsets Oklahoma, again: Wildcats beat No. 6 Sooners for third time in four seasons

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USATSI

No. 6 Oklahoma suffered its first loss of the Brent Venables era, 41-34, at home to his alma mater, Kansas State. With a third loss to the Wildcats in the past four seasons, the Sooners are 0-1 in Big 12 play for just the third time since 2012.

The Sooners won their first three games of the season by a combined 127-30, but the Wildcats cleared the 30-point mark midway through the fourth quarter thanks to monster game from quarterback Adrian Martinez. The Nebraska transfer threw for 234 yards, rushed for 148 more and scored all five Wildcats touchdowns in a career-best performance against an inconsistent Sooners defense. 

Martinez’s biggest play came late in the fourth quarter while facing third-and-16. After Oklahoma got pressure, Martinez stepped up and ran 55 yards deep into the red zone. He scored a few plays later to give the Wildcats a two-touchdown lead. 

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The Oklahoma defense will get the brunt of the blame by allowing 509 yards and 6.1 yards per play, but the offense had consistency issues of its own. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel threw touchdowns of 56 and 50 yards in the first half, but 11 of his other 24 completions went for five yards or fewer. Oklahoma’s offense only reached the red zone three times and scored two touchdowns, though one came with only 35 seconds remaining. 

Oklahoma lost its Big 12 opener for the first time since the COVID-19-shortened season in 2020, when it had just one nonconference matchup. Naturally, that loss came to Kansas State. The last time Oklahoma lost a Big 12 opener in a normal year was 2012. The loss? Kansas State. Since 2012, Oklahoma has lost only nine home games, but four of those have been to Kansas State

The Wildcats’ performance was a wild swing from a 17-10 loss to Tulane one week ago. Suddenly, they sit at 3-1 and tied for first place in the Big 12 at 1-0.

CBS Sports will update this story with takeaways from the game. 

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