Andrei Kuzmenko makes immediate mark in Flames debut

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The Calgary Flames figured Andrei Kuzmenko could provide a boost for their struggling power-play.

He didn’t waste any time proving them right.

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On just his second shift in a Flames uniform, Kuzmenko introduced himself with a wicked wrist-shot for a man-advantage marker.

The Russian right-winger unleashed a celebratory scream, then flashed a mega-watt smile that his new teammates — and an adoring fan-base — are hoping to see on a frequent basis.

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“It’s a good feeling,” Kuzmenko beamed after Tuesday’s 4-1 triumph over the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. “Good feeling because we win. It’s good. I like it.”

On this night, there was a whole lot to like.

Jonathan Huberdeau scored on a top-shelf sizzler and added a pair of primary assists — one of those on Kuzmenko’s first as a Flame — in what was his most dynamic performance in months.

Nazem Kadri was also credited with three points, including a sweet feed that led to a slick finish by his rookie sidekick Connor Zary.

Blue-line addition Brayden Pachal, two days after being claimed off the waiver-wire, made his presence known with six hits.

Calgary Flames vs. Boston Bruins
Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom stops a shot from Boston Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk at TD Garden in Boston on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024. Photo by Rich Gagnon /Getty Images

And the Flames, collectively, limited their hosts to only 22 shots on net. The Bruins’ lone strike came on a five-on-three advantage, and Jacob Markstrom was in a position to stop that before an unlucky deflection off the stick of one of his own penalty-killers.

“A pack of hyenas can take down a lion,” Kadri told reporters after the Flames handed the Bruins only their fifth regulation loss of this season in their home rink. “That’s the type of mentality we need is playing as a team and everyone chipping in. And when we do that, we can accomplish great things.”

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The Vancouver Canucks, now perched alone atop the overall standings, believe they can accomplish great things.

That’s why they were offered a substantial package — including their first-round draft pick and a pair of defence prospects — to land Elias Lindholm in a blockbuster swap with the Flames last week. (Lindholm cashed two goals Tuesday in his first twirl with his new crew.)

Kuzmenko, in part because of his US$5.5-million cap hit, was deemed by the West Coasters to be an expendable piece. The fan-fave forward, after being promised a more prominent role in Calgary, waived his no-trade protection to approve the move.

While Flames general manager Craig Conroy made this deal primarily with a focus on the future, there were immediate returns Tuesday in Boston. It’s not often that a salary-dump comes with this sort of skill-set.

The new guy in No. 96 debuted alongside Huberdeau and Yegor Sharangovich on Calgary’s first line. He was among the personnel on the top power-play unit.

On his first shift, the 28-year-old Kuzmenko found Huberdeau in the slot for a wide-open look. Before he’d even been back to the bench, he peeled away from a check and spied an in-stride Rasmus Andersson for another scoring opportunity.

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His power-play tally, which came just 4:20 seconds into Tuesday’s tilt, was a prime example of the lethal shot that made him a star in the KHL and then a 39-goal man in his first campaign in Vancouver. He did not look, as he lasered a glove-side offering past Jeremy Swayman, like a guy who had failed to light a single lamp in the final five-plus weeks of his Canucks career. He now has nine snipes on the season and 48 in his 125 loggings at the NHL level.

Kuzmenko later danced around Hampus Lindholm, a guy who is not easy dipsy-doodle. He nearly set up Huberdeau for a third-period tap-in on a give-and-go.

And no doubt aware of the questions that followed him from Vancouver, with some saying he is defensively deficient or worse, defensively disinterested, he was clearly committed to trying to do the right things in his own end. At one point, he fended off a check from Bruins captain Brad Marchand to haul a puck into neutral territory.

“We want to play as much time in their zone, so we don’t play defence,” Huberdeau told reporters after the victory over the Bruins. “That’s our goal. First of all, we have to think about defence. That’s what we did tonight. We have to keep doing that.”

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Calgary Flames vs. Boston Bruins
Boston Bruins defenceman Charlie McAvoy is checked by Calgary Flames forward Mikael Backlund at TD Garden in Boston on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024 in Boston. Photo by Rich Gagnon /Getty Images

During a post-game scrum, Kuzmenko insisted he hasn’t given up on the thought of skating in the NHL’s spring dance.

“I said before season, I want to play to playoffs,” he said. “And I try. Every game is a little step, step, step.”

The Flames (23-22-5) are facing a steep climb, especially with the possibility that they could trade away two key defencemen in Noah Hanifin — he logged a team-high 25:46 and scored a power-play goal of his own in his hometown of Boston — and Chris Tanev.

But it would help if Kuzmenko remains as dangerous as he was Tuesday in his team debut.

“It’s not too much good,” he protested. “Because we had a lot of chances and we need more goals as my line. It’s good, a good line. It’s a very good connection. Every shift, there is talk. I like it.

“Sharangovich and Huberdeau are really great players, and the power-play is good. I hope, I hope, there is good results.”

He’s not alone there.

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