For not the first time this season, Bob Hartley singled out Mikael Backlund.

And, for not the first time season, it was for good reasons.

“Right now, he’s on a mission,” the Flames head coach was saying after the Calgary Flames 4-2 road loss Tuesday to the Nashville Predators. “He’s playing well. He’s our best player.”

The 24-year-old Swede is blocking shots on penalty kills and providing over 21 minutes of ice time a night with a banged-up forward group missing the offensive likes of Michael Cammalleri, David Jones, and Curtis Glencross. Shooting a ton.

And, for his efforts, he’s been rewarded with three goals in the past three games — his first three-game goal scoring streak in his six-year professional career with the Flames.

“Obviously, it’s nice for personal confidence when you think of yourself scoring goals,” said Backlund who now has eight goals and 11 assists in 46 games this season. “That’s what everyone wants to do. That’s what everyone tries to do. At the same time, if we don’t win games, I’m not satisfied. Goals come if you do the small things right first. That’s what I’ve been trying to do lately — well, for all year, but it’s been better as of late.”

Less thinking, more playing, has been the six-foot, 198-pound pivot’s motto and it’s paid off.

During the first part of the season, Backlund was struggling on the fourth line, focusing too much on his defensive game and was eventually sent a message by Hartley who sat him versus Toronto in the fall. Soon after that, trade rumours rumbled.

But Calgary’s first-round pick from the 2007 draft continued to work, think less, and play more.

“That’s what I’ve been doing,” said Backlund who has been wearing an ‘A’ on his jersey in the two-game absence of the injured Cammalleri. “When I was struggling there at the end of October, November, I was thinking too much. I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t playing what I’ve learned as a kid and all through my career.”

He went through a brutal 18-game goalless streak before connecting on Dec. 4 against Phoenix. And that’s when the luck started to turn. Since the beginning of December, he’s had six goals and five assists in 21 games.