Tag: sophomore slump

Ales Hemsky

Ales Hemsky is back while slumping sophomore Paajarvi sits

It’s a good news, bad news type of day for Oilers fans. On the upside, Ales Hemsky will be back in the lineup tonight against Montreal. According to Mark Spector of Sportsnet, he’ll be on a line with Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth. Getting the high-scoring forward back should be a boost to the already very surprising Oilers.

On the downside, however, Magnus Paajarvi will be the guy sitting out tonight’s game to make room for Hemsky. Paajarvi is one of last season’s three big rookies to hit the scene in Edmonton and, you guessed it, the sophomore slump has struck.

Through 13 games this season, Paajarvi has but one assist and no goals while seeing his ice time drop by nearly two minutes. The team is winning and Paajarvi isn’t producing. That’s just how it goes these days and now the Oilers are looking like a team with depth at forward. With Linus Omark sent packing to the AHL and now Paajarvi in the press box tonight, maybe GM Steve Tambellini got something right here.

Of course, if Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall start slumping, then the Oilers are in deep trouble.

Guy Boucher wants Lightning to avoid “sophomore psychology”


We’ve talked about players trying to avoid the sophomore slump—but now there’s an entire team looking to avoid the sophomore jinx. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s coaching staff is taking the concept and applying it towards their entire team. Sure, they’ve been around for more than just two seasons, but the mentality around the team following their success last season is something head coach Guy Boucher is cautious to avoid.  This is what happens when his team gives up five first period goals in a game against the Islanders.

Joe Smith from the St. Pete Times caught up with the Lightning’s head coach:

“Sophomore psychology is thinking you thinking you’re good, that’s why you don’t perform. The problem is, we think we are what we were last year at the end of the year – we’re not. We’re not at all, we’re not the same team. It’s a different year, different situation. And we got to grind it out every game. And even if we play at our best, and play desperate hockey and give everything we’ve got, we might lose. Why? Because the other team is desperate and wants to make the playoffs and need to prove something.”

It’s the exact same mentality that is found in individual players after a successful rookie season. They forget the work and desperation that it took to be successful in their first season and they slip. The difference between thriving in the NHL and becoming a healthy scratch can be the thinnest of margins. If you don’t believe it: just ask any players in the American Hockey League. There are players in the AHL that could be successful NHL players if they could find the drive and consistency for 82 straight games. But the moment they slip, they’re not an NHL caliber player anymore.

On the team level, it’s the reason why we see teams go through Stanley Cup hangovers so often. Both the Bruins and the Canucks were on top of the hockey world last June—but this season they have gotten off to mediocre starts. In neither case is there a huge difference on the roster; the difference is in intensity. Only four months ago they were playing every shift like it was their last as they chased the Stanley Cup. Now they’re playing regular season games in October with a six-month long regular season staring them in the face.

The Lightning have started the young season 1-2-1; but have slumped after their opening night domination of the Carolina Hurricanes. Since then they’ve given up 12 goals in only three games including a 5-1 embarrassment last night on Long Island. Boucher understands that while the season is young, the team will need to pull it together quickly before they start digging themselves into a hole that is too deep to get out of by the end of the year.

Can Cam Fowler avoid the sophomore slump?

1 Comment

Having a great rookie season is a great accomplishment for any player in the NHL. After constant years of hard work, making the NHL and succeeding is a dream come true for any person who’s ever laced up a pair of hockey skates. Players will put in countless hours while they’re relentlessly chasing their dream—the closer they get to the brass ring, the harder they’ll work to make it.

With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when players take a step back in their second season in the league. Its goes by many different names: sophomore slump, sophomore jinx, Jim Carey, whatever. Many time’s it’s just a bit of complacency in an ultra-competitive game where thousands of players are fighting for a precious few spots on NHL rosters.

He was one of only five players to make the jump straight from the draft to the NHL last season and was the only defenseman to make the transition. He certainly didn’t disappoint. It may have flown under the national radar, but his 40 points as an 18-year-old rookie put him in the company of guys named Housley, Stevens, Bourque, Murphy, Berard, Myers, and Niedermayer. Not bad company for a guy who dropped like a rock at the 2010 Entry Draft.

The next step for Fowler to develop into a complete, two-way defenseman. “[I’m just] trying to develop into that top-tier defenseman,” the Fowler shared. “I want to be a guy that a team can build around. It seems like every premier team in the league has those one or two d-men that just stick out and play a lot of minutes and log a lot of ice-time out there. That’s something I want to do—I want to be able to play in all situations and just complete my game overall.”

That doesn’t sound like the kind of player who is content with his 40-point rookie season. Becoming a two-way defenseman will be imperative for the Ducks as they deal with injury problems on the blueline and look for players who can add a strong defensive game. He’s already getting more time on the penalty kill this season as Toni Lydman continues to recover from an injury that kept him out of the first two games in Europe.

Still, Fowler is a defenseman who has the potential to be an elite blueliner with his puck skills, on ice vision, and smooth skating ability. He hasn’t lost track of his bread-and-butter. His ability to jump into the play as a defenseman is something that that separates him from most other d-men.

“The coaching staff preached to me last year that that’s what they wanted me to do.” Fowler said. “Whether it was joining up in the play late to make it a 3-on-2 or whatever it may be, I think that’s an element of my game—that when I’m skating is when I’m at my best. The coaching staff, there are no reins on me or anything. Its go. They trust me when to make those reads, when to jump and when not to jump.”

Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said the main difference between the beginning of last year and this year is confidence. Although even with the added confidence, the coaching staff didn’t think he had the best training camp—but it was different story once training camp ended and the games started in Europe.

“It’s all about his ability to get around the rink and read situations.” Carlyle said. “If the two games [in Europe] were any indication, we have Cam Fowler back.”

The coaching staff aren’t the only ones who see a difference in Fowler this year. Fellow 2010 draft pick Devante Smith-Pelly, who is fighting to stick with the team this year, says the difference has been night and day.

“It’s crazy what a year did to Cam,” Smith-Pelly said. “He’s a lot more mature, you can tell. He’s bigger, he’s stronger, he’s faster. He was obviously a great player coming into this team and no seeing him for a year and then coming back and seeing him every day, you can tell he’s gotten a lot better and a lot more mature.”

It’ll be critical for Fowler to use his maturity and have it translate to his play on the ice. If the team can depend on him for 25 minutes per game, it’ll ease the workload for bottom-pairing guys, and allow guys like Toni Lydman and Lubomir Visnovsky a breather every so often. Still, Carlyle is quick to make the distinction between an increased workload and increased pressure this season.

“I don’t want to put the pressure,” Carlyle said. “I don’t mind the workload, but it’s the pressure of having to accomplish more than he did last year. We would accept a young 19-year-old defenseman to accomplish what he did last year. If he was to come in and have 10 goals and 40 points, would we accept that as a good year? I would say yes. Our expectations are not for him to go to 20 goals and 60 points right off the bat. That’s not the pressure we’re putting on him. If he does it, that would be great. But we’re not going to put that kind of pressure on him or any of our younger players. We think that’s incorrect. We think its tough enough to play defense in the league as a 19-year-old. He did it as an 18-year-old. Sometimes those ‘sophomore jinxes’ do come into play, we don’t want to look at that as a possibility. [We want him to] just go out and play, give us your best, your best that you gave us last year was good enough.”

There won’t be any whispers of a sophomore slump if Fowler can pick up where he left off last season. Judging by his attitude at the beginning of the season and his willingness to improve upon his overall game, last season looks like it’s only a hint of the vast potential Fowler can bring to the Ducks.

The rest of the league should be afraid.

Can Corey Crawford avoid the dreaded sophomore slump?

Chicago Blackhawks v Vancouver Canucks - Game Seven

The last we saw of Corey Crawford, he was skating off the ice in Vancouver after Alex Burrows buried the series-clinching goal over his blocker in overtime of Game 7. The Canucks went on to get within 60 minutes of their first Stanley Cup in franchise history; while the Blackhawks were sent home trying to figure out what went wrong in the season they were supposed to defend Lord Stanley’s chalice. Slow starts, lack of motivation at the beginning of the season, or an injury in the playoffs. Plenty of people had plenty of answers. But one of the biggest question marks going into the season evolved into one of the team’s strengths by the end of the season.

The NHL was introduced to Corey Crawford.

With the early exit of 2010-11 in the rearview mirror, Crawford looks to build on the momentum he created for himself in the second half of last season. He came into camp as Marty Turco’s back-up—at best he hoped to platoon with the former Dallas Stars netminder. But it only took a couple of months to show the Hawks coaching staff that he gave the team the best opportunity to win on a nightly basis. By the end of the season, he had 33 wins, a .917 save percentage, 2.30 goals against, and was viewed by many to be a viable Calder Trophy candidate. But that was last year.

There’s a difference between competing for a place on the team and understanding that the starting job is already a done-deal. Last season, he was competing just to turn himself into an NHL goaltender on an NHL roster. Now that particular fuel is gone with the thirst for an NHL job freshly quenched. Will he be able to find the same drive while he tries to take the next step from pleasant surprise to the man that the entire organization is depending on this season? Crawford has already spoken about the difference this training camp:

“There is a little bit different feeling. It’s nice to know you have a three-year deal coming into camp, but at the same time I’m so focused to earn that ice time and show the guys – even the new guys – that you’re the guy to gain their confidence.”

He’s not the only one who has confidence that he’ll be able to put up a repeat performance this season. Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville expects the same type of performance from his young netminder this season. In fact, he expects him to be even better.

“He really shouldered a lot for us last year,” Quenneville said. “He was consistent in big games and big settings. Nothing changes his approach and you’ve got to commend him for doing that. We see him only growing from those levels. He can continue to improve and hopefully elevate his game to become a top goaltender in our League.”

Surely the same thing was said about Steve Mason after his Calder Trophy winning rookie season in Columbus. The trick for Crawford will be to carry the same drive he had when he was trying to make the NHL this season. No longer is he simply trying to make the team—he has that part down. Now he’s trying to improve into a goaltender that will be around for years to come. For young players, and goaltenders in particular, it’s easier said than done.

Professional athletes aren’t trained to think about failure. If they put in the work, by and large they will succeed. That’s why they’re in the NHL to begin with. But sometimes younger players forget all of the hard work that it takes to get to the NHL and let the offseason training slip a bit in the offseason once they’ve accomplished themselves. We’ll see if Crawford can perform for the Hawks like he did last season. If he can improve upon his numbers last season, Chicago will be a dangerous team in the Western Conference. If not, they better figure that back-up goaltending role in a hurry.

Skinner looks to follow-up Calder Trophy season with a playoff berth

Carolina Hurricanes v Washington Capitals

Talk about the charmed-life. Jeff Skinner has been living the dream from the moment he was selected 7th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes last June. Some would tell you it started before that when he was piling up the goals in Kitchener for his junior club. After all, it’s hard to argue with 50 goals in only 64 games. But from the moment that he scored the game-winning shootout goal in his second ever NHL game – in Europe no less – it looked like the 2010-11 season was going to be one of those years for Skinner. Nine months later he had an all-star appearance, a 30-goal season, and a Calder Trophy under his belt. Some guys would be satisfied with that kind of season.

So how would a guy like Skinner follow-up his fantastic freshman season without falling into the pitfall of the sophomore slump? How about a chance to experience playoff hockey? Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News Observer caught up with Skinner at the team’s informal workouts at RBC Center:

“As for expectations this season, Skinner isn’t setting any numbers for himself. You won’t hear him talking about trying to score, say, 40 goals. That, he said, might only sidetrack from what he really wants to do: make it to the playoffs and experience that for the first time.

“‘Obviously we missed by one (victory) last year,” [Skinner] said. ‘That’s not a good feeling and I think everyone will use that as motivation. We’ll come back and hopefully be in the mix this year.’”

For the record, an answer that reflects team goals over individual goals is going to go a long way towards endearing himself towards fans (like he needs any help in that department). But still, the Carolina Hurricanes (and Dallas Stars) have had the entire season to think about how things could have been different if they pulled out a win in their final games of the season. Even though the Canes would have faced the daunting task of facing the Capitals in the first-round, youngsters like Skinner, Jaime McBain, and Brandon Sutter could have used the experience as a step in the maturation process. Everyone agrees that NHL players take it to another level when the playoffs start—there’s no substitute for young players than to get a taste of the playoff intensity for themselves.

This season, most experts expect the Hurricanes to finish in the middle of the pack in both the Southeast Division, as well as the Eastern Conference. Teams like the Maple Leafs, Devils, and Jets will all be in the same boat—trying to get back into the playoffs after missing out in April last season. Of that group, only the Hurricanes had a playoff spot within their grasp before watching it slip away against the Lightning in the final game of the season. That’s the bad news.

The good news? Only the Hurricanes have that extreme disappointment that will help fuel the fire this season.