hot streaks

Streaky Drew Stafford is red-hot again for Sabres

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When Buffalo Sabres winger Drew Stafford scored 31 goals in just 62 games last season, few expected him to generate the same results (a goal every other game) during a full campaign. Even so, Stafford’s output has been disappointing – until he really started to turn things around in mid-February.

Sure, he’s still been streaky even before that time, but he’s had two big runs since Feb. 17, with Bill Hoppe spotlighting the most recent one (subscription required).

From Feb. 17-March 3, Stafford scored four goals and three assists in eight games. He then went on a four-game pointless streak before his most recent (and most productive) span. Stafford bounced back from that mini-slump with an impressive eight-game run from March 12-27, scoring six goals and eight assists, including two winners.

While it still leaves him quite short of the efficiency that earned him a four-year, $16 million contract extension last season, Stafford’s resurgence isn’t that different from last year, where he scored nine of his 31 goals in February 2011.

It’s true that the past two seasons feature remarkably similar results, but it’s too early to call it a pattern. Still, the Sabres might be wise to keep his streaky nature in mind rather that cutting the chord if he struggles early on next time around.

Brutal February will reveal if Ducks are for real

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The playoffs are still far out of reach right now (the Colorado Avalanche team they beat tonight are ahead by 11 points), but you can’t blame the Anaheim Ducks for starting to believe.

The Ducks are on the kind of run that might remind some of their blazing drive to the playoffs in 2010-11. Anaheim’s 3-2 win over the Avalanche is its fifth win a row, improving the Ducks’ January record to 8-1-1.

If any player is adhering to hypothetical New Year’s resolutions, it’s once-wayward goalie Jonas Hiller. His Sunday performance is a tidy microcosm of his turnaround month. Hiller stopped 43 out of 45 shots to win a game that seemed quite one-sided in the Avs’ favor.

That was most clear as Hiller shut out Colorado in the first period even though the Ducks were out-shot 15-2. (Meanwhile, Hiller’s former teammate Jean-Sebastien Giguere only set aside one of those Anaheim shots.)

Colorado won the shots battle in all three periods but the Ducks came out on top as their big guns made the difference. Bobby Ryan scored two goals, Ryan Getzlaf had a goal and an assist and Teemu Selanne collected a helper of his own.

A quick look into the Ducks’ future

The next month or so will be an excellent test regarding how serious the Ducks might be. January’s last two games are away from Anaheim, followed by a four-game homestand and then they face a staggering eight-game road trip. Their schedule is a little more balanced toward the end of the season, but they’ll have a pair of three-game road trips after that bombshell eight-gamer.

By the time the trade deadline rolls around, it should be pretty clear how legitimate these Ducks really are. Do you expect them to survive that journey or become sellers once the big-time swapping heats up?

Life has been good for Turris, Senators

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Perhaps it’s a matter of the New Year rolling around, some other force or just a mere coincidence, but the NHL seems chock full of streaks right now – both good and bad.

The Ottawa Senators topped the San Jose Sharks 4-1 (the score of Thursday night, it seemed) in a battle of hot-streaking teams, as you can see from these highlights:

There are plenty of great threads going along for Ottawa right now, which only seems elementary for a team that’s gone 10-1-1 in its last 12 games. They’ve broken a somewhat obscure team record of getting points in 11 straight road games (7-0-4), according to NHL.com. After stacking wins without getting many style points, Craig Anderson is finally actually looking like a strong goalie in January with an 8-1-1 mark in 2012 contests. Just about no one would have anticipated that the Senators would be ranked fourth overall in the East this late in the game.

Still, the most promising/startling thing is that Kyle Turris is making good on all of the trouble he caused to get away from the Phoenix Coyotes. Take a look at the startling contrast in his productivity between Ottawa and Phoenix this season:

Phoenix (six games): zero points, -2 rating and 12:45 minutes per game
Ottawa (16 games): four goals and nine assists for 13 points, +13 rating and 17:30 minutes per game.

That sizzling Sens run includes two goals and two assists in the last two games, so Turris is almost as hot as the team that’s been his salvation from the desert.

Naturally, the question for both Ottawa and Turris is: can they keep it up? It’s certainly getting tougher to count the Senators and the reclamation project out at this point.

Discussing the Calgary Flames’ impressive return to relevance

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As the Christmas holiday approached, it seemed like the Calgary Flames were among the few NHL teams who could be written off for the 2011 playoffs. The team was just a mess, resulting in the still-justified resignation of general manager Darryl Sutter.

Perhaps it was the increased sunny disposition that comes with removing a brooding presence or the team’s “two out of three wins” approach, but the Flames now find themselves in a solid spot amongst the Western Conference playoff pack.

As Dave Lozo writes, the Flames could be in a five-way tie for the fourth spot in the West if they beat the struggling Dallas Stars in a game that is about to begin. Lozo took the pulse of the Calgary lineup, as Jay Bouwmeester and Jarome Iginla state that consistency has been the key while Curtis Glencross thinks it’s in many ways a matter of getting bounces they weren’t getting before.

Yet later on Lozo spotlights what is likely the true catalyst for Calgary’s climb: the offensive breakthroughs of Iginla, Glencross and … (wait for it) Olli Jokinen.

The Flames have used a lethal offense during this 24-game stretch to rise into playoff contention. They’ve scored 82 goals during the hot streak, good for an average of 3.4 per game. Iginla has been one of the leaders with 11 goals and 13 assists during that span.

But as Iginla mentioned, the contributions have been coming from everywhere.

Olli Jokinen has 5 goals and 19 assists since Dec. 23 after posting a mere 7 goals and 10 assists in his first 32 games.

Forward Curtis Glencross, who had never scored more than 15 goals in a season, has 19 in 56 games. In his past 24 games, he has 12 goals and 6 assists and is in the midst of a five-game goal-scoring streak.

Much like Ilya Kovalchuk’s late season resurgence with the New Jersey Devils, Jokinen might be worthy of a partial apology. His game can be very one-dimensional and soft at times, but Jokinen is putting together the kind of offensive stretch that shows why teams were so eager to acquire him during his Florida Panthers days.

Of course, almost every contender in the West managed to produce a surge or two so far this season, so it really will be about consistency for Calgary. Can the team keep filling the net and earning standings points, or will they regress back to cellar dweller status? It’ll be interesting to watch, but I must admit, it’s stunning that they’ve even gotten this far.

Blue Jackets off to best start ever, powered by Rick Nash and Steve Mason

The Columbus Blue Jackets are on fire right now and they couldn’t ask for a much better situation. They’re 11-6-0 at this point – apparently the best start in franchise history – and their two most important players have been their two best players.

Rick Nash is scoring at a high rate at the moment. He scored six goals in his last six games, including a four game goal scoring streak in which he notched five.

While Carey Price continues to justify the Montreal Canadiens’ decision to rest their future on him, Steve Mason writes a pretty similar redemptive story in Columbus. Last night, he stopped 47 out of 50 shots, matching a career high for saves and falling one save short of the franchise record.

Another bonus for the Blue Jackets: they’re playing well against teams who were previously riding hot streaks. The Associated Press notes that promising trend.

In a span of 10 days, Columbus ended a seven-game winning streak by St. Louis with its most lopsided victory in franchise history, put an end to the Los Angeles Kings’ club-record 8-0 start at home, and snapped a five-game home winning streak by the Ducks.

Ultimately, Columbus is 8-3 in their last 11 games. Beyond Nash and Mason, the team generated some other good performances, including backup Mathieu Garon’s two game shutout streak.

I never would have guessed that the Blue Jackets had this in them, but we’ll see if this is one hot month or if Columbus is for real. It’s difficult to argue with these results, though.