One is the quintessential playmaking forward, averaging 39 over the past four seasons, including a high of 48 in 2008-09. He’s speedy, shifty, hard-working, and yet has also spent more than his share of time on injured reserve during his 10+ year NHL career. When it comes to the postseason (assuming he’s not off in a corner somewhere scarfing down hovězí polévka s játrovými knedlíčky) he has been a force, notching 12 goals and 28 points in his last 26 playoff games with the Chicago Blackhawks and Ottawa Senators. Rumor has it he even smells fairly nice, despite the copious ingestion of beef and liver soup. On a team with laden with scoring prowess, his speed and passing skills seemed the perfect fit when he was acquired this past summer.
The other is one of the league’s most prolific snipers, having netted 39 or more goals six times in his ten year career, including 50 for Ottawa in
back-to-back seasons during 2005-06 and 2006-07. He is skilled with respect to passing the puck, but is far more renowned for his tremendous shot and ability to score in high-traffic areas. He’s been generally durable, playing 77 or more games seven times. He doesn’t possess world-class speed and skating skills, however, and has just 24 points in his last 36 playoff games. He may not smell quite as nice, either. Nevertheless, on a team without pure scorers, he seemed like the perfect fit when he was acquired this past summer.
Havlat for Heatley: one of the most interesting — some might even say daring — trades made this past off-season.
It’s early, but the full benefits of the trade have yet to be seen for either team.
In San Jose, Havlat’s playmaking has been on full display, but for a forward who has never scored less than 18 goals during a full season (with a high of 31), his one goal on 46 shots isn’t exactly making anyone wearing the teal and black forget the serious gun that Heatley possessed. Having said that, the recently-assembed line of Logan Couture, Ryan Clowe and Havlat may be starting to gel. Regarding tonight’s 4-3 shootout victory over the Montreal Canadians, head coach Todd McLellan said, “I thought Cooch’s (Couture’s) line led that way with Clowe and Marty. Perhaps their best games in a long time, and it was nice to see.”
Despite the goal-scoring slump, Havlat has not been reticent to shoot the puck, with five more shots on net during the Montreal game. In fact, his line recorded 16 of the club’s 32 total shots and appears to be developing chemistry. Couture and Ryan Clowe each scored and tallied an assist, and Havlat not only recorded his first point in five games, but scored the Sharks’ first goal in the shootout. Havlat is contributing, if not always in ways that show up in the box scores. Nevertheless, he is slowly adapting to his new team and new surroundings, with better things expected down the road as the jigsaw pieces continue to be reassembled.
Meanwhile, 2,100 miles away in the frozen hinterlands of Minneapolis, Dany Heatley has redefined the term “streaky” during his first 25 games in Minnesota. He started out hot, with a goal and two assists in his first three games, and then went three straight games without a point. After that, four straight games with points, followed by off-again, on-again results ever since. On pace for just 19 goals and 48 points, Heatley is struggling to find consistency in a new city and system that focuses on defense first and foremost — not exactly a Heatley strong suit. Just three weeks ago, Wild head coach Mike Yeo ripped into his team for its own consistency, saying: “We thing we’re there. We’re not even close.” It’s early, but the same could be said for Heatley.
And yet, despite the struggles of their new forwards, both teams are enjoying on-ice success. The Sharks have 29 points in 22 games and are a mere two points out of the Pacific division lead with three games in hand on both Dallas and Los Angeles. San Jose’s goal scoring is down from last season, but still stands 12th in the league at 2.77 goals per game. Minnesota leads the Northwest division, four points ahead of the Vancouver Canucks. The Wild are also down in scoring, averaging just 2.28 goals per game, but are winning with defense and goaltending, giving up just 2.18 goals per game.
Given that both teams are playing well, the sputtering of their shiny new forwards has been largely masked. However, both players are keys to their teams’ Cup aspirations this season, and given their respective pedigrees, are fully expected to heat up as the weather continues to cool down. Havlat needs to figure out how to become relevant in the goal-scoring department on a team that can already find the back of the net — to some degree, that was Dany Heatley’s problem last year. Heatley is unquestionably the primary scoring threat in Minnesota, but the stifling emphasis on defense, tight checking and clogging the middle seems to have had the exact opposite effect on his ability to find open ice on a consistent basis.
For now, the honeymoon period for each is still in effect. However, as Billy Connolly once said, “Marriage is a wonderful invention: then again, so is a bicycle repair kit.” If they don’t pick it up soon, both are going to need their flats fixed.