Whether they cue the goal horn directly or indirectly, whether they flip on the red light out of the blue or as a means of answering anticipation, some of the NHL’s elite will often signal their team’s true arrival just by pitching in.
Special teams’ specialists, steamrolling skaters, prolific power forwards, energetic and exemplary leaders and generally habitual difference-makers can all illustrate a team’s ideal electrical outlet. Sometimes, full forward units constitute the cord, prong and plughole that might not be as effective without one another.
Whenever such a player tunes the opposing mesh, but especially if it is in a head-turning fashion or a particularly timely manner, it tends to inspire his mates and his fanbase. Depending on how much he does in a given time frame, he can spawn stretches of momentum within a single game or prolific point-getting streaks on both the stat sheet and the standings.
Conversely, when they are present in a corporeal manner but not necessarily producing, the players in question leave their team prone to pandemic frostbite. In turn, the collective spirit and performance of the club and the faith of the fans might not thaw out until that player turns his charge back up.
Based especially on their impact on their respective clubs during the 2011-12 season, each franchise’s top power switcher is assessed as follows.
It is pretty hard to single out only one-third of the Getzlaf-Perry-Ryan troika.
When he is at his best, Perry saturates the scoresheet while Getzlaf is the most physical, but does not expend excess energy on that, leaving enough to initiate and finish his share of plays. Ryan’s game is somewhere in between.
During a rejuvenating 12-0-1 romp through November last year, the Bruins were at their best in the first half of the month. So, too, was Seguin.
Four nights and one game after a 5-3 triumph over Ottawa stopped the bleeding from a 3-7-0 October and a home-and-home sweep at the hands of Montreal, the slick sophomore tallied his first hat trick. That fueled a 7-0 throttling of the host Toronto Maple Leafs and served as the most telling springboard of the team’s ensuing hot streak.
Vanek has consistently been one of the Sabres’ leading special teams spark plugs. He is coming off his seventh straight year of double digits in the power-play goal column and cracked the 20-point range on the man advantage for the sixth time in seven campaigns.
Iginla’s tenure, combined with the scoring touch that still has not exactly eroded, makes this next to no contest.
That could change as early as the coming campaign as several new faces settle in Calgary and Iginla himself maybe―just maybe―goes elsewhere. But for now, with 2011-12 still bearing the Flames’ freshest supply of memories, Iginla still stands atop the list of returning players as the team’s go-to inspirational figure.
Skinner easily compensates for a relative modicum of size with turbine blades. He used that explosive skating to break into the 30s in both the goal and assist column as a rookie in 2010-11 and the 20-range in each category last year despite missing 18 games.
In a Feb. 16 tangle with the New York Rangers, the Blackhawks captain shattered his eight-game goal-less streak, his six-game point drought, the team’s eight-game winless skid and the team’s six-game losing streak. It all started when he helped to draw a penalty shot at the 65-second mark and converted it to spark a four-goal, first-period firestorm.
The crafty pivot is one of the league’s more visually dazzling playmakers and continues to play a piloting role in converting defense to offense.
The fact that he has surpassed his teammates in the way of power-play and clutch production despite missing more than a dozen games each year can only entice Edmonton fans as to what lies ahead in a fuller campaign.
Although his new team did not finish the job, Versteeg nabbed a prominent mention last April when he used his past championship experience to help the Panthers push the opposing Devils to the brink.
In Versteeg’s first season on a team strapped for offense, Florida went 13-1-2 when he scored a goal, 21-6-8 when he pitched in a point, 11-16-9 when he went scoreless and 6-4-1 when he was out of the lineup.
The Kings subsisted, in not-so-small part, on their captain’s fruitful physicality through a rocky regular season and then went 13-0 when he appeared on the scoresheet in the playoffs.
One microcosm of Brown’s percolating play was the way he never stopped moving his feet through extra open ice en route to a power-play icebreaker in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Granted, the opposing New Jersey Devils did themselves no favors with Steve Bernier’s five-minute major and their jejune reaction to the call. But the Kings still needed to do their part to capitalize and raise the upper hand and Brown beat down the door by finishing the first of three unanswered conversions.
Koivu managed but 55 appearances last year. Yet he placed second among Minnesota skaters with 47 takeaways and 15 power-play points, tied for second with 44 total points, tied for first with four shorthanded and led the team with 32 assists.
Translation: Koivu will not do much to let the puck stay out of his control in any situation and the Wild faithful usually has sufficient reason to lean forward in anticipation when he is so much as within range of the disc.
Subban’s slap shot alone will stimulate the Bell Centre masses even when it falls short of hitting the net, but is at least enough to confirm that the Canadiens are on an onslaught worth taking seriously.
His effectiveness in his day job on defense should only improve as he continues to burgeon and, in turn, cannot hurt his endearing style points with the local faithful.
Besides being a quintessential captain and an archetypically efficient performer on the home front―what with annually dense collections of hits, blocks and takeaways―Weber has been a prolific power-play point patroller.
With 10 goals and 12 helpers last season, he had a hand in 22 (or 41 percent) of the Predators’ 54 conversions. The year prior, he pitched in on 17 out of 41 man-advantage strikes for an identical 41 percent of the power-play pie.
If making the enemy pay for its indiscretions is a key to momentum, then Weber is Nashville’s momentum mayor.
Playing for a team that led the NHL with 15 shorthanded goals, Henrique tied the since-departed captain Zach Parise for first on the Devils with a hand in seven of those strikes. Few achievements are as uniquely encouraging as turning a numerical disadvantage into a boon and Henrique took noticeable responsibility for making that one of his team’s strengths throughout his rookie year.
For good measure, he proceeded to stuff home two series-clinching overtime winners in the playoffs. That along with what he crafted in the regular season ought to have the New Jersey faithful salivating for more bushels of timely, course-shifting contributions from Henrique’s sophomore season onward.
Moulson pulls the upset over franchise face John Tavares by having led the NHL with 12 icebreaker goals and a 10-1-1 record for his team when he broke a scoreless tie.
A few highlights from those dozen nights in question include the following:
Dec. 3: Moulson single-handedly sculpted a 2-0 lead within a span of 1:59 en route to a four-goal game for himself and a 5-4 win for his Islanders.
Jan. 10: After Moulson drew first blood in the last minute of the opening frame, the Isles erupted on the other side of the intermission to raise a 4-0 upper hand by the end of the second period. They then paced themselves to a 5-1 victory over the visiting Red Wings.
Feb. 24: Moulson made it 1-0 a mere two minutes and 35 seconds before PA Parenteau built on that lead. The Islanders subsisted well enough to ultimately top the Rangers in a shootout.
March 13: Moulson inserted the first of three unanswered goals in an eventual shootout loss, though that 3-0 jumpstart naturally boosted the Isles to a point against Washington.
March 20: While he did not tally the first goal, Moulson did break a 2-2 tie with 6:04 left in regulation. In turn, Parenteau again rode the Moulson-issued tide to augment the lead to 4-2 within a matter of 107, wresting the game out of the opposing Maple Leafs’ reach.
April 5: The Islanders built on their momentum and made it 2-0 before eventually pulling out a 5-4 victory over Winnipeg.
The Rangers were 26-5-3 when Gaborik scored one or more of his 41 goals in the 2011-12 regular season.
Playing for a team that has subsisted largely on a defense-first approach, Gaborik juts out on the Madison Square Garden landscape with his quintessential offensive flair.
The team could stand to pad on additional personnel with a proven offensive touch, which they have done with the aforementioned Nash. But New York certainly would not have been a first-place team or an Eastern Conference finalist last year without the likes of Gaborik supporting the tightfisted defense.
The Philadelphia faithful has to wonder what could have been if Giroux had not overcommitted to a hit in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. He had a hand in sculpting an initial 2-0 lead, but was remembered more that particular evening for an infraction that incurred a suspension for Game 5 back home.
If their prolific playmaker and all-around fruitful forward were eligible to suit up, the Flyers might have built upon yet another icebreaker and extended their season by feeding off a home crowd that would have been roused by Giroux’s performance.
Nearly all of Vrbata’s goals, and a few of his helpers, are the product of his craftiness and speedy skating, which makes him an ideal puck-handling pilot to lead his teammates on a rush. When a scoring play is polished off in his usual fashion, it is hard to argue that the Coyotes do not have at least a partial grip on the momentum of the game at hand.
St. Louis went 24-5-6 when Perron had a point and two separate four-game winning streaks for the team coincided with a four-game production streak for the player.
One of only two players to have broken the 60-goal plateau since the 2004-05 lockout (the other being Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08), Stamkos’ reliability is immune to doubt. So, too, is the notion of fans tuning in or passing through the turnstiles with expressed eagerness to see him skate.
If Toronto had a collective defense more capable of complementing Kessel’s offensive nucleus, it could have built upon the player’s and the team’s hot start to 2011-12 en route to ending its playoff drought.
Since they fully burgeoned on the other side of the 2004-05 lockout, the Sedins have consistently been the go-to signal for the Canucks’ competitiveness. When their dual scoring touch is in commission, often with Henrik setting up and Daniel finishing or at least splitting credit for the assist, Vancouver is usually in the game.
For each of the past seven seasons, the Capitals faithful has come for Ovechkin’s zesty play and stayed for the difference it can make on the scoreboard.
Although he has dropped to career lows in every key category in either of his last two NHL campaigns, Ovechkin has retained his career-long crown as Washington’s top producer.
Granted, the Caps have yet to surmount some hurdles in the most meaningful phases of the season, but there is still abundant self-evidence as to the importance of Ovechkin’s presence and input.
For instance, when Washington pushed the top-dog Rangers to Game 7 in the 2012 playoffs, its three wins in that series were also the three games in which Ovechkin beat Henrik Lundqvist.
Still only 21 years of age and coming off just his third NHL season, he can be banked on to dish up similar quantities of various fuels, especially with his new contract securing his services for six years.