OTTAWA - Ryan Shannon is not exactly a household name around the NHL, but the diminutive forward is becoming pretty well known to Ottawa fans after shouldering a heavy load for the Senators lately.
With stars Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza sidelined for at least a few more weeks because of injuries and others struggling to find the score sheet, it's Shannon who goes into the new year as the Senators' hottest player.
"He's played very well, you can't ask a whole lot more," Senators coach Cory Clouston said Saturday, following Ottawa's first practice of the new year. The Senators will play host to the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday afternoon in their first game of 2010.
"It's taken a little bit longer for him to get his game going than we expected, but you can't ask for a better time for his game to come to form."
Shannon, a five-foot-nine, 171-pound right-winger, wrapped up 2009 with four goals in four games, not including the shootout winner in a year-ending victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday.
Considering he had yet to find the score sheet until Boxing Day, it's an impressive streak that's seen him promoted to Ottawa's top line as the team has won three of its past four games.
"A lot of it has to do with the team playing well as well," Shannon said Saturday. "If the team's not playing well, nobody's getting chances. It's kind of a synergy."
He can deflect the praise all he wants, but Shannon's success lately has been more than welcome for a Senators team that's getting little production from the players expected to provide it.
Alfredsson and Spezza, with just nine and give goals on the season, respectively, weren't lighting it up prior to getting injured.
Alex Kovalev recorded a hat trick on Dec. 12 against the Carolina Hurricanes, for his only goals in the past 27 games, not including three games in which he didn't play. Otherwise, he hasn't scored since Oct. 29.
Mike Fisher, who has 15 goals and whose omission from Canada's Olympic roster when it was announced Wednesday caused a considerable outcry around Ottawa, has no goals in his last eight games and three in 15.
The team's leading goal-getter, Milan Michalek with 16 on the season, hasn't scored in six games and has just one goal in the past 16 contests.
Despite the lack of output, the Senators have eight wins in the last 14 games to occupy a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference at the midway mark of the season.
"I feel like right now it's not going good for me," Michalek said. "The last couple of games I didn't have any points or score goals, but I have to work hard and hope it's going to come.
"There's always some stretches in the season that it doesn't go in. It seems like I worked for everything so hard and the puck's bounced away and when goes good, everything goes good for you."
Which is what's happening for Shannon, who's becoming an unlikely hero at the midway mark of the season.
The 26-year-old native of Darien, Conn., native was one of the first players promoted from the Senators' AHL affiliate in Binghamton after Clouston took over from the fired Craig Hartsburg last February.
He went on to record eight goals and 12 assists over 35 games and this year, went into the season expected to play a big role.
However, in the opening game of the season, he suffered a concussion against the New York Rangers. It forced him to miss three games and when he did return, he was in and out the lineup, playing limited minutes and proving to be thoroughly unimpressive.
"It's tough because you feel you're not contributing to the team," he said.
However, thrown into Alfredsson's spot on Boxing Day after the captain suffered a separated shoulder against Pittsburgh in Ottawa's last game before Christmas, he finally managed his first goal in a win over Buffalo, albeit off a lucky bounce off a Sabres defenceman.
He met with similar fortune with a deflected effort against Montreal, then banked a shot of a Colorado skate and in a game later.
With a second goal against the Avalanche and the shootout winner on New Year's Eve against the New York Islanders, his fortunes had officially changed.
"After getting hit in the first game, it took me a long time to get back. I thought I was back, but apparently I really wasn't playing that well," he said. "And now I have some confidence and I'm playing more minutes. Things are going well."
The Senators will need him to keep it going. Alfredsson and Spezza could be out until around the Olympic break next month and, with a power play that's one of the worst in the NHL, Ottawa will continue to look for goals from all sources.
Otherwise, at the 41-game mark, the Senators, with a 21-16-4 record, have seen encouraging signs, certainly than where they were a year earlier.
"I like the fact that we compete every night," general manager Bryan Murray said. "Playing shorthanded as we have a lot of the first half it seems that people have had a chance and they've stepped up. We don't score as easily as we might like, but that seems to be a trend around the NHL anyway.
"What we've done is put ourselves in a position to be a real contending team in the second half and that's really all you want."