Jonathan Cheechoo has 22 goals and 34 points in 63 games this season. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
It’s tough to keep a good goal-scorer down for long.
But that’s precisely where former Rocket Richard Trophy winner Jonathan Cheechoo and restricted free agent poster boy Thomas Vanek were for a good portion of the season.
Cheechoo, who led all snipers in the first season of post-lockout hockey, has struggled to regain that elite status. He also fought through a groin injury that sidelined him for seven games in December.
But as the Sharks continue to head upstream in the West, the Cheechoo train is starting to chug. The 27-year-old winger has 17 goals in his last 26 games, which accounts for all but five of the goals he has this year.
Buffalo fans are a little sensitive to talk of San Jose’s success these days, so let’s also not lose sight of the fact the Sabres’ $10-million dollar man is starting to prove some of his worth.
While he’s cooled of late, Vanek still has 14 tallies in his last 19 starts. That puts him on pace for 33 goals this year; 10 short of the 43 he scored last year and about 20 less than you’d hope for from a guy who makes enough money to single-handedly revive Buffalo’s economy with one night of frivolous spending.
Still, the surge is clearly welcome.
There’s a tendency to expect robot-like performance from players, but they’re not immune to changes in work environment.
Pressure. Nagging injuries. Departed co-workers. Adjusting to new co-workers. These things affect even the most talented goal-scorers.
And like the rest of us, it’s their job to adapt and persevere, which is just what Vanek and Cheechoo appear to be doing.
THE WICKED WEST
Barring a situation where Claude Lemieux comes out of retirement to join the Colorado Avalanche for a first round series versus Detroit, the tilt between seed Nos. 4 and 5 in the West is bound to be the most intense opening-round matchup.
Based on the seeding system that ranks division winners 1-2-3, two very good teams from the Pacific Division are going to meet in Round 1. And, if my math is correct, one of them is going to lose.
The way I see it, a team I’d bet on to take down any Eastern Conference club in a seven-game series – be it Anaheim, San Jose or Dallas – will be drowning its sorrows at the 19th hole before May.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears every second Friday.
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