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Stamkos using extra ice time to his advantage

Friday, 04.10.2009 / 10:00 PM / Division Notebooks

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

Tampa Bay Lightning rookie Steven Stamkos admits he'd be lying if he said the comments by Barry Melrose earlier this season didn't spur him to prove his former coach wrong.
Almost a month after he was dismissed as the team's coach after 16 games, Melrose went on a Toronto radio station and said he didn't feel the 2008 No. 1 pick was ready for the NHL. At the time, Stamkos had 2 goals, 4 points and a minus-7 rating while averaging 11:52 of ice time per game.

"You definitely have to look at it like (those comments became motivation)," Stamkos told NHL Live XM. "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and there's nothing much you can do. The only thing is you use that as motivation and try to prove everyone who doubted you wrong and I think I've been able to do that so far this year."

The fact of the matter remains, Stamkos never needed inspiring. What he needed was playing time, and with interim coach Rick Tocchet in command, Stamkos got just that. The 19-year-old native of Markham, Ont., has averaged about 15 minutes of ice time per game since the coaching change.

He has already passed Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier's stats from his first season in 1998-99, when he had 13 goals and 28 points in 82 games. Stamkos has scored 22 goals and 45 points in 78 contests while also surpassing Lecavalier in power-play goals (9-2), shooting percentage (12.2-10.4) and shots (172-125). His 21 goals also put him in a tie with Brad Richards in 2000-01 for most goals by a rookie in franchise history.

"He's got a lot of talent and has a good head on his shoulders and has played with a lot of confidence these last few months," Lecavalier told NHL.com. "He's already a great player in my eyes. In 3-5 years there's no telling how good he's going to be. I just feel he's that talented and is really focused on what he needs to do.

"When you don't get a lot of ice time in the beginning, it's tough to get your confidence and tough to produce. It definitely helps being on that first power-play unit and he took advantage of that."

It's pretty safe to assume playing time was the anecdote to Stamkos' early woes.

"As you're season progresses, you get more and more confident out there, and when the coaching staff took over after the firing of Barry Melrose, I could tell things were going to change and I was given more of an opportunity," Stamkos said. "I still had some down points in there but my work ethic improved off the ice. I was working at the gym and doing video sessions and I was just learning as much as I could. At this level, confidence is huge for any player and when you have that, you feel on top of your game and that's something I feel now."

Backing Bogosian -- The youth movement is taking shape in Atlanta, and 2008 first-round draft pick Zach Bogosian is front and center.

Despite missing 28 games with a lower-body injury from Oct. 30 through Dec. 30, Bogosian appears to be hitting his comfort zone. Since being paired with Tobias Enstrom following the trade of Niclas Havelid on Feb. 30, the 18-year-old Bogosian has prospered.

"It took a little while but the last few weeks, we've played hard as a team," Bogosian said. "We're not the most skilled team in the world, but when we play with energy we can come up big and get a few wins."

Thrashers coach John Anderson likes what he sees from his new defensive pair, which has combined for 22 points (7 goals) in 17 games together. Additionally, they are ranked second and third on the team in plus-minus with Enstrom a plus-12 and Bogosian, the third choice in last year's draft, a plus-10.

"They're great skaters and they work off each other," Anderson told Jon Cooper for the Thrashers' Web site. "I think there's a little bit of a young camaraderie there and looking after each other and it's worked right off the bat."

Bogosian, who has 9 goals and 18 points in 46 games, earned a season-high 28:32 of ice time and recorded a season-high 6 shots in a 4-3 shootout win in Buffalo on March 14.
 
No Staal-ing -- Now that the Hurricanes have officially clinched their first postseason berth since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006, the club has no intention of taking its foot off the pedal.

That includes center Eric Staal, who has been one of the hottest scorers during a stretch run that has seen the Hurricanes compile the second-most wins in franchise history. The Stanley Cup team of 2005-06 had 52 victories.

"It's just been a little bit more focused on the defensive end and the neutral zone and making sure we're going back hard for pucks and to break out and control the play a little bit more," Staal said. "I think we're just focusing a lot more on the defensive side of the puck. We know the offense is there but it's a matter of keeping the puck out of the net."

Staal has 35 points (16 goals) in the last 24 games and the Canes are 22-2-2 this season in games when he scores and 31-7-4 in games when he at least earns a point. Staal is tied for the team scoring lead with Ray Whitney with 75 points, but is tops on the team with 40 goals and 14 power-play goals through 81 games. He has also has a team-best 364 shots this season. His four hat tricks this campaign broke a new single-season franchise record, previously held by Mike Rogers in 1980-81 and equaled by Blaine Stoughton the next season.

"We're playing the right way. We're playing at a high, competitive level, and we're playing like a well-oiled machine," Staal said. "When you're confident and when you're doing the right things, you're going to get good results."

Fantastic Frolik -- Despite the disappointment of missing the playoffs, rookie center Michael Frolik is here to stay for the Florida Panthers.

The 21-year-old native of Kladno, Czech Republic, ranks seventh among NHL rookie scoring leaders with 42 points, is seventh among rookie goal scorers with 20 and is fifth among rookie leaders in shots on goal with 154. Frolik, who averages 14:50 of ice time per game, is just the third Panthers rookie to score at least 20 goals, joining Mark Parrish (24) in 1998-99 and Kristian Huselius (23) in 2001-02.

"At the start of the season, it was hard, because it was all new to me," Frolik said. "A few guys on the team really helped me (Rostislav Olesz) and we live in same house. When I started getting more ice time and started to play with skilled players like Stephen Weiss, that was really helpful for me. Playing on the power play just adds to that confidence."

Olesz, by the way, is from Bilovec, Czech Republic.

Panthers coach Peter DeBoer has taken notice of his all-purpose performer, who has played on all four lines and special teams.

"He's a real skilled young guy and I think he's getting better every day," DeBoer said. "It's a big jump from junior hockey to the NHL and he's learning to work and compete and be strong on the power play and responsible in his own end. He's a smart hockey player and I believe he's going to be an NHL player for a long time."

 
Fearsome foursome -- Each of Washington's top four scorers -- Alex Ovechkin (108 points), Nicklas Backstrom (86 points), Alexander Semin (76 points) and Mike Green (73 points) -- will average more than a point per game for the season. No NHL team has gotten a point per game from its top for scorers since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins (Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis and Petr Nedved).
 
The Capitals also have four of the top 13 players in the League in points per game (Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom and Green) with a minimum of 20 games played. The last time the Caps had at least four players with 70-plus points was in 1992-93 (Peter Bondra, Mike Ridley, Kevin Hatcher, Dale Hunter, Michal Pivonka).

Ovechkin, incidentally, is just the fourth player in League history to post 100-plus points in three of his first four NHL seasons (Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Dale Hawerchuk).

Ice chips -- Atlanta Thrashers defensemen Zach Bogosian and Ron Hainsey have been invited to play for Team USA in the World Championships in Switzerland from April 24-May 10. Ilya Kovalchuk will play for Russia, Tobias Enstrom for Sweden and Boris Valabik for Slovakia. ... A win by the Capitals on Thursday would give the team the most points in franchise history and tie the 1985-86 team for the most wins in franchise history with 50. ... News Flash: Cam Ward (39-22-5) has set Carolina's single-season win record while starting in 27 straight games. ... The Tampa Bay Lightning recalled defenseman Kevin Quick from the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League on Thursday. Quick has played in four games with the Lightning this season, averaging 13:22 in ice time with a plus-1 rating. He appeared in 49 games with the Admirals in his first full professional season, recording a goal and nine points with an even rating. He also played 18 games with the Augusta Lynx of the ECHL earlier this season, recording two goals and six points.


Quote of the Day

We've got a team filled with captains, that's what I think. With these first two games we got in, we're really dominating and moving the puck really fast, and it's worked out really good.

— U.S. goalie Brandon Halverson after a 6-0 win against Germany in the World Junior Championship on Sunday