If Raffi Torres isn't careful, he's going to develop a reputation. He's 8-1, and approaching Cy Young territory.
Torres, who enters Saturday's matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes as one of the league leaders in goals, has a simple explanation for his teammates when defending his eight markers and mere single assist.
"I just say guys don't finish when I give it to them," Torres says with a laugh.
The truth is, his Blue Jacket teammates have no problem with the paltry helper total. They all recognize that Torres is doing a fantastic job of filling the net and providing some of that all-important secondary scoring.
What's most impressive to them is the way he's doing it.
"I don't care if he ends up with 40 goals and one assist, we'll take it," says Jason Chimera. "He's one of those opportunistic players, Johnny on the spot.
"He's scored some big goals for us.”
"Big" is an understatement when describing Torres' tallies. Dating back to last season, his first in Columbus, the Toronto, Ontario native showed a penchant for coming up huge in the clutch. Of his 12 goals in 51 games last year, six were game winners. The early portion of 2009-10 hasn't been any different. Half of Torres' eight goals have come with a Blue Jackets man advantage and he's counted for two game-winning goals already, joining some big-time sniper names like Sidney Crosby, Patrick Marleau and Thomas Vanek with that many deciding efforts.
Throw in a gaudy 32-percent shooting percentage – second in the league only to Atlanta captain Ilya Kovalchuk – and it's apparent that Torres is making his chances count. It helps that he has absolutely no fear to get to the tough areas of the ice, something he showed Thursday when he buried a pair against the Thrashers, both from right around the blue ice of the crease.
"He's really been dynamic from the blueline in," says Columbus head coach Ken Hitchcock. "He'll pay the price at any place, any time to score goals. He'd be a hard guy to play against right now."
"If you watch him in practice, he's scoring left and right," adds Chimera, who saw Torres' develop his skills as a youngster when the two played in Edmonton together. "He's just one of those guys that can score goals and if he gets a chance, he's gonna bury it more times than not."
While Torres undoubtedly possesses a nose for the net, a clean bill of health has helped him get off to the great start this season. He battled both shoulder and knee injuries last season and was candid with the Columbus media about how he was down emotionally at points last season because of the ailments.
But he began to get right physically towards the end of the year and after a solid summer of training, has carried that over into 2009-10. Torres credits a combination of sprinting and Olympic lifting for giving him the necessary strength to battle every night in the NHL.
"I finished pretty confident last year," he says. "I was getting my legs toward the end of the year. I didn't really get to train much the summer before, so this past summer was big for me, trying to strengthen up my legs and endurance.
"My right quad had been like a sponge the last 12 months because of injuries. Just so weak."
Playing with some talented youngsters like Derick Brassard and Jake Voracek, a duo with incredible vision and creativity, has also influenced Torres' hot start. He's only 28 but he admits to feeling like an older guy. When Torres gets some time with the Columbus kids, he loves it.
He notes things were much different when he was breaking into the Oilers' lineup years back.
"It's great," says Torres. "When I came in the league, there was maybe me and another young guy like Stollie (Jarret Stoll) on the team. You started at the bottom and worked your way up as opposed to now where there's so much skill and you can't keep those guys down in the minors."
With Torres' ability to create space and his teammates' ability to find him, it's no wonder he's had the Cy Young start.
"I'm just getting the bounces right now," he says.