For Erik Christensen, there is still plenty of pressure.
Just last week he was traded to his third team in two seasons and he’s now on Anaheim’s top forward line, trying to help the Ducks emerge from a multiple-team gauntlet into a playoff spot. But after a stressful beginning to 2008-09 with Atlanta, the 25-year-old is much better equipped this time around in dealing with expectations.
|"I feel more confident," Christensen said. "I'm feeling comfortable around the guys and that is what I'm striving for - to earn the respect of my teammates and to show them that I can play and contribute." |
After spending two-plus seasons with the Penguins (where he had a career-high 18 goals in 2006-07), Christensen was sent to the Thrashers at last season’s trade deadline (as one part of the Marian Hossa deal). Entering this season, the anticipation was increased when he was tabbed as Atlanta’s No.1 center. While Christensen desired the role, he put an enormous burden on himself to produce for the team, and things didn’t pan out as he or the Thrashers had hoped.
“I was very hard on myself earlier on when things didn’t go well,” the Edmonton native said. “I got extremely nervous and tense before games.”
Christensen ultimately arrived at the point where he turned to a sports psychologist, whom he worked with throughout the year. “The last two months, I think I’ve played the best hockey I have in the last year and a half. But then I could never get my job back and be in that role I thought I could be in.”
With the trade to the Ducks on March 4, Christensen has again received that big opportunity. Though it’s not as a center this time, he is being asked to fill the left wing spot beside 23-year-old All-Stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Christensen has embraced the chance.
“I don’t mind playing wing when you’re playing with skilled players,” Christensen said. “When you’re playing with two very smart players like them, it just makes it a heck of a lot easier to get things done offensively.”
“This is what hockey is all about. You always want to be a winner and considered a winner. I think they are counting on me to come in and bring some offense. I think this team has been competitive for a lot of years. I just hope with the additions that they’ve made we can make it far.” - Erik Christensen
And while his career in a Ducks uniform began with what he called “not the best feeling” when he received a hooking penalty just 29 seconds into his debut against Dallas on March 6 that resulted in a Stars power play goal, Christensen rebounded vehemently in a must-win game against Vancouver on March 11.
In the middle of several big plays during his 16:32 of ice time against the Canucks, Christensen provided important assists on goals from Getzlaf and Petteri Nokelainen in the back-and-forth second period. He also scored what looked like a brilliant goal with 1:20 left in the middle session when he deked around goaltender Roberto Luongo before depositing the puck top shelf. But the tally was called off because of what was controversially deemed goalie interference by Getzlaf.
“I felt more confident,” Christensen said of his play Wednesday night. “I’m getting comfortable around the guys now and that is what I’m striving for - to earn the respect of my teammates and to show them that I can play and contribute.”
Another area where Christensen is being looked at to lend a helping hand is on the power play. The team spent the second half of a two-hour practice at Anaheim ICE on Friday working on getting their specialty teams more efficient. The Ducks are ninth in the league with a 20.62 percent success rate on the power play, but recently they have fallen on hard times in that area, going scoreless with the man advantage in the their last four games. Since Andrew Ebbett’s first period power play goal at Dallas on Feb. 28, Anaheim is 0-for-17.
|"I don't mind playing wing when you're playing with skilled players," said Christensen of playing with Perry (background) and Getzlaf. "When you're playing with two very smart players like them, it just makes it a heck of a lot easier to get things done offensively." |
“There are peaks and valleys with power plays and penalty killing,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said. “We think that there is definitely room for improvement. Our power play has had some success this year statistically, but I think in the next stretch of games it’s going to have to deliver at a higher rate. It’s under more pressure to perform.”
Over the final 14 games, there will be plenty of tension swirling around the Ducks if they are going to regain entrance into the postseason. A little help from a player who feels more at ease with his play and his surroundings in Christensen is already making a difference.
“This is what hockey is all about,” Christensen said. “You always want to be a winner and considered a winner. I think they are counting on me to come in and bring some offense. Especially working on that second power play unit, it’s nice to have two power plays that can score some goals. I think this team has been competitive for a lot of years. I just hope with the additions that they’ve made we can make it far.”
Carlyle gave some uplifting news after practice about the status of defenseman James Wisniewski, who left the Vancouver game with an upper-body injury. “It’s not as severe as first anticipated. There is a settling down in the area. Hopefully, he’s a distinct possibility for Sunday.”
As for another injured d-man, Bret Hedican (back), Carlyle said “He mulling over a second injection. I think there is degeneration in an area that he’s got to make a call whether he wants to have the injection.”