Chemistry can be a funny thing. It can be overrated. It can be underappreciated. It can stem from the unlikeliest of sources at the unlikeliest of times.
The loss of Teemu Selanne
for more than a month with a broken hand was once thought to be devastating for the Ducks’ second forward line. But thanks in part to the stellar play of rookie Dan Sexton
, that line of Sexton, Saku Koivu
and Bobby Ryan
has been blazing in the last week.
Sexton scored a big goal in Anaheim’s 3-1 win at Columbus on Saturday night, giving him four goals in his five NHL games since being called up for the first time on Dec. 3 in the wake of Selanne’s injury. Among active players, only Selanne and Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin have more goals (five) in their first five NHL games than Sexton.
And while the 22-year-old out of Bowling Green is thrilled with his hot start, he isn’t overly surprised with his ability to mesh with his talented linemates. “When I came in, I just looked at it as I’m playing with two good players,” said Sexton, who was recalled by Anaheim after 18 games in Bakersfield of the ECHL and five with Manitoba of the AHL. “I didn’t know what else to think. I didn’t know about chemistry or anything. I just said I’m going to try to keep up. So far it’s just kind of worked out to the point where we’ve made a lot of good plays and we’ve been rewarded for them.”
It’s not just Sexton who has put up impressive numbers in the last few games. Over the weekend, in an overtime loss at Detroit and that win in Columbus, Sexton, Koivu and Ryan combined for an astounding plus-minus of +12. After an up-and-down first season as a Duck, the 35-year-old Koivu has two goals and three assists in the last three contests. One of those goals came off a stellar feed on the rush by Sexton
, the opening strike of the Ducks’ 3-2 overtime loss in Detroit.
|“To say that we expected this would be a huge lie,” Carlyle said. “Are we enjoying it? Yes, and he’s enjoying it. It’s an opportunity for a young player to come in and do the things that he does well. For whatever reason, it’s working for Koivu and Bobby Ryan. We’re extremely excited about it, but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.” |
Ryan, meanwhile, has stepped up in Selanne’s absence with three goals and four assists in the five games since the injury, the latest a highlight-reel goal against Columbus
on Saturday. Ryan had similar production last year when Selanne was out more than a month with a thigh laceration, notching 12 goals and 10 assists in 18 games from December 19 through January 27.
Production from Koivu and Ryan is expected, but it’s what Sexton has done in such a short period of time that is raising eyebrows. “To say that we expected this would be a huge lie,” said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle after his team’s practice on Monday. “Are we enjoying it? Yes, and he’s enjoying it. It’s an opportunity for a young player to come in and do the things that he does well. For whatever reason, it’s working for Koivu and Bobby Ryan
. We’re extremely excited about it, but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”
Sexton acknowledged that he’s learning every day from veterans like Koivu, who has given him pointers on the defensive end of the ice.
“I don’t take any day for granted,” Sexton said. “Every day I’m here, I really appreciate it. I really try to make the most of it. Every day I wake up, I’m just so thrilled to be here that I just want to go work my butt off every day.”
Carlyle has taken notice, but with any young player, he remains cautious while also being impressed with what Sexton has brought to that line so far.
|“I don’t take any day for granted,” Sexton said. “Every day I’m here, I really appreciate it. I really try to make the most of it. Every day I wake up, I’m just so thrilled to be here that I just want to go work my butt off every day.” |
“All he’s doing is doing what he does best,” Carlyle said. “He’s a player who reads situations and hasn’t been intimidated by the NHL, first coming from the ECHL and then the AHL and getting the opportunity to play with a Saku Koivu
and a Bobby Ryan
. We’ve asked him to not step out of it and do too much. There are times when he has done that. He’s a young player and he’s learning as we go forward.
“But he’s throwing the puck on net and it’s finding a way to get through goalies. If it’s not broken, don’t try and fix it. Do what you do best, kid.”
Sexton’s work ethic and enthusiasm has helped him build an easy rapport with teammates, who have already pegged him with the nickname “Big Sexy.”
"I just wanted to come in and play my hardest and contribute,” Sexton said. “But, to get some good bounces and play with some great players, contribute the way I have, it has been a special week for sure.”