Toronto forward Jiri Tlusty was too close to the problem to figure it out. He couldn't tell why he was struggling with both the Maple Leafs and then the Marlies earlier this season.
Tlusty's confidante and father, also named Jiri, was too far away from the problem to help, living thousands of miles away in his native Czech Republic.
That changed around Christmas when the younger Tlusty got two of the best presents possible - a visit from his family and invaluable advice from his father.
Dad barely recognized his son as he watched him skate in a game for the Maple Leafs. The player was uptight and pressing, not enjoying the game.
"He was like, 'You know what? You look so nervous out there. Don't be nervous.' Focus on the things I did when I was younger," the player said. "I always try to listen to my dad. He knows better how I play than anybody else. After they left, I was a different person."
That's different, as in unstoppable. In his last 18 games, Tlusty has cranked out 36 points (16-20). The run includes one contest with five goals and another with six points.
Those are the sort of fireworks Tlusty thought he had to pay back to the Maple Leafs, who took him No. 13 in the 2006 Entry Draft. Getting 58 games with the parent club last season only heightened his expectations. But this season, Tlusty was a quiet 0-4 in 14 games up top.
"I played last year with the Maple Leafs. I was like, you have to do more. It didn't work," Tlusty said. "I pressed myself too hard. I'm expecting more than last year. From the middle of the season, I calmed down."
Tlusty gets percolating again, this time in a good way, when he rolls out with one of the best lines in the AHL. His pairing with Tim Stapleton and Bates Battaglia has produced a mind meld of dipsy-doodling and a steady river of points.
"I'm playing with the right people. Everything is clicking right now," Tlusty said. "When I was younger, when I was playing in juniors back home, I had the same time I'm having now. That's my first time playing like that in pros. You work hard when you are younger, hoping one day it happens like that. I'm enjoying every single moment on the ice."
That could lead Tlusty to the same goal he's always had, but one he now approaches in a much more understated fashion.
"If I play the way I am with the Marlies right now, I can make the Maple Leafs," he said. "I have to make sure I don't put so much more pressure on myself." Author: Lindsay Kramer | NHL.com Correspondent