Dallas Stars forward Patrick Eaves said the biggest change for him in 2016-17 as compared to past seasons is the way the puck is bouncing for him. Bouncing off him might be more accurate.
Eaves is tied for the Stars' lead with 16 goals and is tied for third in points with 27. He's four goals shy of the NHL career high of 20 he had as a rookie in 2005-06, and five points shy of his NHL-best of 32 in 2006-07.
But the most impressive stat might be that he's played 46 of the Stars' 47 games, eight short of last season's total of 54. That was the most since 2010-11, when he played 63. His NHL career high is 74 in 2008-09.
While Eaves is healthier than ever, he said he hasn't changed his gritty style of play.
It's a style of play has put him in the line of danger a number of times. Last season ended for him because of a bruised foot sustained when he was hit by a puck in Game 3 of the Western Conference Second Round against the St. Louis Blues. He was limited to 47 games in 2014-15 in part because of a concussion when he was hit in the face by a puck.
Video: DAL@NYR: Eaves finishes rebound for a quick PPG
"Sometimes you get hit by the pucks, sometimes you don't," Eaves said. "Some of them you see, some of them you don't. But that's the way I play."
He's being rewarded by coach Lindy Ruff for the way he's played this season. Entering the Stars' home game against the Washington Capitals on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, FS-SW, CSH-DC+, NHL.TV), Eaves is averaging 16:22 of ice time, third among Stars forwards behind captain Jamie Benn (19:55) and All-Star Tyler Seguin (18:41). Last season he played 12:58 per game.
"I'm very fortunate to get the opportunities I'm getting this year," Eaves said. "That's one of the biggest things. Our lines switch up quite a bit but you know you're out there with good players every shift."
Eaves' teammates are happy to see him healthy and producing.
"He's had some tough injuries in the past and hasn't been able to string a lot of hockey together but he's been a great player for us all season long," forward Patrick Sharp said. "He's played [almost] every game. He's got that great scoring touch around the net and you give him the puck and good things are going to happen. He's another guy who brings a great attitude to the rink every day and does all the right things with and without the puck, and is a great guy to hang around with."
Eaves hopes some of his good luck can rub off on his teammates. Last season the Stars had the most points in the Western Conference and led the NHL with 3.23 goals per game. This season, despite few significant changes to the roster, they're fifth in the Central Division, five points behind the third-place St. Louis Blues, and 16th in scoring at 2.68 goals per game.
"We're there, we're working, we're putting the time in, same as we did last year," Eaves said. "The results aren't the same."
Video: DAL@STL: Eaves chips in a rebound for PPG
Though goaltenders Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi constantly seem to be in the spotlight, Eaves said the players in front of them share in the blame.
"We've hung them out to dry a bunch of times this year," he said. "We're not defending as five in front of them and they get left out to dry. I think we did that last year to them also but we could score our way out of it. This year I don't think we're scoring at the rate we were last year. I think that comes back to structure and we have to play as a group of five in front of them. Hopefully that will ease the load on them. Because we haven't done our part a lot of nights."
Eaves said despite the Stars' rough first half, there's time for them to get hot and make a run at Stanley Cup Playoff spot.
"We just have to keep the course and find ways to win," he said. "Some nights it's not going to be pretty, but what matters is the points we come out with at the end."
As the Stars' luck gets better, Eaves hope his stays the same.
"Been struck by a couple pucks the last couple years that have kind of set me back a little bit," he said. "I hope they keep missing or grazing me and nothing flush. … I still play in the same areas, the pucks are still flying around me. You've got to get lucky sometimes."