’s game was off-balance, so the Ottawa Senators
’ star right wing made the only reasonable correction that could straighten it out.
He changed his skates. Simple as that.
Alfredsson swiped a pair of Chris Kelly’s skates about 30 games into last season, and he’s been flying ever since, causing many pundits -- Alfredsson included -- to believe he’s a better, faster and stronger player now at 35-years-old than he ever has been.
“I feel strong in the corners and feel I can win more battles,” said Alfredsson, who later this month will compete in his fifth NHL All-Star Game and first since the lockout. “People probably won’t say so, but it is (as simple as changing skates). It’s like a golfer changing clubs and saying; ‘Oh my gosh, this feel right.’
“Ever since Christmas last year I have been comfortable in every game and fairly consistent in creating opportunities. Turning 35 not too long ago (Dec. 11), it feels good. I can play a few more good years.”
Only a few? Mere modesty from another NHL veteran defying the aging process.
“The last two years have probably been the best two years as far as my career goes,” added Alfredsson, who is in his ninth season as the Senators’ captain.
Actually, in fairness to accuracy, the last 2½ years have been Alfredsson’s best.
Two seasons ago Alfredsson produced a career-high 103 points and also won Olympic gold as Team Sweden’s alternate captain. Last season he had 87 points, 16 less than the previous season, but he was a plus-42 as opposed to plus-29 in 2005-06.
He also shed his “playoff choker” moniker by leading Ottawa to the Stanley Cup Final. He had 14 goals and eight assists in 20 postseason games, and his play didn’t dip in the Final, when scored four goals and dished out one assist before the Anaheim Ducks dispatched the Senators in five games.
“Maybe he’s had bigger scoring streaks, but the way he’s playing on the power play, penalty killing, his all-round game? He’s never played as well as he is right now,” Alfredsson’s brother, Henrik, told Ottawa Sun columnist Chris Stevenson last May. “It’s almost scary. I see it in his eyes. His eyes are like; ‘Just watch me.’ ”
Alfredsson had a history of postseason disappoints, such as in 2003, when he had just four goals and four assists before Ottawa, which won the Presidents’ Trophy with 113 points, lost to the New Jersey Devils in a seven-game Eastern Conference Final.
His wife, Bibi, was pregnant with their first son, Hugo, during those playoffs, but Alfredsson never has used it as an excuse. He just didn’t find the bridge to carry his regular-season confidence into the playoffs until last season.
“Before the first game of the (2007) playoffs people were asking me about (his playoff past) and I had no problem with it because I know I should have done more and feel like I could have done more,” Alfredsson said. “I said before the playoffs that I wasn’t worried going into these playoffs because of the way I had been playing since Christmas. I was consistent. I knew what I could do. It wasn’t going to disappear.
“I remember the first game (against Pittsburgh). I didn’t score, but I had eight shots on goal and I was making things happen. We started winning and that breeds confidence, which built for me and the team throughout the playoffs.”
The shorter-than-normal off-season didn’t kill Alfredsson’s momentum.
He had nine points after just five games this season, and has stayed on pace for the best season of his NHL career. He’s considered in many circles one of the leading Hart Trophy candidates this season; Ottawa hasn’t had a Hart winner since Frank Nighbor won it in 1924.
“I had no idea when I came here the all-around player that he was,” said Ottawa coach John Paddock, who will coach the Eastern Conference All-Stars in Atlanta on Jan. 27. “He just does it night in and night out.”
Alfredsson entered Friday’s game on a five-game point scoring streak. He had a 10-game point-scoring streak snapped Dec. 22.
His 24 goals are sixth in the NHL. His 52 points also tie him for sixth in the League. His plus-15 rating puts him in the top 10. His 46 takeaways are second in the NHL behind Pavel Datsyuk’s 64.
And Alfredsson is the rare forward who leads his team in ice time per game. His 23:27 is third among forwards in the NHL, behind Tampa Bay’s Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis. He plays 3:14 per game on the penalty kill, and 4:32 on the power play.
“He’s a heart-and-soul guy who seems to be getting better with age,” Senators teammate Mike Fisher said. “Everyone follows his lead and emotion on the ice. You can’t say enough good things about him.”
Alfredsson, who is 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, said he never has been one of the fastest skaters. That goes all the way back to his pre-teen years in Sweden, where he learned to anticipate and think the game better than his competition.
The training has turned him into one of the League’s top defensive forwards.
“I can see what he’s going to do, so I’m going to be there before him,” Alfredsson said of opposing players. “When I watch a soccer game or a tennis match, I can see he’s doing that because of this. I used to be a slower player growing up and that’s what allowed me to survive. I could always read the play and had good hockey sense.”
“He’s obviously one of our smartest players,” Fisher added.
Alfredsson forecasts the game so well that it sometimes appears he’s cheating to make up for his lack of speed.
“That’s why we’re a pretty successful 5-on-3 penalty-killing team,” Paddock said. “He anticipates where the puck is going and he puts pressure on it when a player is not expecting it.”
“His hockey sense is some of the best in the League,” Fisher added. “Watching him night in and night out, he’s always making plays and he’s protecting the puck. He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s one of the hardest to play against. He’s so strong on his skates.”
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.