– Even at his best, during an impressive 27-goal rookie season with St. Louis back in 2006-07, Lee Stempniak
has never had a run like this.
His longest goal streak that year? Three games.
How many two-goal games? Three.
Most goals in a month? Six.
But until he was traded to Arizona just over three weeks ago, those were the good old days. After scoring 25 goals in 123 games over two seasons in Toronto -- where he became one of many targets of disdain for an understandably frustrated fan base -- he was shipped to Phoenix for forsaken defenseman Matt Jones and two late-round draft picks.
Not exactly a king's ransom. But nobody was more up for a new team, a new city and new start.
"You come from a place where the team is struggling and things aren't clicking and you come to a team fighting for the playoffs who thinks you can help," Stempniak said. "That's a confidence builder. I have understood from the first day what was expected of me."
Stempniak scored on his third shift in Phoenix, six minutes into a shootout win over Vancouver. He hasn't stopped scoring, and the Coyotes haven't stopped winning, ever since.
Saturday, Stempniak collected his fourth two-goal game in his 12-game Coyotes tenure as Phoenix celebrated its first Stanley Cup Playoff berth in eight year with a 6-2 win over Colorado.
If you're scoring along at home, the contribution is up to 12 goals in 12 games for Stempniak -- who has spent most of his time on the third line with the responsible but heretofore unspectacular duo of Vernon Fiddler
and Taylor Pyatt
. He's scored in eight of the 12 games and now has 26 goals for the season -- one shy of his rookie campaign.
"My friends keep calling and telling me it has to be the sunshine," Stempniak said. "But I think it's everything. I love coming to the rink. The fans here are great. I've only been here a short time, but the character in this locker room is unlike any I've been around. It makes you want to do everything you can to contribute."
And for a Phoenix team that was beating the bushes for scoring at the trade deadline, the addition of Stempniak and Wojtek Wolski
(12 points in 12 games) has born more fruit then could have ever been imagined. The Coyotes are 10-1-1 since the trades and have gone from fighting for a playoff spot to fighting for the best record in the Western Conference with two weeks left.
"What he's done has been phenomenal," said captain Shane Doan
, who hasn't scored a goal in almost two months but is soothed by wins that keep piling up. "He does all the little things on the ice, but the scoring is incredible. Goals were at a premium for us. We needed help and he's there every night."
Phoenix coach Dave Tippett
felt Pyatt, Fiddler and Stempniak all were aggressive but responsible players who would support each other and thrive as a group. Stempniak is an ideal player for Tippett's system -- smart enough to find good scoring positions with the speed to recover and not expose teammates.
"You come from a place where the team is struggling and things aren't clicking and you come to a team fighting for the playoffs who thinks you can help. That's a confidence builder. I have understood from the first day what was expected of me." -- Lee Stempniak
The Coyotes now have three dependable lines to go with a stout defense and their team MVP, goalie Ilya Bryzgalov
– making them a team to be reckoned with in the postseason.
"Tip told me who I was going to be playing with and what was expected of me and from the first game the chemistry just felt right," Stempniak said. "I'd like to think I've helped them out and they've certainly made things easier on me."