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Streaky Hoffman X-factor for surging Senators

by Chris Stevenson /

OTTAWA -- Rookie forward Mike Hoffman led the Ottawa Senators with 27 goals this season, and that was after being demoted to the fourth line at times down the stretch.

The Senators are going to need the 25-year-old, who was selected in the fifth round (No. 130) of the 2009 NHL Draft, to give them scoring depth if they are going to have success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

That might sound like a funny thing to write about Ottawa's leading goal-scorer, but consistency and play away from the puck have been issues for Hoffman.

When he hasn't been going hard to the net or paying enough attention to defense, that's when coach Dave Cameron has shuffled the lines.

Hoffman has been moved between the first and fourth lines during the past month. When Hoffman uses his speed to get open for shots with his quick release, he adds to the Senators scoring depth.

Hoffman is a gifted skater and puckhandler, but Ottawa needs him to be harder on the puck and be more willing to take a hit to make a play.

"He has to continue to get better in the areas away from the puck," Senators general manager Bryan Murray said. "He tries real hard, but to be a real good all-around player in the National Hockey League you have to be able to play both ends of the rink and have the confidence of your coach so that you get on the ice in all situations."

Hoffman spent much of the season playing left wing with center Mika Zibanejad and right wing Bobby Ryan. But that line faltered down the stretch.

Hoffman had four goals in the last 22 games of the regular season and one in the final 10 games, but it was a big one in overtime against the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 7 in a game where the Senators trailed 3-0 after the first period.

Ryan had one goal in the final 20 games of the regular season.

Hoffman can be a big factor for the Senators in the playoffs because of his ability to create scoring opportunities from ordinary situations. He has the ability to beat players in individual battles in open space and often is the fastest player on the ice. His speed forces opposing defensemen to back off. Hoffman also can get off strong shots from tight spaces.

All of that translates into being able to make a scoring chance out of nothing. That ability becomes even more important in tight playoff games.

"We knew all along he could skate and shoot the puck," Murray said. "For him to come in and score is a little bit of a surprise, to the level he has. We thought he was a goal scorer, but we really thought it would take him a little time as it has at every level.

"His quickness allows him to do a lot of things in this game."

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