Sergei Gonchar hopes his surge continues.
The veteran defenseman enjoyed one his best seasons in 2006-07. His 67 points matched a career high and his 54 assists were the most in his 12-year career. He finished second in the NHL among defenseman scoring, trailing only Anaheim’s Scott Nidermayer, who tallied just two more points than Gonchar.
“When you learn the system, you know what to expect from each other and it’s much easier for everybody,” said Gonchar, who led the Penguins in average time on ice (26:33) and tied for third in the NHL with 48 power-play points. “It was tough for me the first year and I struggled a little bit, but I am very comfortable and that’s why I am improving.”
Gonchar isn’t just improving, he’s excelling. In his last 90 games in a Penguins uniform, he has notched 104 points (19+85).
The Russian blueliner has now scored at least 50 points in each of the last seven seasons (1999-2000 to date). That’s the longest current streak among NHL defensemen. Bryan McCabe, Chris Pronger and Niedermayer are the only other defensemen to do so in each of the last three seasons.
And, since 2000, Gonchar ranks first among all NHL defensemen in goal scoring with 99 tallies and second in points with 366.
He hopes to be even better this season. Gonchar worked hard over the summer in Russia with teammate Evgeni Malkin, the NHL’s top rookie last season, to prepare for the upcoming campaign.
“It was a good summer for Evgeni and me. We worked out. We traveled a bit together. We went to Moscow a couple times,” Gonchar said. “I really believe it’s important for him to have a good workout after his first season because usually young guys don’t know what to do and don’t have that experience to work out on their own. I really believe that it’s a big thing for him to work out with us. We had a big group of guys – 10 NHLers working out together and we had a good camp going and I really think he’s going to benefit from that.”
Nevertheless, Gonchar remains focused on team success.
“We had a great year last year. Obviously, we made a great improvement. We got more experience and some playoff experience,” he said. “We did all the right things, so that is why I am excited about the season coming up.
“We made a big improvement last year and we felt what the playoffs are like. I believe we’re going to improve even more this year, game-wise, because guys are going to play better and better. If you look at us, everyone at camp is in a good mood and good shape, so I believe we’re ready for it.”
One big Penguins addition is veteran defenseman Darryl Sydor.
“You’re not going to get experience without playing and Sydor has a great amount of experience,” Gonchar said. “He’s won a couple Stanley Cups and it’s always nice to have an addition like this. It’s nice for everyone to have another year of experience, too.”
The Penguins enjoyed a 105-point season in 2006-07, but are determined to advance deeper in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“That’s the good thing about this club – nobody is satisfied. Everybody is trying to improve every day and everyone is working hard every day,” Gonchar said. “It’s probably the biggest plus that we have – we’re all hungry and we’re all looking forward because we’re not satisfied with what we have.”