Stajan benefitting from Hartley’s confidence
Flames centreman regaining offensive touch under new coach
To gauge the degree of change at the Scotiabank Saddledome, just listen to Bob Hartley rave about Matt Stajan.
“I love Matty,” the Calgary Flames head coach was saying Monday morning as the players packed up for the charter flight to Minnesota. “I think he’s a great student of the game. He’s a great hard-worker. And it seems that he wants more.
“I have absolutely no problem with this. I’m very happy with him.”
Happy? Is this is the same Matt Stajan who resided in Brent Sutter’s dog house pretty much full-time before Hartley took over?
The fourth-line Matt Stajan? The healthy-scratch Matt Stajan? The downtrodden Matt Stajan?
“He’s been unbelievable,” Hartley gushed. “He’s been on pucks. He’s forechecking. He’s winning big faceoffs. He’s a great penalty-killer.
“Five-on-five, I use him against the top forwards of the other team.”
The resurgence of Matt Stajan has turned into one of the major storylines this season for a Flames team sitting (as of Monday afternoon) just two points back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
At one time considered a strong candidate for buyout, Stajan finds himself on the first line between Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla. He leads the Flames in plus-minus at plus-8 (Lee Stempniak is the only other Flame in positive territory at plus-5.)
In Sunday’s 5-4 come-from-behind victory over Phoenix, Stajan collected an assist and logged 21:13 of ice-time. On Saturday, he potted two goals in a 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild.
Seventeen games into this lockout-shortened season, Stajan looks, well, reborn.
“Obviously, confidence is a big thing,” Stajan said, pointing out the very thing he has lacked in years past. “I know it’s on the player to have confidence. But when a coach shows confidence in you the way this coaching staff has early this year, I think it speaks volumes to any player.”
It speaks volumes for a player with proven ability (he scored 19 goals and 56 points in 2008/09 split between Toronto in Calgary.
It speaks volumes for a player so many had counted out.
“I’ve accepted the challenge,” said Stajan, 29. “I’ve appreciated it, and I’ve tried to make the most of it.
“That’s all I can ask of myself.”
On the eve of training camp, general manager Jay Feaster singled out Stajan and defenceman Jay Bouwmeester as two players most likely to benefit from Hartley’s offer of a clean sheet of ice.
The incoming coach promised to carry no past biases into this season. He promised to make judgments on what he saw in front of him – as opposed to what might have happened in the past.
In response, Bouwmeester looks like Jay Bouwmeester circa 2008 – a puck-moving, smooth-skating defenceman with the ability to jump into the rush and get back in time to prevent disaster in his own zone.
On his clean sheet of ice, Stajan has three goals and nine points in just 17 games. In a limited role, he registered 18 points all of last season.
“It’s no secret my first couple of years here didn’t go the way I wanted them to,” Stajan said. “You can point to a number of reasons why that was, but that’s behind us.
“We move forward...I came in here with an open mind and to work hard and to embrace any role that I’d be given.”
Hands up everyone out there who predicted Stajan would centre Tanguay and Iginla?
Didn’t think so.
“It’s been good,” Stajan said. “The coach has been playing me a lot – penalty killing, key faceoffs. You just try to make the most of it and help the team win.”
Make no mistake: Stajan’s colleagues are overjoyed to see the popular pivot experience some joy – and personal success- after more than three years of trial.
“I’ve known Matt Stajan since we were little kids growing up playing in Toronto,” said centre Michael Cammalleri. “He’s a guy who, as teammates, you really appreciate him. You know he’s a hard worker who does a lot of things right. He plays a real team game and has the ability to be a real impactful, positive player for our team.
“I don’t think anyone in here is surprised by Matt Stajan. Guys kind of expect it of him.”
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