Flames forward Stempniak working hard to shake ‘streaky’ label
With 31 points this season — including a point in eight of the last 11 games — he’s showing signs of increased consistency
Nashville, Tenn. — Gone are the mad clumps of points.
Gone, too, are the yawning stretches of offensive silence.
Lee Stempniak knows what it means to be called streaky — potential revealed, but only in bursts. His reputation, however, appears to be fading.
The lone member of the Calgary Flames to have not skipped a date, Stempniak has become even-keeled, collecting points in 24 of 45 games so far. In eight of the past 11, he’s recorded a single point.
“That’s something I’ve really focused on — to try to be more consistent,” says the right-winger. “I’ve tried to be around the puck a little bit more, be around the front of the net a little bit more. It seems like I’ve had the puck more this season, with more opportunities to make plays. It’s nice to be scoring some points and helping the team that way.”
After all, slow and steady wins the race — and, in this case, perhaps even the Flames’ scoring race.
Someone other than Jarome Iginla will become the club’s first chart-topper since Val Bure in 1999-00. Michael Cammalleri currently leads Stempniak by a single point.
Three games, including Tuesday’s at Nashville, remain.
“If that’s the byproduct of it all, that would be nice,” Stempniak says of possibly following Iginla’s 11 consecutive seasons atop the Flames’ points parade. “But I haven’t really thought about it. I didn’t even know until the other day that that was the case. Any time that would happen would be nice. But it’s not the driving force for these last games.
“For me, I’ve just tried to be consistent all year and be a difference-maker — those are two things I’ve been focusing on — and the points have been coming.”
Stempniak, for one, wants that consistency to extend to his workplace.
In other words, he hopes to stay in Calgary.
He had been one of the fellows having lunch with Blake Comeau on trade-deadline day. Comeau got shipped to Columbus, and Stempniak himself was not certain that he’d remain in town, either.
“Any time you’re losing, there’s going to be change,” says the 30-year-old. “I went through it before. In Toronto, that’s how I got traded — we were losing, my contract was up, I got traded to Phoenix. Once you’ve been traded once, nothing really surprises you.
“But I like it here. I like the coaches. I think we have the makings to be a good team next year.”
And, apparently, the notion of having Stempniak around appeals to the Flames.
Whip-smart and low-key, the West Seneca, N.Y., native is a positive role model for up-and-comers.
“For me, it’s nice to be recognized that way,” says Stempniak. “When I was a young guy in St. Louis I had some guys who were really good to me — Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin, Doug Weight, Barret Jackman. They really went out of their way to be inclusive, give me a pat on the back when I needed it, give me some instruction when I needed it.”
As a trusted veteran, Stempniak can play a role in fast-tracking the newcomers.
“Just teaching them little things off the ice or nuances of the game,” he says. “If you can teach it to them in their first year instead of them having to figure it out by their fifth year, it’s better for everyone. That’s the biggest thing — helping them adjust to, all of a sudden, hockey being your life. It’s not like college where you have class and friends and practice at 3 in the afternoon.
“Hockey’s front and centre and there’s a lot of pressure. When hockey goes from something you’re really passionate about and it’s fun . . . to your job and your livelihood and your life decisions are based on how you play, it can be overwhelming for young players.”
Overwhelming for everyone has been this season’s spiral.
Stempniak is asked if he’s endured a campaign like this before. Perhaps in Toronto?
“Not quite this bad,” he replies. “I mean, I’ve only been in the playoffs twice, but never quite like this. Especially with the shortened season and . . . it seems like we’ve been out of the playoffs for awhile. It’s been a long time.
“This year was extremely frustrating and disappointing, but I think we’ve sort of turned the page and moved on to next year.”
Follow Scott Cruickshank on Twitter/CruickshankCH
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