Lack of goals this season not worrying Penguins winger Carl Hagelin
Carl Hagelin saw the rebound of a Patric Hornqvist shot sitting between the right post and goalie Connor Hellebuyck and sprang into action.
He picked up the puck, scooted around behind the net, deftly banked a wraparound backhand shot in off defenseman Josh Morrissey and began to raise his arms in celebration.
That's when referee Kendrick Nicholson stepped in to ruin the party, correctly ruling that Morrissey had knocked the net off its moorings before the puck crossed the goal line.
In the grand scheme of things, it was no big deal. The Penguins got a power play as a result of Morrisey's actions and went on to win the game over the Winnipeg Jets, 2-1, in overtime last Thursday.
It was significant, though, in another sense.
Hagelin needs all the goals he can get.
The first four full seasons the 29-year-old Swede spent in the NHL, he produced like clockwork: between 14 and 17 goals and 33 and 39 points every year.
Last year, those numbers nosedived to six goals and 22 points in 61 games. This year, he has a goal and an assist 13 games in.
It's important to note Hagelin's worth to the Penguins is not determined solely by his point total. He's one of the fastest players in the league, and his speed can be disruptive on the forecheck whether it leads to goals or not. He also is second among the team's forwards in average short-handed ice time, with 2 minutes, 45 seconds per game.
“I think some of his contribution to this team is really difficult to quantify in statistics,” coach Mike Sullivan said.
It also is important to note, with an average annual salary of $4 million, more is expected of Hagelin than the average grinder.
Outside of the team's top two centers (Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) and top five wingers (Phil Kessel, Jake Guentzel, Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust and Hornqvist), no forward on the team has more than one goal or three points this season.
Some added production from the bottom six would go a long way toward curing the even-strength ills that have plagued the Penguins.
“Our expectation is that we generate offense throughout our lineup,” Sullivan said. “That's what has made this team as difficult to play against as it's been over the last two seasons: our ability to bring a balanced attack, and everybody contributes.
“We believe Haggy's capable there and has shown an ability to do that. He's one of those guys that I think brings so much more to the table than just that. But if you're asking me, ‘Do we expect him to help us produce offense?' Yes, we do.”
From Hagelin's perspective, he said he draws a distinction between last season, which he considered poor, and the start of this season, which he considers promising, because of moments like the Winnipeg situation described earlier. Even though he's not scoring, he's close.
“Last year I didn't create as many chances as I wanted. Last year wasn't a great year,” Hagelin said. “A lot of different injuries throughout the year and I didn't catch up to the way I wanted to play. This year, I came in energized, and I think I'm creating enough to feel good about the way I'm playing.”
Hagelin said he doesn't necessarily need to be producing points to feel good about his game, but when he's playing well, the points usually follow.
“When I'm playing well, I know I'm playing well,” Hagelin said. “It's more the amount of chances I get, and I've had quite a few this year, whether it's a breakaway or just in tight. I'm feeling good about my game and my offensive game. I just have to put the puck in.”