As one of the NHL’s most cerebral players, Paul Stastny is more than qualified to diagnose the cause(s) of his offensive struggles.
The veteran Golden Knights center offered his unique brand of self-criticism Monday but also hinted for the first time that an injury may have been part of the reason for his slow start.
“There was times early on when I was recovering from something this summer, and I was just kind of almost watching the play develop too much instead of being proactive,” Stastny said following practice at City National Arena. “Lately, the last 10, 15 games, I feel my game’s been coming along. I feel more around the puck.
”I think sometimes when you’re hoping for things to happen, you’re watching too much. And you’ve got to start taking the initiative.”
Stastny, who turned 34 on Friday, is on pace for his worst offensive season of his career with 16 points through 42 games. But the team’s third-highest-paid forward with a $6.5 million salary cap hit finally is showing signs of breaking out of his slump.
Stastny scored his 10th goal in Saturday’s 4-1 victory over Arizona and enters Tuesday’s noon home game against Anaheim with goals in two of his past four outings.
‘A good leader’
“I think (Stastny had) a real good game the other night,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “Obviously, everybody wants to be a top-six forward, and that’s part of it. But he’s a good pro, he’s a good leader in our room and he’s doing exactly what I’m asking.”
Despite being on pace for his first 20-goal season since 2013-14, Stastny’s lack of playmaking is concerning given that he skated between leading scorers Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone for most of the opening two months.
Stastny averaged 0.52 assist per game during his first 13 seasons and has never finished with more goals than assists.
But he failed to register an assist between Oct. 25 and Dec. 10 and has two in his past 31 games.
In fact, more than half of Stastny’s scoring output came during a nine-game stretch in October when he posted five goals and four assists.
“For me, it’s more about being around the puck, supporting the puck wherever it is, whether it’s offensive zone or defensive zone,” Stastny said. “If I get too far away from it and hope for it to come to me, that’s when things aren’t going to happen.”
As a result of Stastny’s drop in production, Chandler Stephenson took over as the second-line center beginning with the Dec. 10 game against Chicago.
Another decision ahead
Stastny was relegated to the third line and has logged fewer than 15 minutes of ice time in seven straight games. When center Cody Eakin returns from injury — he skated on his own Monday — Gallant will have another difficult lineup decision involving Stastny.
But for now, Stastny’s new partnership with scoring wings Cody Glass and Alex Tuch has provided more depth.
In its brief time together, the trio produced 57.52 percent of the shot attempts at 5-on-5 and has positive ratios in expected goals for (59.27), scoring chances (57.78) and high-danger chances (53.85), according to NaturalStatTrick.
Stastny opened the scoring in the Knights’ 3-1 victory at San Jose on Dec. 22 when he buried a feed from Tuch.
He tacked on the final goal against Arizona when he made a nifty move and tucked the puck around Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta.
“It’s more about where does everyone fit in that makes our team click the best,” Stastny said. “I think once (Stephenson) slid in there, that line started going, and then our top line’s playing well.
“It’s our job, me, (Tuch) and (Glass), to help produce every game that we can. And all of a sudden, that makes us that much more of a threat as a team.”