Picking up the pace
When coaches ask players to 'step up,' some respond
Posted: Sunday April 02, 2000 05:06 PM
Sergei Zholtok has been coming up clutch all season for Montreal. Robert Laberge/Allsport
By David Vecsey, CNNSI.com
They were linked only by the fact that they scored the game-winning goals for their respective teams Wednesday night. But once you heard that Montreal's Sergei Zholtok and Toronto's Jonas Hoglund had played the hero, you couldn't help but think to yourself: Geez, I think they're having pretty good years.
You would have been right. They are. In fact, Zholtok and Hoglund are linked by more than a subjective feeling of success this season: They can prove it. They are among the league leaders for biggest improvement in their goal production from last year.
These are the kind of stats coaches notice. But do they mean anything? Maybe, maybe not. But consider the fact that all nine players who have improved their output by at least 16 goals are are on teams that currently hold playoff spots.
There are interesting story lines behind many of these stars in bloom.
Florida's Pavel Bure is going to lead the league in scoring after missing all but a handful of games last season with a knee injury that required major surgery.
|A New Millennium|
||Pavel Bure, Fla.*
||Owen Nolan, S.J.
||Chris Simon, Was.*
||Michal Handzus, St.L.
||Jonas Hoglund, Tor.
||Milan Hejduk, Col.
||Shane Doan, Pho.
||Sergei Zholtok, Mon.
||Patrik Elias, N.J.
* played in at least 45 more games in 99-00
| || |
San Jose's Owen Nolan, now a five-time 30-goal scorer, has returned to form after putting up with two frustrating years in which he scored a combined 33. Many people were starting to wonder if he had been a flash in the pan.
Washington's Chris Simon, once typecast as an enforcer, leads the Capitals in scoring and has them within a victory of first place in the Eastern Conference.
Colorado's Milan Hejduk lost out on the Calder last season to teammate Chris Drury, but his sophomore season has been much more consistent that Drury's.
Hoglund, who burst onto the scene with 19 goals as a Calgary rookie in 1996-97 is now on his third team in three seasons. His 28 goals in 76 games have to be a pleasant surprise for Toronto, which picked him up after he scored but 20 goals in his previous 152 games.
And Zholtok also has been an enigma, scoring 25 goals in 63 games this season after scoring 31 in 230 games over his first five seasons. He is helping the Canadiens hang in the playoff race long after they had been left for dead earlier this season.