Stajan feeling confident after second half surge
CALGARY, AB -- A quick glance at Matt Stajan's stats from the 2011-12 campaign wouldn't give you any indication of a career year.
61 games. Eight goals. 18 points. 29 penalty minutes.
Offensively, Stajan didn't come close to matching the numbers he put up in the early stages of his career when he was centering Toronto's second line. Between 2005 and 2008, Stajan set career-highs in goals scored (16) and points (55), numbers he has yet to replicate in a Flames jersey.
However, the pivot believes this is one of his best seasons throughout his eight year NHL career.
"I felt I came a long way as a player," Stajan said on Monday. "As this season went on, down the stretch, I’m confident in saying that’s the best I’ve felt as a complete player.
"I'm in a good spot as a player and I can contribute to a hockey team."
Starting out the year centering the fourth line, Stajan buckled down and excelled in the role he was given. Would he have preferred to be playing more minutes? Of course. At the end of the 2010-11 season, he admitted his lack of offensive production and ice time were big blows to his confidence but understood he wasn't just going to be handed everything he wanted unless he improved his overall game.
He came into the 2011-12 campaign knowing what he had to do and embraced the niche role given to him by head coach Brent Sutter. In the early stages of the season when the Flames were struggling, he and his wingers - Tom Kostopoulos and Tim Jackman - often provided the spark the team desperately needed with their hard work and seemingly endless energy.
However, his quest to improve his game was put on hold mid-way through the season. He was forced to sit out of 14 games with an ankle injury sustained on Dec. 18th in a game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Stajan returned to action at the right time as his team was being crippled by injuries. The Flames lineup was losing players on almost a nightly basis and he began to move up the depth chart. He seized the opportunity given to him by the misfortunes of his teammates and proved he could handle the new responsibilities given to him.
By the time the stretch drive rolled around, the 28 year-old was in between Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla and looked right at home on the top line. His offensive production picked up but that isn't what he is most proud of.
"Offensively, that's one side," he said. "But playing key roles defensively down the stretch - faceoffs, penalty kill - I felt I was as complete of a player as I've been in my career. That's the way I want to play."
Tanguay, who has experienced having his game slide and people speculating about his abilities, is thrilled to see his teammate thrive.
"It’s tough to go through mentally what he’s gone through," Tanguay said in March. "The fans and media were tough on him. It’s good to see the results he’s getting. I always thought he was a smart player."
Stajan attributes his second-half surge to confidence gained from seeing his hard work pay off.
"When you're playing with confidence, you feel a lot better. You only control what you can control and that's going out there and working hard. Doing the little things. Playing the right way.
"From that, good things happen. And when good things happen, you gain confidence."