The Ballad of Dany Heatley
I don’t think anyone can deny that Dany Heatley is having a down year. In fact, he’s had a down couple of years for the Wild sniper.
Currently, he’s on pace for 57 points and 25 goals. Respectable numbers for most but, for a former 100 point, 50 goal scorer, another disappointing season and, for a team that hasn’t been scoring goals, it is a pace that is fairly difficult to watch by the fans for a player who was expected to recapture his former point-per-game self.
This isn’t to say that Heatley can’t come on strong. In his last three games since Mikko Koivu returned from injury, he’s got four points. Averaging a point-per-game from here on out can still get him a pretty respectable (albeit down) season.
But why is this player, who was so determined to have a rebound season after struggling greatly in San Jose last season, stumbling out to this slow start again?
Well, first, you have to consider chemistry.
Especially now, with Devin Setoguchi out, Heatley is playing with players that aren’t that familiar to him. His chemistry with Koivu has been better as the season has progressed, but he’s still getting used to the way that his new linemates play the game.
Throw in the flux in the Wild’s line up (Heatley has had at least four different wings playing to the right of Mikko Koivu) due to injuries and you’ve got a pretty difficult situation for a player to pull together any sort of chemistry in.
If you look, when Heatley was playing with the Senators, or even in his first season with the Sharks, his linemates were static, for the most part. He was part of the team’s “Big 3,” with little to no turnover. In Ottawa, it was always certain who his linemates were going to be – Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson – and, in his first season in San Jose, it was the same case with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.
With all of the injuries that the Wild have had to deal with this year, it hasn’t so much been the case.
Also, if you look at these situations, he has never been the lone goal scoring threat on the line. In Ottawa, he could always count on Alfie to draw a little attention from him and, in San Jose, he had Marleau to do the same.
In Minnesota, it’s been much easier for teams to isolate him and lock him down because, for the majority of the season, he’s been out on an island on the left wing. Teams seem content to give more space to the opposite wing than to Heatley.
The second contributing factor is the lack of pucks he’s firing at the net.
Heatley is only on pace for 235 shots this season, which would be the fourth lowest total of his career. He’s been struggling to find the back of the net, to boot, with a 10.7 percent shooting percentage (the lowest of his career). Now, most snipers are streaky folk, which means that the only cure for a down season is to get into a groove, and the only way he’s going to do that is to shoot the puck.
Consider, when he had his two 50 goal seasons in Ottawa, he fired 300 and 310 shots at net, respectively. During these seasons, Heatley had multiple goal droughts of four or five games.
Take the Sens’ Stanley Cup Final season, for example. Heatley had 310 shots and 50 goals that season. In games where Heatley didn’t have a goal, he averaged 3 shots per game. In games where he had at least one goal, though, he averaged 4.78 shots per game – almost 2 full shots more.
So, what does that mean?
Well, for one, in order to score more, Heatley has to shoot more. That’s the type of player he is and that’s how he’s going to find that groove and, make no mistake, he’s got to find that groove if he wants to rebound for the rest of this season.
And finally, the third reason why he’s struggling offensively this season is because of a new focus the defensive zone.
Heatley’s never necessarily been a defensive liability, but his focus has also been offense. In the last few seasons, especially last season in San Josewhen he was hurt, he’s put more of a focus on his own zone. It started last season, because, playing with a broken hand, that’s how he was going to help his team and it has continued into Mike Yeo’s system this season.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Defensive responsibility isn’t a bad thing. Heatley’s doing a great job supporting the defense as opposed to springing out of the defensive zone at the first opportunity. But, truthfully? I don’t know that there’s anyone who would be opposed to a touch less defensive responsibility if it led to a few more prime scoring opportunities for Heater.
Watching him play, it’s hard for me to say that Heatley’s lost a step. He looks like the same player he’s always been – just a bit more tentative at times. The last few games, however, the comfort level seems to be coming and it will come, it’s just going to take time. It also sounds like both Devin Setoguchi and Guillaume Latendresse could be close to returning from their respective injuries.
If that’s the case, hopefully that can bring some stability to the Wild’s line up and to their top line and hopefully, that can get Heatley into a comfortable situation and into that groove that he’s missing right now.