Saturday, April 2, 2016

Stastny giving Blues what they paid him big money to do

Center on best stretch of games producing points since signing 
$28 million contract two years ago; not trying to look too far ahead

DENVER -- When a player has the chance to come home and join the team he grew up following after watching his Hall of Fame father end his career there, Paul Stastny jumped at the opportunity.

But Stastny's roots in Denver and with the Colorado Avalanche were tough to break. After all, Stastny spent the first eight seasons of his career playing with the Avalanche following two seasons with the University of Denver.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Paul Stastny is producing at a clip many expected when he
signed with the Blues two years ago. 
And when Stastny, 30, was one of the more sought-after free agents in the summer of 2014, he knew the spotlight would shine on him after getting a four-year, $28 million contract that averaged out to $7 million per season.

When a player gets thrust into that upper echelon of pay, eyes will naturally be cast upon them, and normally point production is expected to reach a certain level.

It's taken nearly two full seasons, but Stastny is living up to the point-producing billing. He's on a points run unlike any since donning the Blues jersey. 

Entering Sunday's game against the Avalanche, Stastny has 16 points in the past 11 games (four goals, 12 assists) and includes six multi-point games in the past nine. He came into Saturday leading the NHL in points (16) since March 9 and has found his calling playing mostly with Troy Brouwer and Robby Fabbri.

Stastny, who went to Chaminade High School and is a part of an impressive athletic alumni (Ben Bishop, Chris Butler, Chris Wideman among those currently playing in the NHL) and basketball hoopsters in the NBA (David Lee and Bradley Beal) and now Jayson Tatum, who will play at Duke next season.

Each player goes under his own merit, but Stastny put the pressure on himself to perform. But it goes back to his days of being the son of Peter Stastny, whose 16-year career netted 450 goals and 1,239 NHL points in 977 career games. It should be in the genes, right?

Stastny sits with 46 points in 60 games, his total accomplished in 74 games last season. And while those numbers may not jump out as a whole, the recent body of work gives the impression that he's producing at a clip the Blues expected and more when they signed him two years ago.

"I've put the most standards on myself," Stastny said. "You guys think I'm having a good year, but I think I can be better. That's the way I've always kind of taken the approach. What happened in the past is in the past. No one cares about that; everyone always looks forward to the next game or where you are right now. You've got to find ways of keep getting better and then keep enjoying it. When you're enjoying yourself and you're giving it your all, you have no regrets out there and you have nothing to complain about, I think that's when you're at your best."

Stastny got off to a solid start with the Blues last season with four points his first two games, but in the fourth game, a shoulder injury derailed his start and forced him to miss nearly three weeks. He had eight multi-point games all season and never seemed to quite live up to that No. 1 center billing from a points perspective despite his strong faceoff numbers and defensive play.

But the Blues paid Stastny to be a top-notch center. Producing offense mattered, especially after coming off a 25-goal, 60-point season with the Avalanche in 71 games the previous season.

"You come into a new situation, it takes a little to get adjusted to and then whether it's coaching staff or players or just the new kind of system, organization, that takes a little bit but everyone always felt like that first year's going to be the toughest and that's true, especially with your first move," Stastny said. "Not just coming back here, but it was being in one spot the whole time. ... That first move is always the toughest. After that, you kind of know what to expect."

Stastny again got off to a good start this season with five points in five games but got hurt again. While blocking a shot Oct. 16 in Vancouver, he broke a bone in his foot and missed the next 16 games. But finding his niche with Brouwer and Fabbri has given the Blues a lethal line.

"I've got to tell you, it's really impressive the way Paul's playing right now," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who at times said last season the Blues "needed more" when it came to Stastny's production.

"I think when you're emotionally connected, you get the best from a player," Hitchcock added. "If he didn't get hurt earlier in the year, he could have had a great year offensively because his strength on the puck and his determination, it's a real good sign for us moving forward.

"His conscience on the ice and that line has been terrific. It's been effective offensively, it's been effective defensively. This is as well ... 'Stas' has really elevated his game to another level, which is really really good to see."

Stastny, who leads the Blues in points since the All-Star break (24 in 26 games), is putting in a complete body of work that's paying off.

"I think I'm comfortable, that's for sure," Stastny said. "You never want to be too comfortable, you're always pushing yourself to be better every day whether it's in practice or games or playing different roles. Some nights you're going to be looked upon to help and other nights it's not going your way but you've still got to be important defensively and special teams. I think that's where we've found our success, is no one on our team complains about anything. Different guys are put in different situations on nights. As long as the team's winning, everyone's happy.

"I think it's a mix of hard work and when things are going well, you're playing with confidence and everything seems to be a little easier, everything slows down a little bit. That first period yesterday wasn't good, our line wasn't well and sometimes you get frustrated and you can't let that bother you too much and you've got to worry about what you can do yourself. When you start looking at other people or things aren't working well, then it's only going to bring you down. To be the best I can be, you've got to try and be positive all the time, even when things aren't going well and be a good player all-around because we all rely on each other in this game. There's not too many individuals that can just do it all by themselves. When we're playing at our best is when we're all playing together."

Don't think for a second his teammates aren't noticing.

"His hockey sense is off the charts," goalie Jake Allen said. "He just makes people that he plays with so much better. They feed off that with energy and it helps him as well. He's a passer, he's a play-maker, and he can also finish. But he's a pass-first-type guy and before 'Fabs' got hurt there, that line was unbelievable for us for a long time. Hopefully he can get back soon and get that trio reunited. 'Stas' is the leader of that group and the other guys follow suit."

Stastny, who is third on the Blues in points behind Vladimir Tarasenko (67) and Alexander Steen (50), is first in assists with 36; he has 550 points (186 goals, 364 assists in 672 regular season games). All the stuff about leading the league with X-amount of points since March 9 and leading the team in points since the All-Star break is irrelevant. All that matters is the team success, and as long as he's chipping in his share, the 'W's will take care of themselves.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Paul Stastny (left) celebrates a goal with teammate Vladimir Tarasenko
earlier this season. Stastny has 16 points the past 11 games.

Oh, and he's still among the NHL leaders in faceoff percentage at 56.5 percent. Not only are the points piling up, but the all-around game is growing, too.

"I don't listen to those numbers; I don't care," Stastny said. "I've tried not to look at the big picture. Sometimes you get caught up in the big picture. You look at the whole season where ... it's tough sometimes. You're going to go through tough stretches, you're going to go through good stretches. I've gotten to the point now where I just focus on ... I looked at last game, and it was good. Now I focus on Colorado and what I can do to help myself out and my line; what can we do to help out the team because the last thing you want to do is have a bad game and think about it too long. I've gotten to the point where I enjoy each game, try and give it my all so I have nothing to complain about, nothing to think about when you're playing that next game and you have too many days in between. Easier said than done; it's not easy. Mentally it's tough, but you just try to look at that game and not look at the big picture."

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