GLENDALE, Ariz. – Lee Stempniak needed just over six minutes to make an offensive impact in his first game with the Phoenix Coyotes.
The goals have been pouring in ever since.
Stempniak has been the league’s most prolific scorer since being acquired at the March 3 trade deadline. His 13 goals in 14 games with Phoenix led the NHL last month and are one fewer than he had in 62 games with Toronto this season.
“I think (being traded) was a welcome change,” Stempniak said Friday after a Coyotes practice. “I certainly wasn’t ready to give up on being in Toronto or quit on that team. … To come to a team like this was really, really exciting. It’s a good team and a fresh start, and I’ve been fortunate to have some success and find chemistry.”
Stempniak has provided the Coyotes with the offensive punch they were looking for when they shook up their lineup with seven deadline deals a month ago, and he was a major catalyst in the team’s recent nine-game winning streak.
He scored 6:13 into his first game – a 3-1 victory over Colorado – to help Phoenix end a three-game slide and spark the run which has the Coyotes in contention for first place in the Western Conference. The 27-year-old right wing scored nine goals during that stretch and six of those either gave Phoenix the lead or tied the game.
“It’s not just the amount of goals he’s scored, he’s scored big goals for us,” coach Dave Tippett said.
“He’s been tremendous. … He’s meshed very well with our guys. He’s kind of a quiet personality, which is not bad having a quiet personality and carrying a big stick.”
Stempniak’s potential for being a big-time scorer was evident early in his career when he scored 27 goals for St. Louis in 2006-07, his second season in the NHL. He hadn’t scored more than 14 goals in a season since then, until now.
Stempniak, who collected his 27th goal Wednesday at Calgary, said he’s gone back to doing the things that made him successful early in his career.
“This summer I watched a lot of old games from back in St. Louis,” he said. “A lot of the success I had there was going to the right places at the right times. That’s something I focused on this year, and it’s been paying off lately.”
Since joining the Coyotes Stempniak has four multi-goal games – he had six in his previous 356 NHL games – and hasn’t gone more than two games without a goal.
“It seems like I just get good chances every game,” Stempniak said. “You don’t do that yourself. A lot of it is trying to go to the right areas, and my teammates are making plays.”
Those plays have Phoenix scoring 2.71 goals per game since Stempniak’s arrival, up from 2.53.
“He’s a guy that goes to areas that are really hard to get to,” centre Vernon Fiddler said. “He seems to find holes and has a great knack for the net.”
The Coyotes will be counting on Stempniak to continue to provide the same firepower during the final few games of the regular season and into the post-season. Phoenix is in the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and will attempt to win the franchise’s first playoff series since 1987.
Stempniak would like nothing better than a deep playoff run. He isn’t ready for his rebirth in Phoenix to end any time soon.
“I love playing here. Everything – the organization, the coaches, the guys in the room – is great,” he said. “I’ve never been part of a team like this. It’s been a lot of fun and really special.
“It’s been a great fit for me so far.”