Flyers' Lupul looks for consistency
Right-winger's offensive production suffers when he loses confidence
What Joffrey Lupul wants is not something he'll ever find under a Christmas tree.
It's something the Philadelphia Flyers right-winger has struggled with since he broke into the National Hockey League in 2003 with Anaheim.
"Sometimes my confidence can get shaken a little," he told CBCSports.ca following the Flyers' 4-2 loss in Toronto on Nov. 29. "I watch myself play in games when I'm on one of those [scoring] streaks and I'm really effective and getting a lot of [scoring] chances.
"Sometimes when things aren't going well you wait a little bit for someone else to do [the work]. That's something in my game I'd like to fix. I'd like to try to keep that confidence at a high level all the time but it's a long season and it's tough."
Quite often, when Lupul has lost his confidence, there has been a drastic dip in his production offensively.
After scoring 28 goals and posting 53 points in his second NHL season with Anaheim, Lupul was traded to the Edmonton Oilers, "where I never found a spot in the lineup" and managed just 28 points in 81 games with a team-worst minus-29 rating.
From that experience, the native of Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., learned not to take anything for granted and worked harder to prepare during the summer.
Prior to the 2007-08 season, Lupul was dealt to Philadelphia as part of a four-player deal. He was on his way to a breakout season (46 points in 56 games) before a mild concussion and sprained right ankle cost him 26 contests.
This season, Lupul didn't register a point in his first five games, had six in his next four starts and was then held off the scoresheet for a five-game stretch.
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, whose interest in Lupul dated back to his draft year in 2002, when the Ducks made him the seventh overall pick, told CBCSports.ca the fifth-year NHLer has always been a streaky scorer.
Speed is Lupul's biggest asset
While he seems willing to wait for that consistency as Lupul continues to mature and fully develop, Holmgren wants the 25-year-old to better utilize his biggest asset: his speed.
The GM was given a glimpse of it on Nov. 16 in Philadelphia when Lupul skated into the Atlanta zone, made a nifty move against Thrashers defenceman Niclas Havelid inside the left faceoff circle, and beat netminder Johan Hedberg for the game-winning goal.
"He took the puck from our zone, used his speed, skated the length of the ice and snapped a good shot to score. That's something we hadn't seen this year from Joffrey," said Holmgren.
"When he's not utilizing his speed, he gets in trouble and he's not effective."
That ineffectiveness, combined with a healthy and productive return by winger Simon Gagne from post-concussion syndrome, has relegated Lupul to third-line status on most nights this season.
While Lupul is comfortable in a checking role on a winning team, Holmgren and Flyers management likely envisioned him threatening the 30-goal mark after signing him to a four-year contract extension worth $14 million US last summer.
"We're counting on big things from him and we believe they're around the corner if he continues to work and utilize his speed," Holmgren said of Lupul, who had nine goals and 16 points and was minus-8 (second-worst on the Flyers) in 29 games through Dec. 15.
"At times we see the finished product, but other times we see him only scratching the surface. We're striving to find that consistency, as he probably is."
Flyers head coach John Stevens has reminded Lupul to keep the puck on his stick longer in hopes it would lead to more scoring chances.
Lupul has also realized in his conversations with Holmgren that there are better options than taking the puck into the middle of the ice and attempting plays that aren't there.
Promoted to 2nd line
"Sometimes for a player who's pretty big and fast," the six-foot-one, 205-pound Lupul said, "the best option is just go outside with it, use the speed wide and drive the net or take a shot. It's something I'm working on."
For now, Lupul will get the opportunity to work on that part of his game with a couple of new linemates, left-winger Scott Hartnell and centre Jeff Carter, who leads the Flyers with 20 goals.
"I think Lupul adds a nice complement [to the line] because he's got size and speed and can shoot to score," Stevens told Philadelphia reporters of the recent move.
The line juggling was precipitated, in part, by the Flyers' inept performance at even strength. Entering play Dec. 9, they ranked 28th out of 30 teams in five-on-five situations, having been outscored 55-44.
On the team's second line, Lupul can expect to see about 19 minutes of ice time, a substantial increase from the 12 to 14 minutes he has played most of the season. His power-play minutes might also rise.
"There are games when I get frustrated about not getting the minutes I feel I should," said Lupul, who once collected 106 points in junior for the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League. "But if other guys are using those minutes and contributing and you're winning games, you can't help but be happy. You always want to play more but it's a team game."
And speaking of team, Lupul has no desire to leave Philadelphia, which he believes has a legitimate chance to contend for the Stanley Cup for the foreseeable future.
"I think we have as good a chance as any team over the next five years to do that," said Lupul, who watched the Ducks hoist the Cup the year after he was traded to Edmonton. "It's great to see Carter elevating his game and Gagne coming back so well.
"I just love this team. I've never been with a group of guys that gets along so well. We've just got good chemistry on and off the ice. We have a great time."
The key is getting such consistency in Lupul's game.