SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Shane Doan is off to the second-best start of his 18-year NHL career as far as goal scoring. With eight goals in his first 18 games, the Coyotes captain is on pace to eclipse his career-high for goals in a season, which was 31 in the 2008-09 season.
Oh, yeah. Doan turned 37 in October. What gives?
“Honestly, I feel young again,” he said.
There are multiple reasons for that feeling.
“His mind is fresh and his body is healed,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “He had some medical issues taken care of in the off-season, and then, when you look at how hard he’s worked to help this franchise find stability here and all the hours he put in during the lockout, he’s had a lot on his plate the past couple seasons.”
Doan had double-hernia surgery this summer that he admitted Monday had actually been bothering him for two seasons, not just last season.
“When you’re hurt, you feel older,” he said. “Everything is a big effort. It feels like work.”
Doan suffered his first hernia in 2000, then another in 2001. Those were surgically repaired with an old medical technique where mesh is used to fix the tears. The mesh has a shelf life of 10-12 years, so Doan finally saw a Philadelphia-based doctor this summer to undergo another hernia repair procedure that has done wonders for his body.
So has the absence of the ownership saga, which dragged on for four years. Doan rolls his eyes when asked how many times he was asked about the club’s long-term prognosis in the Valley. But the blessing and curse of being Shane Doan is that he answered the questions every time, with the same polite and respectful tone you always get from him, even if he secretly wants to strangle you.
Now that those physical and mental hurdles are in the past, Doan is approaching the next chapter of his career like a kid at recess. But it also helps that the Coyotes brought in center Mike Ribeiro to aid the power play, while defensemen Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson have matured into the offensive catalysts the team envisioned when they drafted both.
“I’ve said it before, but when you look at our back end, those guys don’t get enough credit,” Doan said. “When you take the reins off of them and let them get after it, they do amazing things.”
Tippett can’t speak for how Doan was used by previous coaches, but it’s possible that Doan is finally getting a chance to maximize his goal-scoring opportunity because of the personnel that surround him.
“This is probably the most skill he’s had in a group to play with when you look at Ribeiro (Antoine) Vermette, (Ekman)-Larsson and Yandle,” Tippett said. “The skill level of our group is a little higher and everybody gets dragged into that, everybody gets opportunities from it.”
Those opportunities increase with the man advantage. Five of Doan’s eight goals this season have come on the power play, That, Doan notes, feels doubly special “after I got shut out in that department last season.”
Ribeiro clearly draws attention when he has the puck, but so do Yandle and Ekman-Larsson, which might be creating just a little more space for Doan, who Tippett also thinks is a step quicker with his health in order.
“When you look at those three key guys, they’re all left-handed passers, and he’s a right-handed shooter, so you can easily put those two things together and figure out why he’s finding opportunities,” Tippett said. “But he’s taking good shots, too, and he’s been good at net front (setting up screens). He’s done it a lot on the power play, and Yandle and Ekman-Larsson have gotten a lot of pucks through (for redirects or rebounds).”
Six of Doan’s eight goals have come with a Yandle assist attached, but Yandle insists he isn’t looking for Doan any more than he usually does.
“I always look for him. I know whenever he’s on the ice because he can make a difference in a game,” Yandle said. “I just think pucks are finding him more, and I don’t know if he gets enough credit for how hard his shot is and how good it is. He works on it every day after practice, and he’s 37 years old, which says a lot about the kind of player he is.”
Doan admits that not scoring in his first five games, and only netting one in his first nine, was frustrating, even if he thinks the well-worn narrative of his slow starts is a bit overplayed.
“Sure it was frustrating. It was driving me crazy,” he said. “In the end it doesn’t matter if we’re winning, but I love scoring goals. I really love scoring goals, and it just wasn’t happening.”
Goalie Mike Smith and goalie coach Sean Burke both noticed that most of Doan’s shots were ending up between two and three feet off the ice where a goalie’s hands can easily grab them. Now Doan is working on keeping the shots low or high.
Doan has never been a 35-goal scorer and has only reached 30 twice. While he would like to score 30 again, he isn’t nearly as hung up on that as he was earlier in his career.
“When you get older you just understand that there are more important things,” he said. “I know who I am as a scorer and as a player, and I’m comfortable with it.”
Tippett was asked if there will come a time soon when Doan, the face of this franchise for a decade, will have to accept a lesser role.
“I haven’t seen anything to indicate that’s where it’s headed,” he said. “If you’re a team playing against, us he’s still one of the key guys you look at.”
But Doan knows that day has to come.
“It’s good to hear Tip isn’t seeing any reason to do it now,” he said, laughing, “but when that day comes, I’ll be OK with it. As long as I can still contribute.”