Prior to the 2013 season, Daniel Winnik already had his name attached to one statistical anomaly.
Having been traded from Colorado to San Jose near the trading deadline last year, he became the first player since Sean Avery in 2006-07 to play 84 games in one season.
With his Anaheim Ducks-leading fifth goal of the season on Saturday night in a 3-2 shootout win over the visiting Nashville Predators, he’s on pace for another statistical oddity.
Should Winnik’s scoring pace continue, he’d rack up 48 goals in 48 games, more than quadrupling his previous career highs of 11, set in 2007-08 with Phoenix and 2010-11 with Colorado.
It’s an unsustainable rate. Still, his early season success does speak to the comfort he’s found at Honda Center while skating with the fourth different Western Conference team of his six-year NHL career.
“I think I just came in not thinking too much, which I think [could] kind of be my problem at times in previous years,” Winnik said. “I think just getting off to the quick start’s helping me a lot.”
Driving the net and leveraging himself against 6-foot-7 Nashville defender Hal Gill, Winnik’s third-period redirection of a Corey Perry cross-crease pass tied the game at two and set the stage for Perry’s shootout game-winner.
Though he had played primarily with Andrew Cogliano and Saku Koivu to start the season, Winnik was bumped up to the Ducks’ top line alongside Perry and Ryan Getzlaf as an adjustment by coach Bruce Boudreau to build a comfort level amongst a group of forwards that went 99 minutes and 27 seconds without scoring on the weekend. Anaheim lost to Vancouver 5-0 on Friday night.
“I was beginning to think we were running into another hot goaltender, so I just thought I’d inject a little bit of life somewhere, and maybe put some guys in a more comfortable position for them, and it worked out,” said Boudreau, who acknowledged he was looking to get Kyle Palmieri on his forehand side as a right wing.
The changes helped erase a six-game regular season losing streak against the Predators, a team that outscored the Ducks 13-5 while sweeping the season series a year ago.
To backstop the entertaining affair was 30-year old rookie Viktor Fasth, who compiled an impressive 2.04 goals against average and .934 save percentage with Stockholm-based AIK in the Swedish Elitserien one year ago.
Fasth, whose three AHL games with Norfolk between January 15 and 19 were the first games he had ever played on the smaller North American-sized ice surface, stopped 19 of 21 shots through regulation and Martin Erat, Mike Fisher and David Legwand in the shootout to outduel Pekka Rinne in his NHL debut.
“I was a bit nervous at the beginning, but….as soon as you get out there, [you] just focus on the puck. That’s my job. You don’t think about so much else,” Fasth said.
For Winnik, to be tied with Saku Koivu atop the Ducks’ scoring chart with six points is a welcome development after a summer in which he wasn’t the most hotly sought-after free agent commodity.
“I sat there for two weeks, really, with not too many offers. Teams were interested, but no one really fielded many offers,” the 27-year old said. “I don’t know if that was because of the backlog from the [Zach] Parise – [Ryan] Suter stuff, and teams were waiting on [Shane] Doan. It was frustrating, that’s for sure.”
Known as an effective mucking and grinding forward capable of driving the net and killing penalties, Winnik’s current production is a significant development for an Anaheim team looking to alleviate scoring pressure off its top two lines.
After the lineup adjustments, he became a part of those top two lines.
“We talked in between periods – myself, Getzlaf and Perry – on where we’d like to be on the ice, and I think that just kind of helped us there in the third.”
Just as importantly, Winnik’s efforts helped stabilize a Ducks penalty kill that entered the night ranked 30th in the league, having given up three goals on nine opportunities to Vancouver. On Saturday, Anaheim was a perfect three-for-three on the kill.
“[Tonight’s win] shows a lot of character, especially playing back-to-back games there,” he said. “Especially last night, too. Lose five-nothing, pretty much get embarrassed in our own building. To come back like that shows that we’re resilient.”
It’s resiliency that the Ducks will look to replicate when they travel to San Jose on Tuesday (7:30 pm / Prime Ticket) to face the first-place Sharks, who are a perfect 4-0 with a league-best plus-12 goal differential.
While two points will be the goal for Winnik and his teammates, the well-traveled forward is on pace toward the personal goals he set for himself, even if the numbers are a challenge to project.
“It’s difficult in the 48-game season,” he said. “You can kind of set the benchmarks of the 82 a little easier from previous years, but you just look to get as many points as possible.”