New contract lights major fire under Phaneuf

RANDY SPORTAK

, Last Updated: 7:36 AM ET

LOS ANGELES -- Dion Phaneuf's 20-goal rookie season put him among the top defencemen in history.

The 17-goal campaign he followed up with was almost as impressive.

Seeing as the Calgary Flames defenceman went into last night's affair with the Los Angeles Kings with 1 goals, he'll be hard pressed to prevent the line on that chart from falling further.

Then again, with the way he's been piling up the goals over the past few weeks, maybe not.

Phaneuf entered the clash with the Kings on a run with four goals in as many games, and five tallies in seven contests.

That's a hot streak a forward would be thrilled with, never mind a defenceman.

However, Phaneuf said he hasn't done anything out of the ordinary of late.

"Just the way things go during the year," he shrugged.

"The forwards have had traffic all year, but sometimes they go in and sometimes they don't. It's positive when they do, that's for sure."

Curiously, his hot streak really clicked into place when the finishing touches were being put on the six-year, US$39-million contract extension he recently signed.

Phaneuf insists the goal-scoring surge isn't solely due to putting his John Henry on the pact, but admitted it's not a complete coincidence.

"It's really nice to have it done. It's great to not have to have that on your mind," he said.

"No matter how much you say you're not focusing on it, it's still there, so it's good to have that out of the way."

Just like getting through a nasty drought.

Before he tallied in a 5-4 victory over the San Jose Sharks Jan. 30 to get off the schneid, Phaneuf went 17 games without scoring a goal. He tallied only once in 25 games, a spell that lasted two full months on the calendar.

Not that he enjoyed being reminded.

"When you don't score, you've got to play through it and when they do, you play the same way. It's something that just happens," Phaneuf said. "You're not happy about it, though. Your job is to contribute the way you can. Don't change anything up, keep plugging away."

But something must have changed. It can't be all those shots that were blocked or ricocheted the wrong way off a shin pad last month are suddenly bouncing the right way.

Lord knows the opposition isn't giving him extra space -- if any at all -- to unload his point shots.

"Why is he scoring now? I don't think it's one thing you can pinpoint but he, in a sense, is putting himself in a better position," said defence partner Anders Eriksson.

"Instead of just shooting, he's waiting, sometimes stopping the puck and then moving. The powerplay goal the other night, he could have shot right away, but instead took a step.

"He doesn't have to shoot slapshot all the time."

But Phaneuf uses that weapon a lot. He's leading all NHL defencemen in shots, with 184 prior to last night's game.

That's a reason head coach Mike Keenan wasn't fretting during Phaneuf's struggles.

"Why did Jarome go into a bit of a drought? Or Kristian? It's just the dynamics of the game," Keenan explained. "As long as you keep pucks going to the net, if you're a forward or a defenceman -- and look at his shot total, it's quite high -- that's the formula.

"It's not very difficult. I don't understand why a lot of players don't figure it out --the more you shoot, the more often you're gonna score."

Now, with Phaneuf hitting his stride, it gives Keenan more at his disposal and more for opponents to consider.

"In today's game, to be a good club, you have to get production from your rearguard. That means goals," Keenan said.

"If they can participate and score goals, it's harder for the other club to defend. Teams that don't have those assets -- puck-moving defenceman, scoring defencemen -- don't get as much offence, even from the forwards."


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