SUN Hockey Pool

The invisible man

Edmonton Oilers' Jarret Stoll (left) and Fernando Pisani (right) celebrate Pisani's goal against...

Edmonton Oilers' Jarret Stoll (left) and Fernando Pisani (right) celebrate Pisani's goal against the Florida Panthers last week. (Edmonton Sun File/Darryl Dyck)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 1:16 PM ET

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- After leading the NHL in playoff scoring with 14 goals in 24 games, and then striking a four-year, $10 million contract a few weeks later, post-season hero Fernando Pisani knew his days of flying under the radar were over.

What he didn't know, or expect, is that it would take all of nine games for the 'S' on his chest to become a bulls-eye.

"I knew there were going to be high expectations of me after the playoff run," said the 30-year-old Edmonton native. "And as player you want to come out and continue this season where you left off last season."

Didn't work out

It didn't quite work out that way. The new season opened Oct. 5 and Pisani didn't find the net until

Oct. 25. Twenty-six games into the schedule, he and those lofty expectations were stalled at four goals.

He wasn't in playoff form, but some of his critics were. They compared him to John Druce, Chris Kontos and other flashes in the pan, took not-so-subtle jabs at that new contract and groused about all the premium ice time being devoted to a plumber. He understood that criticism came with the new territory; what he didn't understand was where his hands went.

"As much as you say it doesn't bother you, deep down it does," said Pisani, after yesterday's workout at an L.A. practice rink.

"Everybody wants to produce, everybody wants to score. But it was something I couldn't allow myself to get fixated on.

"When one part of your game isn't going the way you expected, you have to focus on other parts. I told myself 'If I'm not scoring, OK, then I better make sure I'm doing a good job defensively and on the PK, make sure I'm not getting scored on. Build off that and the goals will come."'

It seems to have worked. On a team where half the players are in minus figures, Pisani is tops at plus-11. And with two goals in his last three games and three in the last six, he's slowly knocking the concrete off his hands.

"He, Raffi (Torres) and (Jarret) Stoll are a good complement for each other," said head coach Craig MacTavish. "(Pisani) really solidifies every line he plays on. His plus-minus is not a fluke. He's a really heady player. His worst game is still a really good game. And when he starts getting confidence offensively..."

He's a very complete package.

"Our expectations for him were somewhere between where he was early in the season (ice cold) and where he finished in the playoffs (red hot),'' said MacTavish. "Now he's settled into that."

He's never going to be a flashy 40-goal man, and will probably never see another 14-in-24 run like he had last summer, but how many coaches wouldn't love a

20-goal man who's one of his best defensive players and can turn it up in the playoffs?

Coach's favourite

Often labelled as one of coach's "favourites," it's not hard to see why MacTavish has so much faith in the

30-year-old winger.

"Sometimes you just don't get the bounces, but as long as you're working hard and smart defensively, he sees that and recognizes it," said Pisani, who's been even on in the plus figures in 30 of 41 games this year. "It's when you're not working hard and you start taking shortcuts, that's when he gets on you."

A lot of what he does goes unnoticed, or unappreciated, and isn't conducive to big numbers, but Pisani, who's come a long, long way since being drafted 195th overall 10 years ago, isn't about to abandon the stuff that got him here.

"I'd love to score all the time," he said. "But I'm not going to change my game. Other than having a little more experience and confidence, I'm the same player

I was last year or the year before - a defensive player who can put the puck in the net."


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