At the All-Star break, the Ottawa Senators were tied for eighth in the NHL with 2.70 goals per game. That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment considering the Senators leading scorer among forwards a year ago, Mark Stone, wasn’t producing as expected.
But just as he did last year, Stone has turned it on in the second half of the season, and there are is reason to believe that he can continue this hot stretch until the middle of April.
It’s not like Stone had a horrible first half, but after his rampage pace at the end of his rookie year, expectations were high for the 22-year-old. In the first 48 games this season, he had 11 goals and 33 points with a minus-12 rating. During that time, he only averaged 1.85 shots on net per game.
The second-year forward went particularly cold right before the All-Star break. He went pointless with a minus-eight rating in eight straight games to end January.
Since returning to action after the All-Star contest, Stone has eight goals and 12 points with a plus-four rating in 11 games. Over that stretch, he has averaged 2.45 shots per game.
Owners who had Stone last season will know that this looks eerily familiar to his splits from a year ago. Last February, he had three goals and 11 points in 12 games. In his brief career, Stone’s best month has clearly been the second calendar month of the year. He has 11 goals and 23 points in 23 career games during February. In no other month has he registered at least 10 goals or averaged anywhere close to a point per game.
It is never a bad idea to test the trade market with a guy as hot as Stone is at the moment, but there are at least a couple reasons to believe the 22-year-old will continue his strong play into March and April.
For one, that’s exactly what he did last season.
In March and April of 2015, the forward had 11 goals and 25 points in 22 games. During the second half of last season overall, he had 15 scores, 38 points and a plus-12 rating in 36 games. Stone is on a similar pace right now only with more goals rather than assists.
The likelihood that he repeats those numbers are slim, especially since the shooting percentage will inevitably come down at some point. It’s at 29.6 percent this month.
But he is clearly a better second-half player. In 115 career games before the All-Star break, he has averaged 0.58 points per game. That jumps up to 1.06 in the 47 games he has played in the second half.
Another factor that could help his production over the next two months is his line. Despite Stone’s most recent success, Ottawa coach Dave Cameron has jumbled his lines as of late and for good reason.
Stone has played most of the last two seasons with center Kyle Turris and left winger Mike Hoffman. Both Turris and Hoffman are in horrible cold streaks even though Stone has been playing so well. Hoffman has no points in his last five games and just two goals and four points in the last 11.
Turris is even colder. The center has gone the last 13 contests without a single point.
It is amazing to see Stone go on such a nice run with two of Ottawa’s other top six forwards struggling so mightily, but it has happened because in the first game back from the break, Cameron paired Stone with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Zack Smith. In its first four games together, the Stone-Pageau-Smith line produced nine goals and 20 points.
Interestingly, Cameron moved Stone back on a line with Turris and Hoffman on February 18. Stone has two goals and three points in three games since then but still nothing much for Turris or Hoffman.
Although the linemates for Stone look really bad right now, those slumps have to come to an end eventually. If Stone can produce without much help from his linemates, then imagine what he will be able to do once Turris and Hoffman get their games going again. Should they continue to struggle, it is probably not out of the question to see Stone back on a line with Pageau and Smith, which obviously worked very well in its short stint.
Testing the trade market with a hot player is never a bad idea, but there is absolutely no need to unload Stone for anything. He might just be warming up.