ST. PAUL, Minn. On pace for a career low in goals, Minnesota Wild forward Dany Heatley was mired in one of the toughest scoring slumps of his career two weeks ago.
Heatley had 13 goals, scoring on just 9.6 percent of his team-high 135 shots. Throughout his nine-year career, Heatley had never finished a season under 12 percent shooting. The two-time, 50-goal scorer knew the only way to snap out of his funk and help the team's struggling offense was to keep shooting.
So, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound winger tried to shoot his way out of the slump and in the process has become the big-time goal scorer the Wild thought they were acquiring in the offseason. Heatley has scored in three straight games with four goals and three assists during that stretch. And his shot's been finding the back of the net with more frequency with the four goals coming on 11 shots.
"I think I feel a little more in a groove," Heatley said. "During our tough stretch, I think we had a lot of trouble scoring goals and I think to work our way out of that, just kind of going back to a shooting mentality, trying to shoot everything. That's what I've tried to do the last few games."
Heatley had the 60th game of his career with two or more goals in Tuesday's 5-4 loss to Nashville, including his first power-play goal since Dec. 10. He leads Minnesota (24-19-7) with 17 goals and 37 points, and the Wild are 12-3-1 when he scores this season as they begin a three-game road trip Thursday in Colorado.
"I think he's been a huge leader for us the way that he's played," Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said. "He's really helped us get to our game. I think more so than at any point in the season, he's been managing the puck really well, strong on the puck and playing in the offensive zone. You look at the chances that he's getting and the goals that he's scoring, those are Dany Heatley goals, top of the circles and down and pretty much by our net. He's that kind of guy."
A four-time All-Star, Heatley knows it hasn't been a coincidence that he's scored more as his shot totals have increased.
"The more you shoot, the more you're going to score," Heatley said. "That's just the way it is. Top scorers in the league always have the most shots. Whether it's from out far or inside, I think just getting a rhythm of shooting the puck, feeling confident, getting it off your stick, I think that helps a lot."
Minnesota swapped one talented, slumping winger for another by trading Martin Havlat to the San Jose Sharks for Heatley in July. The Wild were hoping they were getting the Heatley who had topped 40 goals four times in his career and envisioned finally having the big-time goal scorer they've lacked since Marian Gaborik left Minnesota for the bright lights of New York and the big dollars of the Rangers after the 2008-09 season.
Instead, through the first two months of the season, Heatley resembled the player coming off his least-productive full season in the NHL when he slipped to 26 goals despite playing for one of the most talented teams in the league. He had never scored fewer than 39 goals his previous seven seasons.
Heatley's move back to the Midwest might have been a reason for his slow start as he adapted to his new teammates. The former University of Wisconsin Badger has played most of the season on the first line with captain Mikko Koivu. But with Koivu out of the lineup with a shoulder injury, Heatley's line has been juggled. Teamed with center Kyle Brodziak and rookie winger Nick Johnson the past three games, the trio has found some chemistry quickly.
"They're two very easy guys to play with," Heatley said. "We play a simple game, try to get the puck in and keep it down low. I think those are two of the best guys on the team controlling pucks down low and keeping plays alive. I think that's a big reason why we've had some success."
Brodziak enjoys being on the ice with Heatley, a career 342-goal scorer.
"He's a guy that knows how to find the scoring areas," Brodziak said. "(Tuesday) night he's in the right spot for the first goal and he gets that puck and he buries it. He's quite the sniper, that's for sure."
Heatley was involved in the second of two, high-profile trades between Minnesota and San Jose during the offseason. Devin Setoguchi, acquired from the Sharks in the Brent Burns trade, has played the past three seasons with Heatley and hasn't seen much of a difference recently from his teammate.
"No difference, (shots are) just going in now and they weren't before," Setoguchi said. "I think that's the Dany Heatley everyone wants to see. He's been playing well. When he's at his best, obviously he's scoring goals, but I think when he's not scoring goals he's still doing a lot of good things out there. Obviously as of lately and before the break, He's been playing good hockey."