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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 4, 2020
TORONTO — This is a dubious distinction.
Calgary Flames centre Mark Jankowski has logged the most appearances, the most ice time, of any NHL forward who has yet to tickle twine so far this season.
That wouldn’t be such a startling stat in late October. In mid-January, though, with the all-star break fast approaching, not many full-timers are still stuck on zero.
“You don’t want to feel sorry for yourself,” Jankowski stressed. “You just have to come to the rink every day ready to work hard and do things right. And then it will reward you.”
With the Flames enjoying an off-day Tuesday in Toronto, Jankowski had a rare opportunity to catch up with family and friends — folks who must be feeling sorry for him as he tries to shake this extended case of snake-bite.
Ahead of Thursday’s matchup with the Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena (5 p.m. MT, Sportsnet West/Sportsnet 960 The Fan), the 25-year-old from Dundas, Ont., has totalled 37 games and 403:31 of ice time so far this season but has yet to notch a single goal.
He has contributed one assist.
He’s too skilled for that sort of stat-line to make any sense.
Despite being a go-to in short-handed situations, Jankowski is struggling right now to even squeeze his way into the Flames’ lineup — No. 77 has been a healthy scratch for back-to-back contests and for five of the past 10 dates.
“When things aren’t going offensively, there are a lot of other things you can do to help the team in a positive way,” he reasoned earlier this season. “Be good at both ends of the ice. Create energy for the team. And then faceoffs and penalty-kill, those are two huge parts of the game that I feel like I take a lot of pride in and something that I do well.”
With Jankowski watching from press-row, the Flames’ five-game win streak ended with Monday’s 2-0 blanking from the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre.
The crew from Calgary has now been on the wrong end of a league-high six shutouts, a reminder that one of the NHL’s most productive teams in 2018-19 has now tumbled to 24th overall offensively with an average of 2.65 goals per game.
You certainly don’t pin that sort of team stat on your fourth-line centre, but it’s still baffling that Jankowski has been such a non-factor in the attacking zone.
This is a guy, remember, who tallied 14 times last winter while working mostly in a third-line slot.
This is a guy who buried 17 in the previous campaign, including a four-goal outburst in the season finale.
This is a guy with a combination of size and skill that scouts swoon over.
Jankowski’s longest dry spell at the big-league level had been 14 games without a lamp-lighting … until now.
And blocking it out? Well, it’s easier said than done.
Just ask his sometimes-linemate and penalty-kill pal Tobias Rieder, who sweated through the entire 2018-19 campaign — suiting up 67 times on behalf of the Edmonton Oilers — without ever finding the back of the net.
“Last year was really tough,” said Rieder, who has two markers this season . “There is also so much pressure from the outside, right? And you put so much pressure on yourself. So when you go out there, you might squeeze the stick a little too tight. Every game you go out there, you feel like you have to score. It’s tough. It’s tough on your mind. But you just have to zone out and go do what you’re good at and pucks will eventually go in.”
Because the more you stress about it, the more elusive it seems.
“That’s how it felt like last year for me,” Rieder nodded. “I was thinking about it constantly and trying to get it out of my head, but it’s not that easy.”
Heading into Tuesday’s action around the NHL, 455 different forwards had scored at least once this season.
Jankowski headlines the list of those who have not.
What’s especially troubling is the 6-foot-4, 212-lb. pivot is barely directing any rubber on net. He has registered only 20 shots so far, three of those pellets on opening night.
Many have speculated Jankowski’s days in the Flaming C are numbered. Some fans are clamouring for a look at American Hockey League all-star Glenn Gawdin instead.
A first-round selection back in 2012, Jankowski is due a qualifying offer of US$1.75-million this summer, which seems steep for a guy with his current stat-line. If the Flames balk, he would become an unrestricted free agent.
That’s why it was so fascinating that, as part of a detailed answer after Monday’s morning skate in Montreal, interim head coach Geoff Ward characterized Jankowski as a part of the long-term plan at the Saddledome.
“We see that he’s an important piece of our team, for a variety of reasons. No. 1, we feel like he’s a big body who has skill and he can play, so his potential to play up our lineup as the years go on for him is really high,” said Ward, who has recently entrusted Jankowski with more shutdown duties. “He’s a smart player who has skill, and so he’s going to be one of our guys that is going to become a core guy. So in terms of extending our culture or propagating our culture into the next generation of players on our team, he’s one of those guys that we see as being a key component in that.
“For us, there’s an awful lot of upside in him. So it’s more important that we make him feel like he’s important and that he’s part of it. I think as a player, when you’re not in every day, what happens first is you come to a point where you just go, ‘You know what? The only way this is going to change is for me to start working and to make the adjustments in my game that I need to and take it from there.’ And he has to understand that it is a process, that it’s not necessarily a negative thing.
“We think he’s been handling it well. He’s handling it like a pro,” Ward continued. “The fact there is a little competition to be in our lineup is a good thing. And he has to understand that because when he’s the guy that is a veteran player and when he’s a guy that is leading our culture and being a core guy, he can help the young player that is in the same situation he’s in right now. And so this is an important process for us that we’re going through right now. Because it’s the transition that teams go through when they’re learning to become a winning team and a contending team.
“And we feel like he’s a huge, huge part of that for us.”
Right now, Jankowski must feel like there’s a huge monkey on his back.
As his dry spell drags on, it’s probably becoming more and more difficult to look at the bright side.
“I know what I’m capable of,” Jankowski said. “I’ve scored some goals in this league. I just have to remind myself that I know what I’m capable of.”
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