The Lightning captain gets 20 goals for the 19th time and is only getting stronger as the season winds down.
By BRANT JAMES
Published March 30, 2004
TAMPA - Dave Andreychuk loves a strong finish - to a season, to a career. He's having both.
The 40-year-old Lightning captain was built for this time of year, when goals come from harder work, keener senses and an appreciation for how important they are as the regular season bleeds into the playoffs.
Andreychuk again demonstrated how each work together on Monday when he scored twice, giving him 21 for the season and at least 20 goals for the 19th time in his 22-year NHL career.
What does his toughest critic say about such a player?
"He's probably pretty old by then," Andreychuk laughed, "but there is consistency in his game, and that's something I'm pretty proud of."
Andreychuk is not one to ruminate on his growing list of statistical milestones - he has 634 career goals, 11th all-time. With a power-play goal Monday, he increased his all-time record to 270. Only Gordie Howe (22) and Ron Francis (20) had more 20-goal seasons, but reaching the plateau this time left an impression. Stuck on one goal on Dec.2, questions had begun to arise, even with himself, whether his skills had faded.
"There were times in my game the last four or five years where there was some doubt, but I've been able to answer," he said. "I look at it like I have to step in and contribute offensively when I get a chance."
Coach John Tortorella did not seem to have had any doubts.
"Dave's the ultimate slow starter," he said. "He has been his whole life."
Though Andreychuk has made no retirement announcement, he's obviously closer to the Hall of Fame than rookie camp. And even as he improved his individual statistics with seven goals in the past 14 games, he continued to provide intangibles Tortorella covets.
"I can talk about this guy all night long," he said, "because I think it's such a great treat and such a great position for some of our young guys to be in that locker room with him every day, and see how he does things. And I hope they're smart about how they watch him and don't let this go by without learning."
Even for Andreychuk, the learning never stops. A top-line wing a decade ago - he had 99 points with Toronto in 1993-94 - he has adjusted and maintained an offensive presence while in a more defensive role. He remains important on face-offs and as a large body willing to fight for space and tip-ins in front of the net. His power-play goal on Monday, which gave the Lightning a 3-2 lead late in the third, was a boost for a unit that came in 3 for its past 31.
"He checks the top line every night and he has 21 goals," Tortorella said. "He's a warrior."