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|25 октября 2008
Samsonov struggling to get going // newsobserver.com
The look on Sergei Samsonov's face was telling as he skated to the penalty box Thursday night --pained, dejected, angry.
Samsonov had done all he could for the Carolina Hurricanes in the first period against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Mellon Arena. The veteran winger had controlled the puck, shot the puck, made crafty plays and good passes, thrown his body around, kept the puck in the Pens' zone.
As Eric Staal likes to say, "Sammy was dancing."
And yet, nothing Samsonov did could get the Canes a goal. Brandon Sutter's unassisted goal had given Carolina a 1-0 lead, yet 20 seconds in the second period there was Samsonov, headed to the box on a tripping penalty.
The Penguins didn't score on the power play -- then. They did that later, unloading four third-period goals to surge to a 4-1 victory.
But, in a way, it has been that kind of season for Samsonov, who signed a three-year, $7.6 million contract with Carolina in April. In six games, he has yet to notch a goal or assist.
"It's not happening right now," Samsonov said Friday. "I don't know what I need to do.
"It's very frustrating. I'm getting chances but I can't get it in. I can't get on the scoresheet."
Samsonov, who turns 30 on Monday, said he has felt like a baseball player who is hitting his share of line drives, but all at fielders for outs.
"It seems like it," he said, with a hint of a smile. "I feel like I get in position to score and then I hit the post, hit a skate and it's not there."
Canes coach Peter Laviolette said he talked with Samsonov early in the week, urging him not to get down on himself.
"I tried to alleviate it," Laviolette said. "I let him know there's a lot of confidence from the coaches and his teammates in his ability and what he can do.
"There are times where Sergei has made plays. He's had looks. Against Detroit, he hit the post, or he may have a nice feed to someone else and they don't cash in.
"I just want him to stay positive. It's only a matter of time."
Put on Staal's line for Thursday's game, Samsonov fed Staal with a pass from behind the net early in the first period, but Staal couldn't convert. Later, Samsonov fired a hard shot from the left wing that Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury stopped, but he collected the rebound and again passed to Staal in front. Again, no goal.
With five minutes left in the second period and the score still 1-0, Samsonov spun around behind the Pittsburgh net for a wraparound shot. Again, Fleury made a hustling save.
"I thought Sammy played a real strong game," Laviolette said. "The puck was around him all night.
"I think the biggest thing is how he plays. Obviously we need him to put points on the board. But he was around the puck all night."
Staal said he's confident Samsonov will break through soon and be the kind of point-producer he was last season after being claimed off waivers -- 32 points in 38 games.
"He's obviously very, very gifted offensively," Staal said. "When he dances with that thing it's fun to watch."
Dance? Staal grinned when asked about that description.
"I think that means that no one in the building knows what he's doing but him," Staal said. "It looks like the puck is velcroed to his stick. He's kind of doing the back and forth, back and forth, and going one way and then the other.
"That's his game and that's where he's at his best, creating that ice and creating that open space by moving like that."
When Samsonov struggled last season with the Chicago Blackhawks, with just four assists in 23 games, there were whispers around the NHL that his best dancing years might be behind him. But once with the Canes, he resurrected his career and flourished with a skating team. He earned the new contract, found a new home.
Now this. Six games into the season and still without a point.
Samsonov, who is in his 11th NHL season, said it's important not to let the frustration build, not to let bad games eat at him.
"Personally, I've always had a hard time letting it go," he said. "The main thing probably is not to squeeze your stick and not to try to do something that's not there.
"The right thing to do would be to play the game, forget it and move on to the next one. Just take one shift at a time, one game at a time, and not try to think a lot about it.
"Just work harder."
That's what Samsonov plans to do today against the New York Islanders. It's all he can do.