By Bill Hoppe
Luke Adam knew his torrid early-season pace was a bit unrealistic. The rookie, thanks to three two-point efforts, including a two-goal game, was on a 62-score, 98-point pace after four contests.
Forget about the Calder Trophy. Those are MVP numbers.
Naturally, Adam’s cooled down considerably recently. Before his first-period goal Saturday, his first in five games, the center had two tallies and seven points in the last 15 tilts. With only one tally and two points in the previous eight games, he was officially struggling.
But Adam looked sharp against Phoenix Coyotes, hitting a post early before he tipped in Jordan Leopold’s shot in front at 11:57 to tie the game at 1, his sixth goal.
The 21-year-old, who just skated on four lines over a three-game stretch, has been trying to regain the October form he showcased between Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, the NHL’s hottest winger tandem.
“I want to get back to that,” Adam said about his hot start prior to the Sabres’ 4-2 loss at the First Niagara Center. “I know I can play in this league. I feel I’ve proven I belong here, I can play here. I’m just trying to get back to doing the little things. Big things usually come out of that.”
What’s caused the drop in Adam’s production? He’s simply not finishing his opportunities, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
“Luke was taking advantage of (his few chances),” Ruff said. “Even if you look at his last goal, which was Ottawa (on Nov. 11), that was his only chance in the game. Luke scored. It’s trying to get in on the multiple opportunities, create some of your own. But get in on the multiple opportunities to ramp up the odds of you getting on the scoreboard.
“He had some really timely opportunities to start the season but didn’t miss. And it wasn’t that he was staring at four or five opportunities. The opportunities have gone down, which I think leads to a little bit of a struggle.”
Still, Adam’s hardly having a bad season. As of Sunday, his 14 points ranked third among rookies, five behind Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Adam’s six goals ranked fourth, two behind Philadelphia’s Matt Read.
Remember, Adam, who played 19 games last year, was a bubble player during training camp. But Jochen Hecht’s concussion opened a spot, and he began the season centering the top line. The fast start taught Adam he’s an NHLer.
“That’s good for any player to know that he belongs, know that he can play at this level,” Adam said. “So I think that was huge.”
He left the No. 1 line Monday in Montreal, switching places with Derek Roy. But Adam didn’t last a full game with Ville Leino and Drew Stafford. He skated late Wednesday on the left wing with Paul Gaustad and Patrick Kaleta.
Adam has spent the last two games between rookie Corey Tropp and Nathan Gerbe, a trio Ruff liked Friday in the Sabres’ 1-0 win in Carolina.
“I thought they worked, and that’s the important part,” Ruff said. “They worked. I thought Corey, again, he gets in, wins battles. That’s important.”
Tropp, just seven games into his career, has shown he could be an NHL regular someday soon.
“His play is making a statement,” Ruff said. “It’s been in limited ice time. You look at how hard he goes into every shift. He approaches every game with this fearless attitude. It points in the right direction.”