There’s the team-worst minus-23, an unflattering shot differential – particularly for a playmaking defenseman – and the drop in production.
All suggest a down season for the Coyotes’ Oliver Ekman-Larsson, an assessment he agrees with when he reflects on his play with about a month left on the schedule.
“I think I haven’t been playing bad, and I haven’t been playing very good,” he said. “You can consider it an off year.”
But there’s also the fact Ekman-Larsson played through injury while feeling the frustration of yet another playoff-less trek – all the while bearing in mind he’s a role model for a growing cast of rookies.
And while these numbers and experiences from the past five months have culminated in the most adversity he’s faced in the NHL, Ekman-Larsson is confident he’ll rebound.
“It’s how you really handle it,” he said. “If you say to yourself, ‘I’m going to keep playing like this,’ then you will. If you tell yourself, ‘You’re going to get better,’ you will get better. I feel like I’m going to get better, and I know it and I’m going to work hard to get better. That’s the player and person I am.”
Arizona’s offensive leader the previous two seasons, Ekman-Larsson is on pace for his lowest point total since 2013.
Five teammates had more than his 10 goals entering Saturday’s game against the Devils, and his 34 points sat second to winger Radim Vrbata’s output – which was on the brink of 50.
His shots are way down from the paces he set the past cheap jerseys China two years, when he eclipsed the 20-goal plateau. And while that’s a standard Ekman-Larsson said isn’t realistic to expect every season, it could explain the fewer offensive contributions. So perhaps could the broken left thumb he played with for six weeks after suffering the injury Nov. 29 against the Sharks.
“It’s tough,” he said. “Obviously, you can’t really do the things that you want to do. You have to switch up your game a little bit, and maybe I was more of a passer for six weeks than a shooter.”
Although he said he had the option to not play, Ekman-Larsson hasn’t missed a single game. He didn’t want to take “the easy way out” and chose to continue suiting up. And while the injury was certainly a factor, he doesn’t blame it for his performance.
“I felt like I could still be out on the ice and adapt my game to that situation,” he said. “I think that’s something you will have as long as you play in the league, that you are able to battle through, and I’ve battled through a lot of stuff over the years. I feel that helps you, too, and realize you just have to find a way to be the best player every day, and you’re not going to feel 100 percent every night.”
Ekman-Larsson’s struggles, however, haven’t been limited to the offensive zone.
Aside from an eyesore of a plus-minus, a stat “he’d love to do something about” while acknowledging it includes empty-net goals, turnovers have been glaring – especially since he’s carved out a reputation as a smooth operator in his own end, poise that typically enables him to organize a rush the other way.
Overall, the Coyotes have given up 198 more shots at 5-on-5 than they’ve managed with Ekman-Larsson on the ice.
“I don’t think I switched anything up or doing anything different,” he said. “It’s just you don’t get the bounces. That’s the one thing I’ve been telling myself that I’m not going to stop making plays. That’s not the player I am. I could do it really simple for myself and chip it out every single play and then it would be wrong.”
He’d rather go through a tough season now than when the team is contending for the playoffs, Ekman-Larsson said, and he believes when the team is ready for that pursuit, he’ll be on-point to stoke success.
But a four-going-on-five-year playoff drought has been a harsh reality.
“You obviously don’t feel very good about it,” Ekman-Larsson said. “It’s kind of hard to don’t really play for anything.”
Still, he has hope and the Coyotes’ youth has helped fuel that – an audience the 25-year-old, who has two full seasons left on a six-year, $33 million contract, is aware he has as a leader on the team.
“When I got in the league, I looked to Doaner (captain Shane Doan) every game we lost and how he acted or how he handled himself,” he said. “I think that’s huge, especially when we have a lot of young players. I feel that’s important.”
The remainder of the season is no doubt still significant for the rookies since every shift offers much-needed experience, but the time left is also meaningful for a veteran like Ekman-Larsson.
He wants to exit every game feeling proud of his play and like he did the best he could.
Because as much as this season has tested him, it hasn’t changed who he is.