Behold, the next coming of Robert Gordon Orr. Thy name is Aaron Rome.
The Vancouver Canucks defenceman had but two goals in 130 NHL games before returning from a broken hand last week. In the four games since, Rome has three goals, a disallowed goal, and he topped it off with his first three-point game Sunday in a 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders.
"I knew that I kind of had it in me, but maybe not to this extent," said the native of Nesbitt, Manitoba. "Everybody is asking me what I've done and whether I worked on my shot during the summer, but I haven't changed anything."
Rome scored the opening goal early in the first period, and assisted on two others as the Canucks rolled the Eastern Conference's last place team at Rogers Arena. Rome, who set a career-best for points in a game, logged 17 minutes of ice time, threw a punishing check on Marty Reasoner in the first period, and continued to establish himself as an every-game regular on Vancouver's blue line.
That nightly certainty has eluded him through five-plus NHL seasons, the last two with the Canucks. In training camp, it looked like he would serve as part of a rotation on the final defence pairing, but head coach Alain Vigneault said he intends to ride the hot hand, and that means that Andrew Alberts and Alexander Sulzer will continue to watch from the press box.
Rome ended last season with a four-game suspension for his hit on Boston's Nathan Horton in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final, and began this year by missing the first 14 contests with a fractured hand. So to become an instant offensive contributor isn't just surprising, it's precisely the tonic he needed to get his NHL career back on track.
"It's huge, for me," Rome said. "Things ended horrible last year ... and then started horrible again. I've just tried to stay focused on getting in shape, staying in shape, and getting back as quick as I could."
The Canucks have won three of four games, and continue their three-game home stand with a Wednesday contest against the arch-rival Chicago Blackhawks.
Roberto Luongo made 23 saves in his fifth consecutive start, including some beauties in the third period on Michael Grabner, Brian Rolston and Mark Streit. Henrik Sedin, Cody Hodgson (on the power play), and David Booth (into an empty net), also scored for the Canucks.
Sedin's goal was a huge blow to the Islanders. Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov flat butchered a soft point shot, mishandling it with his glove hand and directing it into the net. That made it 2-0 for the home team just 34 seconds into the middle period, and with the NHL's 28th ranked offence, the Islanders weren't likely to come back.
"I never call out guys but there are guys that need to f--ing find their game and you got to have some will," coach Jack Capuano said. "You got to have some compete level. We're turning away from checks, we're not finishing checks when we should, some guys are turning pucks over. It's just frustrating.
"Our team, let's face it, there is not a lot of room for error, and once again we had a few guys that took a night off and we can't have it."
Vancouver did not take a penalty all night, and its top three lines were all threatening after some experimentation from Vigneault. The coach separated Alex Burrows from the Sedin twins, promoting Jannik Hansen from the third line. Cody Hodgson and David Booth flanked Maxim Lapierre on the No. 3 unit, and Vigneault said it was his best forward combination. The second line of Burrows with Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins didn't look too bad either.
The Canucks, who have played 11 of their first 18 games on the road and have completed a season-long, six-game trip, have most definitely suffered a Cup hangover in the early going of 2011-12. They are 9-8-1 after 18 games, which is four points off their pace from the same time last year.
But on Nov. 24, 2010, Vancouver went on an astounding run, going 18-1-2 through Jan. 11. The Canucks won three of six games on their recent road swing, including a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings when Rome had a goal disallowed.
Captain Henrik Sedin said the key to turning the corner was to get scoring from more sources. Beyond Aaron Rome, that is.
"I really think we're close here," Vigneault said. "I look at our road trip, and I feel like we should've won five of six."