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The Incredible Shrinking Cheechoo

(Disclaimer: I haven't actually seen any preseason games so this is all based on stats sheets, summaries, and hearsay. But numbers don't lie.)

Man, does it suck right now to be Jonathan Cheechoo or what? After last season's reasonable post-injury second half, you'd think that Cheech be feeling pretty good about things and settling in for a season next to good buddy Joe Thornton and potting in a good 40 or so goals. If you looked at Cheech's goals-per-game clip once he finally recovered from double-sports hernia surgery, it's about what you'd expect from a Rocket Richard winner.

I'm guessing when Todd McLellan first put his lines together, Cheechoo wasn't too happy about being bumped off of Thronton's wing. Ron Wilson had done that before but that was mostly to help Cheechoo find his game again while he was recovering from injury. From all accounts, Cheech is in the best shape of his career and he claims to be lighter and quicker than before, so this isn't a strategic move to accommodate injury.

Preseason, of course, is only the preseason, but it's still gotta be disconcerting to Cheechoo that 1) he's off the top line and 2) his ice time hasn't been that great so far. Here's his line from each of his preseason games:

Game 1: 5-2 win vs. Anaheim, 14:54 ice time, 1 assist, 2 shots, 0 missed shots
Game 2: 5-1 loss vs. Phoenix, 15:58 ice time, 0 points, 2 shots, 1 missed shot
Game 3: 4-3 OT win vs. Phoenix, 13:11 ice time, 0 points, 2 shots, 1 missed shot

Now you can say that his diminished ice time is due to McLellan's desire to keep everyone fresh (especially in the last game which was a back-to-back with travel) but Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton are hitting the 20-minute mark in their games. However, what I find most disconcerting is that McLellan is preaching shots on goal and Cheechoo, who's got a dynamite shot in all forms, is hardly firing the puck off.

Luc Robitaille (cheap pop from Kings fans) used to talk about how he didn't think too much about shooting, he just shot as hard and as often as possible. The idea was that you get your shots off and get into a rhythm with them. I get the sense that Cheechoo's not doing that so far, and I don't know if he's got his head up his butt from being demoted or what. It's not like he needs Joe Thornton to score; this is a guy who put in 28 goals with Mike Ricci as his center through a combination of tenacity and lots of shots from all sorts of crazy angles. Thornton obviously makes this better with his passing, but he should still be a 30-goal guy without Big Joe.

Am I fretting about a few preseason games? Maybe a little bit, but the preseason is where habits develop, and habits can turn into bad trends which can turn into bad seasons. Shoot the damn puck, Cheech.