At a time of the season when many players are beginning to wear down, Thunder defenseman Andrew Martens is playing perhaps his best hockey of the season.
Martens, who played in the AHL for much of last season after being promoted from Wichita, endured a readjustment period as he settled into an old role as a team leader and special teams marksman.
In his last six games, Martens has scored six points, and three of his four goals. Martens has more than half of his 20 points since Dec. 21. Wichita’s offense has slowed some during Martens’ hot streak, but his contributions, combined with those he’s made defensively, have allowed the Thunder to stay near the top of the standings.
The second-place Thunder plays the first of two consecutive home games against Denver on Saturday night at Intrust Bank Arena.
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"It wasn’t like I wasn’t getting my opportunities, I just wasn’t able to bury my opportunities," said Martens, the Thunder captain. "Lately the puck has been going in for me. Even though we’ve had some struggles, I’ve been able to contribute where I could."
Martens’ performance has steadied in part because his outlook rarely changes. When Martens wasn’t producing as much earlier in the season, he remained stoic, sure consistency would eventually arrive.
That mentality is important to Martens because it’s one he preaches to the Thunder’s younger players. As captain, he’s responsible for chemistry that starts in the locker room and carries over to the ice, and helping teammates keep their emotions level is a job he greets with enthusiasm.
"You’re trying to help these guys get to where they need to be," Martens said. "You always want to find something out there that you can actually help a player with, something you can work on. That’s always something that I like to look for and try to help guys out as much as possible."
There are tangible reasons for Martens’ turnaround, too. In the AHL, he was rarely used on the power play, nullifying one of his greatest strengths. Martens has thrived on that unit this season, leading the Thunder with 11 power-play assists.
Martens also has a plus-4 rating, suggesting his role in goal prevention was just as vital even before his offense came around. Martens said the excellence of any one part of his game doesn’t mean he’s succeeding overall, but that he’s searching for consistency in all areas.
"I’ll take them as they come," Martens said. "It doesn’t mean I’m playing great just because I get a goal. You could have three good shifts and play terrible defensively. The biggest thing is that you want to be sound throughout the entire game. A goal is just a bonus, I guess I would say."
Martens has also been more selective this season, not necessarily on purpose. In 33 games with the Thunder last season, Martens took 119 shots; through 40 games this year his shot total is 75.
He took 21 shots in Wichita’s first five games but hasn’t taken more than four in a game since. Lately, the selectivity has paid off, as Martens’ three most recent goals have come in 11 shots.
Martens doesn’t credit his surge to anything but good luck, but he’s displaying the traits that made him one of the Thunder’s most valuable players last season, when he led the team in plus-minus rating despite missing half the year.
"You’re out there for power play, penalty kills and regular shifts and it’s a lot of ice time," Martens said. "You’re getting to play a lot, and you have to keep your mind focused. Your body is tired, but your mind has to stay focused. Trying to make things happen doesn’t help, either. Hockey is a game of letting things happen and seeing what happens in the long run."