What's Going On, Tom?

In two seasons at Boston University, Tom Poti racked up 63 points in 76 games and in 1998 became the first blueliner to be named Beanpot Most Valuable Player in nearly two decades (and no defenseman has received the honor since).

The following fall he joined the Edmonton Oilers and was named to the 1998-99 NHL All-Rookie Team on the strength of a five goal, sixteen assist, plus-10 season in which he saw 19:33 of ice time per night.

As an NHL sophomore, Poti bumped his goal total up by four and his assist total up by ten and averaged 24:10 of ice per game. But his defensive game wasn't improving, and though he'd go on to score another 13 goals and 36 assists in 136 games for the Oilers, he was booed out of town, traded to the Rangers (with Rem Murray for Mike York and a pick), because of these defensive shortcomings.

Poti's first full season on Broadway saw him score a career-best 48 points and play in the All-Star game. But things in the Big Apple went down hill from there - more defensive woes (despite a plus-16 season), more booing, and before long he and his puck moving skills headed out to Long Island for a season in which he notched 44 points and a career-best .56 points per game.

The following off-season - the summer of 2007 - Poti signed a four-year/$14-million deal with the Caps and managed just a pair of goals, but 27 assists (third-best in his career) in 71 games that included both an early-season shoulder injury that impacted his play all season and the emergence of Mike Green as the quarterback of the Caps' power play. Of the injury, Poti said, in retrospect:

"I couldn't shoot as well as I wanted to, or pass as well as I wanted to. I just had no strength all year. The problem was I kept coming back too soon. I never really gave the right amount of time to heal."

All of which brings us to the current season, one for which Poti declared himself 100-percent healthy... at the outset, at least. The blueliner has battled recurring groin injuries this season (and has a theory on the cause), and has been playing the tough minutes (and tough competition) all year. He's absolutely critical to the Caps defense and penalty kill and has a plus-five rating to show for his efforts.

But where did all that offense go?

To be sure, Poti has a different role on this Caps team than on any team for which he has played before. But he's producing at the lowest points-per-game clip of his career (0.27), and has no goals and just three assists since December 19. Read that again. In 26 games beginning with the 7-1 massacre in Philly, Poti has just three helpers - as many as Ducks rearguard  James Wiesniewski had last night. Here's how he stacks up against the rest of the Caps' top six blueliners over that time:

Player GP G A +/- SOG PIM PP Min
Tom Poti
26 0 3 -1 19 18 27.3
Mike Green
39 20 25 11 151 42 205.0
Shaone Morrisonn
38 3 8 2 32 47 1.8
Milan Jurcina 40 0 7 2 53 36 4.0
Jeff Schultz 37 1 3 13 26 10 6.6
John Erskine
27 0 2 -1 25 23 0.8

What jumps out (besides how unbelieveable a hockey player Mike Green is, the fact that one can bank stats simply by pulling on the sweater and playing, and that Poti has basically been John Erskine with power play time over the past three months)? How about those shots on goal? Of TP's 19, a dozen came in the first twelve games of this cold spell, and in the 14 games since, Poti doesn't have a single multi-SOG game and has been SOG-less seven times - all this from a guy who has averaged 1.63 shots on goal per game over his career, and is one shot shy of one per game this season overall. Throw in the fact that of the 183 defensemen in the League who have played 40+ games this season, only 15 of them have taken fewer slap shots five-on-five than Poti, and two obvious questions emerge: is Tom Poti, in fact, healthy, and if so, what's wrong with him?

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