The Vancouver Canucks are hopeful their search for secondary scoring is finally over.
The club has relied heavily on Henrik and Daniel Sedin for offence most of the season, with wins and losses often hinging on the 35-year-old twins' output.
Head coach Willie Desjardins has been looking for someone, anyone, to step up in a supporting role. Following long scoring droughts, Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi are showing signs they're capable of filling that void.
Horvat has scored three times in his past two games after going 27 in a row without a goal. Baertschi has four goals and two assists in his past six outings after 13 in a row without a point. "We need that. It's been a tough go for Hank and Danny," Desjardins said after Friday's practice. "They've carried us for quite a bit of this year and that's not a fair thing to do."
Horvat insisted he wasn't pressing during a slump that saw him score just twice in his first 39 games. Now, he admits the struggles were weighing on him.
"It's always going to be in the back of your mind," said the second-year centre. "When I wasn't scoring I was trying the best I could to keep it out of my mind, but it's hard.
"To finally put the puck in the net is definitely satisfying."
Baertschi was acquired from Calgary at last season's trade deadline for a second-round pick in hopes he would eventually mature into a top-six role. And while points were scarce early, it was learning to play away from the puck that kept him in the lineup.
"It was my overall game that helped me out," the Swiss winger said. "Going into this season I wanted to be a well-rounded player.
"I wanted to be out there one goal up or one goal down. I improved my defensive game and my overall game got a lot better."
Both former first-round picks, the 20-year-old Horvat and 23-year-old Baertschi have meshed well on the second line with Radim Vrbata, a veteran who said he's seen the upside of both players for some time.
"I think [Horvat's] just showing what he's capable of," Vrbata said. "I've been saying it the whole year, he's got so much potential in him that once it comes out people will be impressed.
"[Baertschi's] scored a couple goals and once you do that you get confidence and you feel you can do more."
Henrik Sedin said while he knew Horvat would come out of his funk, he's been especially impressed with Baertschi's improvement over the past couple of weeks for Vancouver (16-16-9), which plays host to Tampa Bay on Saturday.
"He's starting to make plays. When he gets the puck he wants to do something with it," said the Canucks' captain. "I can see now what [scouts] have seen in him and what he can do and the hopes that they've had in him."
Baertschi returned to the lineup in Wednesday's 3-2 victory over Carolina after missing two games with a neck injury. He scored on a slick breakaway in the second period before setting up Horvat's power-play winner with 66 seconds left in regulation.
It was a performance the pair want to replicate night after night.
"Obviously, you want to produce, you're expected to produce," Baertschi said. "Our first line has done most of the work so far. It was only a matter of time.
"We knew at some point we were going to get a few. From then on I think the floodgates are going to open."