Shaun Van Allen is a cricket under your bed at 3 a.m., a tailgater when other lanes are clear, a dinner guest who won't leave.
He relishes his role as the Mighty Ducks' resident pest much as goaltender Guy Hebert craves a kick save or winger Paul Kariya a pinpoint pass.
Needling and instigating can be considered an art form, developed through years of give and take in dressing rooms, on buses and airplanes and on the ice. Although heavyweights Todd Ewen and Stu Grimson gain more recognition for backing up talk with their fists, Van Allen could be the Ducks' most accomplished practitioner.
More often than not, Van Allen simply skates away, leaving his target searching for a reply. To Van Allen, firing off the right insult at the right moment isn't quite as pleasing as scoring a game-winning goal, but it's close.
He learned his craft playing for the Cape Breton Oilers, Edmonton's top minor-league affiliate, several years ago.
"We had a team that played together for three or four years," Van Allen said. "We had a good, fun-loving team and we got to know each other. The guys weren't going to put up with the same old stuff."
Zingers often carry more weight if the deliverer has a game to back up his talk. So far this season, Van Allen hasn't fallen down in that regard. Van Allen has three goals and seven assists this season. After a three-point game in Wednesday's 3-1 victory over Chicago, he moved within a point of Kariya for the team scoring lead.
On Wednesday's final score sheet, Van Allen was overshadowed by linemates Todd Krygier and Stephan Lebeau. Although each member of the line scored a goal and had two assists, Lebeau and Krygier joined Hebert as the three stars of the game.
Quickly, the Van Allen-Lebeau-Krygier line has emerged as the Ducks' best--sound defensively with an occasional burst of offensive power. Coach Ron Wilson praised the threesome for their ability to "read each other so well."
Far too often this season, Duck lines have failed to click because one player didn't know what to expect from a teammate.
Van Allen, who moved from center to a wing so Lebeau could center the line, didn't figure to become one of the Ducks' top scorers. But injury, lack of production and Van Allen's improvement have pushed him into the spotlight.
Before last season, he was known as a career minor-leaguer, playing only 23 NHL games since being drafted by Edmonton in 1987. He had eight goals and 25 assists in 80 games with the Ducks in 1993-94, and although he never had to worry about being sent to the minors, his role was to center the checking line.
"I don't think I've changed anything," Van Allen said of his new-found scoring touch. "Last year was my first major chance to play (in the NHL) and it takes a while to adjust. As with all professional sports, confidence is a big part of it."
He certainly looked like a seasoned veteran Feb. 26, when he unleashed a blistering slap shot from the left circle that hit nothing but net in the second period of the Ducks' 5-3 loss to Calgary. Or when he camped out in the slot Wednesday, sliding a pass from Lebeau into the net for a second-period score.
Wednesday's goal was more characteristic of Van Allen's workmanlike style, but that doesn't mean he didn't enjoy his blast over the left shoulder of Calgary goalie Trevor Kidd.
"That kind of surprised me," Van Allen said. "I'm not known for my shot."
No, but he can add "producer" to a resume that had been dominated by the word "pest."
Stats of the week: After this trip, which concludes at St. Louis on Tuesday, the Ducks play 16 of their final 27 games at The Pond and 19 of 27 in California. And in the second half of the season, they play only six games outside the state.
Bob Corkum, last season's second-leading scorer with 51 points, said he's grown weary of the Ducks' inconsistent play. He knows what needs to be done to alter the situation, but accomplishing the task has been difficult.
"If we play the system and not make gawdawful mistakes we can be in any game," said Corkum, who is without a point since recording a goal and an assist Feb. 5 in a 3-2 victory over the Kings. "I don't think we've played 60 minutes of complete hockey this year. The L.A. game was as close to that as we've come."
Corkum is concerned that bad vibes from one disappointing loss carry over to the next game.
"You're not going to get anywhere by sulking," he said. "It's how you react to losses that counts. I think we can turn this thing around.
"I think we've been wanting it too much instead of going after it."