Little hoping two-goal effort leads to bigger things

He had already made the mistake of thinking one goal was enough to end a season-long scoring slump. Live and learn.

The Thrashers forward scored twice against Nashville last weekend, raising his season total to eight goals after 54 games. He’s well off the pace to match the 31 goals he scored last season.

“I’m not looking at it that way because goals are hard to come by right now,” Little said. “I think that’s kind of been the problem. I had slumps this year and I’ve scored a goal and kind of went, ‘That’s a relief.’ That was probably not what I should have been doing.

"Now that I’ve scored two goals, hopefully I can get on a roll and keep going and keep hungry for more.”

Little’s two-goal performance matched his total from his previous 17 games. He would have to score nearly a goal a game for the rest of the season to surpass the total he set last year in his first full NHL season.

“I think the biggest thing for me this year has been mentally,” the 22-year-old said. “Last year I had such a quick start. I had a couple goals in the first game. This year it took me [11] games to score my first goal. It was a bit of a downer at the beginning of the season and I think I just got frustrated.

"It seemed like everything I shot last year was finding a way to go in. This year everything I’ve shot has found a way to stay out. I started thinking about it more and kept getting more frustrated.”

With each scoreless game came frustration and then eventually fear.

Thrashers coach John Anderson has shown this season that he will sit players who are not performing. Veterans Todd White and Slava Kozlov have been scratched for extended periods of time.

So was Little. Anderson sat him for two games in November and another in December.

“It wasn’t fun sitting out,” Little said. “I wasn’t really happy about it. I wasn’t playing good the couple games before [being scratched]. I think the biggest thing, I wasn’t playing well defensively. I had a couple of times when I couldn’t get the puck out [of the zone] and teams scored against us. I was mad, but I think it definitely helped. I was scared that he might do it again if I didn’t play well."

Despite being off last season’s scoring pace, Anderson recently moved Little to the team’s top line, playing alongside Ilya Kovalchuk and Nik Antropov. That has helped.

Little scored the Thrashers' first goal against Nashville, assisted by two crisp passes from Antropov and White on a first-period power play. It was his first goal in nine games. He wouldn’t have to wait but 21 minutes and six seconds for his next one.

Little was positioned in front of the net when a Kovalchuk shot bounced off Predator’s goaltender Pekka Rinne in the second period. Little pounced and scored for his first two-goal game since March 8, 2009.

“I’ve been trying to shoot the puck more and not really thinking about scoring goals,” Little said. “I’m just going out there and playing hard and shooting the puck as much as I can.”

Anderson said he spoke to Little following last season when he became concerned with his conditioning. The forward had put on a few pounds during the year and Anderson urged him to come back this season in better shape. Little obliged.

“He came back this year and was in fabulous shape,” Anderson said. “Everything pointed toward another great year. You start squeezing the stick when things don’t happen for you, it’s not long before 30 games have passed and you’ve got two goals.”

The team needs scoring from Little, the first-round pick (12th overall) in the 2006 draft. He was second on the team in goals last season behind Kovalchuk and played in the Young Stars Game at the NHL All-Star Game.

Little said veterans such as Colby Armstrong and Kozlov have spoken to him this season with words of encouragement.

“They said even though you don’t have many goals, one or two games could turn it around,” Little said. “I kind of found that last game. I had six goals going into it and now I have eight. It’s quite a difference. A few good games could change that right around. It’s true that you can’t look back on your mistakes and bad games. You’ve got to take it one game at a time and look forward.”

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