20, 200 success of Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Steve Downie is only a first step
Tampa Bay Lightning coaches and teammates had lots of good things to say in today's story about how right wing Steve Downie has progressed both in honing his skills but also curbing his volatile on-ice temper. For the record, Downie said he's a really nice guy off the ice. But Marty St. Louis, one of the team's best leaders and one of the league's elite players, said all Downie has done is set expectations high for next season. And coach Rick Tocchet said Downie could one day be a captain or alternate.
"It's a big step for him," St. Louis said of Downie's 20 goals and 200 penalty minutes, a combination only fur other players had accomplished since 1992-93. "But when you set the bar like that comes responsibility. Now it's going to be expected."
That's one reason Downie is joining is joining teammate and good friend Steven Stamkos, who will train for the second straight summer with former Lightning Gary Roberts. The workouts with Roberts got much credit for making Stamkos a stronger player.
Tocchet said he's seen Downie change his off-ice habits 180 degrees.
"You're talking about a guy who used to eat a full pizza before games in the minors," Tocchet said. "We're talking about a guy whose off-ice habits weren't the greatest. He's taken a year to change his whole lifestyle, and he's still got to get better at it."
"I expect myself to do that," Downie said. "It's not like it's a one-time thing. I think I can do it. The responsibility is there and I think I can handle it."
If he does, and keeps progressing on the ice?
"I told him, 'Downs, you might think I'm crazy, but you could wear a letter on your jersey before your career is over,' " Tocchet said. "That's what he has to strive for, to be a leader, and I think he can do that."
Lightning and Norfolk will remain affiliated: Ken Young, who lives in Lutz but owns the Lightning's AHL affiliate in Norfolk, Va., confirmed the two teams will stay affiliated next season. The teams are in the third year of a five-year deal. The contract provided that either side could opt out after the third or fourth seasons.
"We're happy to continue another year with the Lightning," Young said. "We look forward to the type of play we had in the second half of this year next season."
Other stuff from the morning skate: It would not eliminate the Lightning from the playoff race, but, symbolically, a loss to the Bruins tonight would be the end of any hope for a miracle. Tampa Bay trails the Bruins, who are in the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, by eight points. Going down by 10 instead of reducing the deficit to six would be huge. The Lightning will have eight games left after tonight. ... Antero Niittymaki will get the start in net. ... Defenseman Mattias Ohlund, who will miss his eighth straight game tonight because of a sprained ankle, skated hard after this morning's team skate. Told he appeared to be moving well, he said, "Thank you. I don't feel like I did." Ohlund said he still has pain, and Tocchet said he will evaluate Ohlund on Friday before making any decisions about playing him Saturday against the Sabres. "I hate to put expectations on it. This injury is a tough one," Tocchet said. "But he's trying. You've got to give him credit for that." Added Ohlund: "It's definitely getting better." ... It's another homecoming, kind of, for center Nate Thompson, who was drafted 183rd overall by the Bruins in 2003. "This is the team that drafted me. This is the team that gave me my first few games in the NHL," Thompson said. "I spent three years in the organization, so every time I play here it's always a lot of fun. You definitely want to win against the old team that drafted me." Tocchet said Thompson's game has slipped in the last little while. "I think the one thing he struggles with is holding on to pucks," Tocchet said. "We're not looking for a lot of goals from him. We're looking for more poise with the puck. He knows it. He's been working with (assistant coach) Adam Oates on those sort of things, stick skills, hand skills." ... Listening to Tocchet talk about former Lightning Mark Recchi, it certainly sounds as if he believes the 42-year-old wing is someone Tampa Bay could still use. "For his size (listed at 5 feet 10), at 42, he goes to the net as good as anybody," Tocchet said. "If you look at the Bruins, they go to the net well, but every time I watch tape of them, Mark Recchi is in front of the net. It's a good lesson for our guys. You've got a 42-year-old small guy going to the net like him, we should be able to go too. I wouldn't be surprised if he played another year." Recchi, with 15 goals and 37 points, didn't sound as if he was ready to retire. "I still feel great," he said. Seventy-two games and I feel great. I still love practicing. I still love the games. We'll see if I still love working out in the summer." Asked the secret of his longevity, Recchi joked, "Red wine. I don't know, obviously conditioning plays a part, and being fortunate staying away from the big injuries." Recchi had what he called one of the biggest thrills of his life when he carried the Olympic torch through his hometown of Kamloops. The Bruins did not play from Jan. 25-28, and Recchi had to miss a Jan. 27 practice to do it, but he said, "It was incredible." And this is a guy who played in the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Recchi said he got the handoff from legendary Canadian skier Nancy Greene and, as the last carrier, lit the Olympic cauldron outside the city's Hillside Stadium. "There were 12,000 to 14,000 people I basically walked right through, so it was pretty cool," he said. "To do something like that it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Its something I'll never forget." Recchi said he has the torch and the outfit he wore and plans to put them in a display box at his home.