For Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos, toughest tests are yet to come
Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos needs two goals to reach 50, and coach Rick Tocchet cautioned he wants Stamkos' teammates to "play it straight," and not look too much to feed Stamkos to perhaps the detriment of other scoring opportunities.
"If you press that's the worst thing," Tocchet said. "You just have to let it happen in play. If there's a chance to shoot it, shoot it. You can go dry if you pass too much."
It's been interesting to watch the defensive effort against Stamkos as the season has gone on. The Rangers the other day seemed like they had two guys on Stamkos. Even when New York was on the penalty kill, Stamkos was shadowed. Tocchet said those kind of efforts are just going to get tougher.
"It's going to happen next year," Tocchet said. "Teams are going to really overplay. In fact, one team overplayed it so bad, their defense in front of the net was basically covering him. It was disappointing we didn't take advantage of that down low, to take it in front of the net. Somebody else has to be wide open."
Tocchet said that was his experience when he was playing on a line with Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh.
"I remember when I played with Mario Lemieux, teams almost always had two guys on him. Other wingers got fistfuls of goals," he said. "When a team takes away, you have to find other elements."
Other stuff from the morning skate: Tocchet said Antero Niittymaki will start tonight against the Panthers at the St. Pete Times Forum. Mike Smith, who played so well in beating the Senators on Thursday, will play the season finale Sunday in Sunrise. ... Speaking of Smith, that was a pretty good bout with Ottawa tough guy Chris Neil that was sparked when Neil tripped up Smith in a corner. It was Smith's first NHL fight, and he got help from teammate Mattias Ohlund, who jumped on Neil and took him down by the neck. "He kind of slew-footed me," Smith said. "I felt it was kind of dirty. That guy plays hard. I respect the way he plays. It was more instinct than anything. Just went after him. I don't like to do that. Just more instinct than anything else. Neil said he did not mean to make contact with Smith. "It was kind of a mess type of thing," Neil said after the game. "But he gets up and starts throwing punches. I wish Ohlund would have let us go. It would have been good, you know, when a goalie comes at you like that. I think if Smith started throwing punches, it should be free game. He shouldn't have a guy grabbing me from behind. He choked me out, like ultimate fighting. I would have had to tap out there." ... Rookie defenseman Victor Hedman will not play, and perhaps won't play Sunday as Tocchet said Hedman is still "foggy" after getting punched during a fracas Thursday with Mike Fisher. Tocchet said unless Hedman really felt good, there is no reason at this point in the season to push him to play in the last game. ... Defenseman Andrej Meszaros, who took a slap shot in the throat on Thursday, said he will play tonight. He said he still has trouble swallowing because of the swelling in his throat, but got a better night's sleep on Friday and is good to go. "It's the same as yesterday," he said of his condition, "but it's good enough to play." ... Great comment from Tocchet when asked about Meszaros overcoming the injury. "I hate to sound brash, but it's what we do as hockey players. we do it. Maybe we're in an era of some guys don't do it, so when a guy does it we're like, 'Oh, my God.' I don't know. Just go out and do it." ... Defenseman Matt Smaby (back spasms) didn't skate this morning and also is likely out. ... Back to Hedman for a minute. Tocchet said the rookie has the skills to develop into the puck-moving defenseman the team needs. "It's something we're starving for, a guy who can move the puck and skate with that kind of talent," Tocchet said. "He's a guy who can fill that bill. There are growing pains with that." ... And by the way, players will walk the red carpet tonight before the game. You can watch as players drive up to the Times Forum's circular driveway on Channelside Drive.