What's the matter with Vinny?
If you saw today's story, you know there are plenty of questions about what is eating at the captain. He has 12 goals, which puts him on pace for 31, his lowest total since 2001-02. His 27 points puts him on pace for 69, his lowest output since 2003-04. Lecavalier did not use it as an excuse but he did say his surgically repaired right shoulder still "doesn't feel right," and probably won't until the offseason when he can continue to concentrate on strengthening the joint.
What was interesting today was talking to Penguins left wing Matt Cooke, who, as you might recall, as a member of the Capitals last season, was the one who hit Lecavalier in an April 3 game against the Capitals. The hit separated Lecavalier's shoulder, which two weeks later required the surgery. Tonight is the first night the two have faced off.
Cooke said he had no intention of trying to hurt Lecavalier, and even thought Lecavalier tried to slide behind him as Cooke went for a hit on Michel Ouellet along the left wing side boards.
"I wasn't even trying to hit him," Cooke said. "Let's put it this way, if I was trying to hurt someone, I would have been a lot more aggressive. I didn't even see Vinny in the play. I didn't see what happened until I saw a replay."
Cooke said he tried to see Vinny the night of the injury, but was blocked by then-GM Jay Feaster. Cooke said he has not connected with Lecavalier since.
Cooke said it made no sense that he would have run at Lecavalier because the stakes were so high in the game for a Capitals team on a remarkable run that gave it a division title.
"If I was trying to be stupid, that's one thing," Cooke said. "But we had to win the game."
So, for the record, Lecavalier said he is not feeling the pressure of being captain or of his new 11-year, $85-million contract.
"If I knew," Lecavalier said, trailing off. "Maybe it's just a matter of going out there and doing it."
That is one thing. Personally, I liked coach Rick Tocchet's view that no matter how Lecavalier is playing in a certain game, he has to keep his head up. He has to be positive. His body language cannot reveal his frustrations.
Said Tocchet: "If he's frustrated and down, the team is going to follow. He's got to make sure, every game, he's up to the challenge. Vinny Lecavalier, if he's on the ice looking like he's down, what are the other guys going to do?"
"I have to set the right tone," Lecavalier said, "lead by example, maybe be more physical, make sure we're ready to play every single night."
My view: It's nice for Vinny to say that, but, really, we need to see it on the ice. You saw how he is capable of playing in Montreal. He was jumping, was on the puck. The result was a goal and an assist and his best game of the season. And how about this for a stat? Lecavalier enters tonight with six multi-point games. Penguins star Evgeni Malkin, the league's leading scorer, has 17. Vinny is a terrific talent, but I don't even think he realizes what an effect he has on his teammates, not only statistically but emotionally. Sure, his right shoulder probably is hurting, but if it's not hurt enough to sit out, it's good enough to play, and he should act accordingly.
Other stuff from this morning: Mike Smith gets the start in goal. ... Forward Steven Stamkos, who has just two assists in his past eight games and hasn't played at least 15 minutes since Dec. 10, admits he has not been playing well, but contends it is a matter of preparation and focus. Coach Rick Tocchet said Stamkos is going to be "a hell of a hockey player," but, "we shouldn't be scared to go through a process with him." Sounds a little like what they used to say about Vinny, doesn't it? ... Tocchet called Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin, "Under pressure is one of the best guys in the league." ... Tocchet took a shot at some of his own players when describing Malkin and teammate Sidney Crosby. "The one thing I like about him is he gets his nose dirty," Tocchet said of Crosby. "He goes in front of the net. Sometimes you get those really good players who play perimeter. He doesn't play perimeter. That's what I like about watching him and Malkin. They're not afraid to get hit, and when your star players aren't afraid to get hit, it makes it a lot easier to coach guys like that." ... Don't think left wing Ryan Malone misses Pittsburgh. The former Penguins star said he is thinking of getting the skyline of Pittsburgh tattooed on his right forearm. ... No word on who will sit tonight, but right wing Evgeny Artyukhin has been out the past two games.