Monday, January 22, 2018
Sports

Distractions gone, Stamkos focuses on his game

TAMPA — The distractions are gone. The contract. The surgery. The blood thinners.

When will Steven Stamkos return?

Where will he end up?

All of them, gone.

Stamkos plays this season with a mind free of clutter and it shows.

The Lightning captain leads the team in shots, something he has done every season when healthy. But it is the amount of shots per game that stands out.

Stamkos is averaging 3.78 through 13 games. If he maintains that pace this year it will top his previous season-high of 3.70 set during his 60-goal season in 2011-2012.

"For somebody of his skill-set, that's a good thing for us," coach Jon Cooper said.

It is a conscious effort to shot more? A product of the flow of that night's game?

"I think it's a little bit of both," Stamkos said. "I've always tried to make the best play possible on the ice.

"For me, everyone may not agree with it, but at the time that's what I thought. I thought the pass was the best play. If the pass wasn't there and I shot I thought the shot was the best play. I've never really strayed from the mentality."

Confidence plays a big part of this, and right now, Stamkos said, his confidence is at a high level.

"Usually confidence leads to shooting the puck more, because you want to be in control of what happens on that play," he said. "When you're not feeling great you want to pass it off to someone."

Stamkos, who has a team-high seven goals and seven assists, has benefited from the play of linemates Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin. Kucherov leads the team with 11 assists.

"I point to when that line is being responsible all over the ice, and I throw Kooch in there as well, those guys can be really dynamic offensively," Cooper said.

Playing within the system is the key, Cooper said. It is counterproductive when Stamkos and Kucherov try to push too much in the offensive zone. But when they play within the flow, the other team is more vulnerable to making a mistake. When that happens, those two can pounce.

"The one thing for Stammer, he's been making his own breaks," Cooper said. "He's been really on the right side of pucks."

Jumping on opposing team's mistakes, playing in synch with Kucherov and Drouin, playing without any off-ice issues has made Stamkos more active when it comes to shooting the puck. That's never a bad thing.

"I don't think I'm going into games thinking I want to shoot every time I get it. I still want to be a guy who reads the play and believes in the playmaking ability, but it's worked out the way it has," Stamkos said. "I'm going to continue to shoot when I feel it's the best time to shoot and I don't think I'll ever stray from that."

NUTS AND BOLTS: Forward Cory Conacher was reassigned Tuesday to AHL Syracuse. He was recalled for Monday's game against the Panthers to give the Lightning options if a forward couldn't play. Forward Valtteri Filppula was a healthy scratch because of a lower body injury. Conacher did not dress as Cooper went with seven defensemen and 11 forwards for the first time this season.

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