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After two seasons of struggles, Tampa Bay Lightning's Vinny Lecavalier has feel-good return to hometown Montreal

MONTREAL — Polite as ever, Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier asked a reporter if he minded that he probably would not read the article for which he was being interviewed.

Lecavalier said he is trying to avoid distractions, and he held up his hands, like blinders, at the sides of his head.

"I just want to stay focused," he said.

You can forgive Lecavalier for being protective of his "A" game. It has, after all, been so long since anyone saw it.

Lecavalier said he is playing his best hockey since 2007-08, when he had 40 goals, 92 points and was a consistent difference-maker. And with 10 goals and 16 points in his past 16 games, Lecavalier, 30, is reminding people he once was regarded as one of the best players in the world.

He also is putting behind him two seasons in which he struggled on the ice, with injuries and, more than he admits, apprehension about his future as trade rumors flew under previous ownership and management.

In other words, it is the perfect time for tonight's game at the Bell Centre with the Canadiens.

"It's always better to come back to Montreal when you have good things to say," said Lecavalier, who grew up in the Ile Bizard suburb. "The last couple of years have been tough with the team and myself, and the reporters coming to talk to you. It's always nice to come here feeling good about what we do."

Lecavalier's previous two seasons were forgettable; his 53 goals and 137 points were dwarfed by the two seasons before that in which he had 92 goals (including a league-best 52 in 2006-07) and 200 points.

What happened?

The team was losing. Lecavalier dealt with shoulder and wrist surgeries. It added up, he said, to "bad habits" and a loss of confidence.

"When you lose, you're in a bad state of mind," Lecavalier said. "Maybe that's where the bad habits come from. You're trying to do something differently."

"And you lose yourself," coach Guy Boucher said. "You're trying to play that free-area game where you're looking for free space out there rather than charging through where the game is played."

Getting Lecavalier to stop floating and start grinding was a major part of the re-invention of his game. Lecavalier was willing, though results were slow. He had just eight goals and 24 points through 37 games. Now, he has 18 goals, 40 points.

Results would have come quicker, Boucher said, had Lecavalier not missed the preseason because of knee surgery and 15 games in November and December after hand surgery.

"He's controlling the play," Boucher said. "He's shooting. He's driving the net. He's taking the pressure to the other team on every shift. He plays a grinding game, so his skills come out of that."

"I'm skating a lot more," Lecavalier said. "I'm being physical. I'm bringing the puck to the net more. Everything gets better when I do things like that."

Everything got better when new owner Jeff Vinik hired general manager Stave Yzerman, who publicly declared he was not trading Lecavalier.

Lecavalier rumors were constant the previous two years. And though Lecavalier had assurances from then co-owner Oren Koules and GM Brian Lawton he would not be moved, there was speculation he nearly was traded at the June 2009 draft to Montreal for goaltender Carey Price, center Tomas Plekanec and defenseman P.K. Subban.

Lecavalier, who in July 2008 signed an 11-year, $85 million deal with Tampa Bay, declined to talk about it. And all agent Kent Hughes would say was, "An individual who goes to work under less than ideal conditions is more likely to be distracted, less likely to feel part of the team solution."

At this point, more important is what is happening on the ice.

"He's using his body. He's coring goals. He's creating chances," center Steven Stamkos said. "He's got that confidence, and that's the No. 1 thing as a player."

"I still have to bring my game up more," Lecavalier said. "But by winning this year and playing good as a team, it got everybody better, including myself."

TERMINATED: Minor-league center Mitch Fadden is on waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract, Yzerman said:

"There have been some off-ice issues."

Yzerman declined to elaborate, as did Fadden's agent, Rich Evans. But Fadden, 22, who has not played with ECHL Florida since early January while being treated for blood clots, was arrested March 2 in Salmon Arm, British Columbia, on suspicion of drunken driving. The Salmon Arm Observer, quoting a police report, said Fadden also became "violent with officers."

Fadden was drafted 107th overall in 2007, and his 51 points on 15 goals and 36 assists led the ECHL.

After two seasons of struggles, Tampa Bay Lightning's Vinny Lecavalier has feel-good return to hometown Montreal 03/16/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 17, 2011 12:25am]

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