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Even when Lecavalier is down, Tampa Bay Lightning teammates look up to him

Vinny Lecavalier’s statistics are down this season, which is frustrating for him and teammates alike. Coach Rick Tocchet knows the burden falls squarely on Lecavalier’s shoulders: “When you lose, guys look at the best player and captain.”

DIRK SHADD | Times

Vinny Lecavalier’s statistics are down this season, which is frustrating for him and teammates alike. Coach Rick Tocchet knows the burden falls squarely on Lecavalier’s shoulders: “When you lose, guys look at the best player and captain.”

PITTSBURGH — Vinny Lecavalier is "frustrated." It is one of the first words out of his mouth when he talks about his game.

Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said he understands. He just wishes his superstar center did not show it as much.

"If he's frustrated and down, the team is going to follow," Tocchet said. "He's got to make sure, every game, he's up for the challenge. Vinny Lecavalier, if he's on the ice and looking like he's down, what are the other guys going to do?"

As captain and one of the league's most skilled players, Lecavalier is expected to lead statistically and emotionally. Add that Tampa Bay is last in the league, on a 3-13-6 slide and with the league's fewest goals, and the need for inspiration intensifies.

Lecavalier admits he has not provided, especially on the ice.

"I have to set the right tone," he said, "lead by example, maybe be more physical, make sure we're ready to play every single night."

Going by the numbers, Lecavalier, 28, has taken several steps back.

His 12 goals put him on pace for 31, his fewest since 2001-02. His 27 points put him on pace for 69, fewest since 2003-04.

Lecavalier has six multipoint games. Penguins star Evgeni Malkin, the league's leading scorer who faces the Lightning tonight at Mellon Arena, entered Monday with 16.

Lecavalier has just two goals and 16 shots in his past seven games. In Saturday's 4-3 loss to the Thrashers, he had two shots.

"He just doesn't seem to have the puck as much," Versus analyst and former NHL goalie Darren Eliot said. "When I think of Lecavalier at his best, he's tracking it down, he's opportunistic, he usually has it in the open ice. … He just doesn't seem to be in position because he doesn't have the puck."

To be fair, Lecavalier said his surgically repaired right shoulder still "doesn't feel right."

It is still sore, he said, and his range of motion is not at maximum and probably won't be until the offseason, when he can concentrate on strengthening.

But Lecavalier said the injury is not the reason for his lack of production. Neither is the pressure of being captain nor his 11-year, $85-million contract.

"A lot of it is confidence," he said. "Maybe go with more instincts out there, do little things, bring the puck to the net, be more aggressive to the net."

"He works hard," Tocchet said. "If he simplifies his game and becomes more of an A and B player, what I mean is more of a give-and-go type of guy, all that other stuff will come. If he just sticks to being an A and B player simply for a week or two, I know he'll come out of it."

Quiet by nature, Lecavalier also should speak forcefully in the locker room, Tocchet said.

"Sometimes you have to do something a little out of character. I told him, 'Just because things aren't going great for you doesn't mean you can't say anything. You have the respect. You've won the Stanley Cup. Don't be afraid to voice your opinion.' But you have to back it up on the ice."

In other words, Lecavalier must lead, or at least keep his head up.

"When you lose, guys look at the best player and captain," Tocchet said. "Whether it's fair or not, it's the nature of the beast."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Even when Lecavalier is down, Tampa Bay Lightning teammates look up to him 12/22/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 6:36pm]
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