Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier said he did not realize tonight's game against the Blue Jackets at the St. Pete Times Forum will be the 900th of his NHL career.
And he dismissed with a laugh someone's suggestion the milestone, and that he turns 31 in April, officially marks him as an old man.
"I want a lot more games," Lecavalier said. "I have a lot more years."
Years that might define his legacy more than what has come before — 52 goals in 2006-07, 10 straight 20-goal seasons, two seasons with at least 90 points and franchise records of 334 goals and 760 points.
That is because Lecavalier's game is evolving into one coach Guy Boucher and general manager Steve Yzerman want built around leadership and a commitment to a complete game, not just offensive numbers.
"We need a captain who inspires us," Boucher said, "and he's doing it."
Lecavalier's eight goals are on pace for 18, which would be his fewest since his 1998-99 rookie season. His 21 points are on pace for 46, which would be his fewest since 2001-02.
But Boucher said the measuring sticks are different:
"He's in the phase of his career where his job is to inspire the players around, and that's what he's doing with his work ethic. He's finishing his checks. He's back-checking. He's first on the puck. That's what we need."
"Don't get me wrong," Lecavalier said. "I still want to produce for this team. But I want to do well on both sides of the ice. I've learned so much this year about how to play the game and how to be consistent every night."
Yzerman knows how tough the transition can be for a player who made his name on offense.
"It's unglamorous," he said. "Asking him to do things a lot differently makes it difficult. We're pleased with the way he's accepted the challenge and buying into a different style of play and taking on different responsibilities. We're encouraging him to stick with it."
If he does, Yzerman said, the points will come.
In the meantime, "We support his efforts and the commitment he's made to the team," Yzerman said. "The coaching staff is very happy, and we believe he will play better in all areas of the rink. He's only getting better."
Boucher said he likes that Lecavalier is at the front of the line during practice drills, comes into his office to ask what he has done wrong defensively and takes game video home for study.
He knows Lecavalier wants to score more but insisted, "He's getting tons of chances. It's just the final scoring touch that's missing."
Besides, Boucher added, "I'm not even looking at his numbers. I've taken that pressure off him. The reality is even if he puts up numbers, if our captain is not a complete player, we're not going to be a complete team."
"I just have to keep going and working hard," said Lecavalier, whom the Lightning drafted No. 1 overall in 1998. "We want to be the hardest-working team out there. We take pride in that, and it starts with our older guys."
"I love being on the ice and being on the Lightning," he added. "I want to play as many games as I can."
He's at 900 and counting.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]