Saturday, June 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Frustration mounts as scoring drought lingers for Lightning's Steven Stamkos

TAMPA — You could see the frustration on Steven Stamkos' face, hear it in the heavy sigh.

Win or lose, the Lightning captain is usually one of the most accommodating and thoughtful players in his postgame interviews. But after Sunday's 3-1 loss to the Kings, Stamkos' answers were atypically terse.

Stamkos, who has just two goals in his past 10 games (both Nov. 21 against Anaheim), failed to muster a shot on goal Sunday, when he played 6 minutes, 25 seconds on the power play. He has two shots in the past three games, all while at right wing.

"It's frustrating," Stamkos said. "I don't think I got a shot on net. It's tough to score when you can't generate opportunities."

To be fair, generating offense is a problem for the whole team and, to a certain extent, the league. The Lightning has two goals or fewer in 16 of 27 games, one or fewer in 10. Stamkos hasn't been getting much help. Ryan Callahan has gone 14 games without a goal, Alex Killorn has two in his past 17 and Valtteri Filppula two in 28.

The fact that the touted Triplets line was broken up, with Ondrej Palat out the past four weeks and No. 2 center Tyler Johnson missing eight of the past 10 games, lets opponents give Stamkos more attention.

But pressure comes with the territory for Stamkos, one of the world's best scorers who is in a season-high six-game goal drought. His 11 goals still lead the team, but his 20 points are 50th in the NHL. The Lightning (13-12-3), despite winning five of its past eight, is still out of playoff position and needs more production from its best players, including Stamkos, starting Thursday against Ottawa.

"The thing about Stammer, and being with him for a few years, he'll go through stretches like this," coach Jon Cooper said. "And he'll go on a stretch the other way, he'll have eight (goals) in six games or something like that. Hopefully here we can start that streak on Thursday."

Much has been made of Cooper's relationship with Stamkos and how that might impact Stamkos' contract negotiations. The all-star is in the final year of his deal.

Some point out that Cooper's decision to move Stamkos, 25, from center to right wing the past four games coincidentally came the week Cooper's contract extension was announced. It's unfair to read too much into that, as talks on Cooper's extension began in the summer.

But Stamkos has made it clear he prefers to play his natural position, center; he believes it's easier to generate his trademark speed in the middle.

"Like I said, you come in and see what's on the board and you go out and do your job," Stamkos said. "That's pretty much as simple as that."

Stamkos said there's "not much" communication from Cooper about the position switch. But Cooper, who pointed out Stamkos' success in the playoffs on the wing, said he talks with all players on lineup changes.

"Everyone is on the same page," Cooper said. "Nobody walks into the room and said, 'Oh, look where I'm playing tonight.' That doesn't happen."

What happens with Stamkos' contract remains to be seen. The fact that the league projects a $3 million cap increase for next season can only help the Lightning. Stamkos insists the contract is not a distraction, nor is it impacting his play.

It's not like Stamkos' effort is lacking, and he's still making an impact. He tallied three assists in that six-game drought, including two in his first game at wing. For the first time, Stamkos has been a key contributor on the penalty kill, starting the past two games and making a huge sliding block in the final minute of Saturday's 4-3 win over San Jose. Stamkos said he'd love to play more on that unit.

But the reason Stamkos is a superstar, and why he'll get a huge contract either with the Lightning or in free agency, is because of how he takes shots, not blocks them.

This is not unfamiliar territory. Take away Stamkos' rookie year, and he has had nine goalless droughts of six or more games the past seven seasons. Four were in the 2010-11 season, when Stamkos still tallied 45 goals.

This season, Tampa Bay's power-play struggles have hurt Stamkos, as six of his 11 goals have come with the man advantage. It helps to put him with a playmaker. Near the end of Sunday's game, Stamkos was back at center with Jonathan Drouin, a strong set-up man who was dangerous all night, and Nikita Kucherov, second on the team with eight goals. That could provide a spark Thursday.

Having Johnson back, and playing better, would also help. Johnson, who had 29 goals as an All-Star last season, has just four goals in 22 games, including zero shots in his return Sunday.

"I need to play better," Johnson said. "My game has nothing to do with the injuries. It's just myself. I know what I need to do, I know what I can do. I just need to be a lot better."

He's not alone.

Contact Joe Smith at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

 
Comments
Lightning takes Quebec LW Gabriel Fortier with second-round pick

Lightning takes Quebec LW Gabriel Fortier with second-round pick

The Lightning is on the board in the 2018 NHL draft, using their first pick — 59th overall in the second round — on Gabriel Fortier, an undersize left wing from Quebec."I spoke with them a couple of times, so I knew there was an interest,...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Live blog: 2018 NHL entry draft

Live blog: 2018 NHL entry draft

The Lightning isn't scheduled to pick until the second round, but there's no telling how active they might be with trades, so you'll want to follow our live coverage throughout the NHL draft Friday (Round 1) and Saturday (Rounds 2-7) in Dallas.(funct...
Published: 06/23/18
Lightning re-signs backup goalie Louis Domingue to 2-year deal

Lightning re-signs backup goalie Louis Domingue to 2-year deal

The Lightning has re-signed one of its restricted free agents in backup goalie Louis Domingue, who will be back with Tampa Bay on a two-year deal worth $2.3 million.Domingue, 26, was acquired from Arizona in November after he had posted a 4.33 goals-...
Published: 06/22/18
Lightning names ex-player Jeff Halpern as new assistant coach

Lightning names ex-player Jeff Halpern as new assistant coach

The Lightning has filled one of the openings on Jon Cooper's coaching staff, announcing Friday  that former Tampa Bay forward Jeff Halpern has been hired as an assistant coach.Halpern, 42, has spent the past two seasons as an assistant with the ...
Published: 06/22/18
Steve Yzerman: Lightning won’t re-sign forward Chris Kunitz

Steve Yzerman: Lightning won’t re-sign forward Chris Kunitz

As expected, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said he does not intend to re-sign veteran forward Chris Kunitz, who will seek his fifth Stanley Cup with a different team next season.Kunitz, 38, brought much-needed playoff experience in his lone...
Published: 06/22/18
2018-19 schedule unveiled: Lightning opens with five straight at home

2018-19 schedule unveiled: Lightning opens with five straight at home

NHL schedules all balance out at the end, but the Lightning will open 2018-19 with five straight home games and end the season with its last four on the road.The Lightning released its schedule Thursday evening for the upcoming season, with all sorts...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Without a first-rounder, Lightning still could have busy draft weekend

Without a first-rounder, Lightning still could have busy draft weekend

The Lightning doesn't have a first-round pick in this weekend's draft, but that's not to say the weekend couldn't be busy for general manager Steve Yzerman and his front office.The Lightning sent its top draft pick to the Rangers in February as part ...
Published: 06/21/18
Islanders hire Barry Trotz as coach fresh off winning Stanley Cup

Islanders hire Barry Trotz as coach fresh off winning Stanley Cup

DALLAS — The New York Islanders have hired Barry Trotz as their new head coach. President of hockey operations Lou Lamoriello announced the move Thursday at the NHL draft, two weeks after Trotz won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals and thr...
Published: 06/21/18
Lightning’s Victor Hedman salutes survivors in Norris Trophy acceptance speech

Lightning’s Victor Hedman salutes survivors in Norris Trophy acceptance speech

The victims and survivors of three tragedies — the mass shootings in Las Vegas and at Parkland Stoneman Douglas High School, and the bus accident that killed 16 members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team — were a big part of Wedne...
Published: 06/21/18
Lightning’s Victor Hedman wins NHL’s Norris Trophy

Lightning’s Victor Hedman wins NHL’s Norris Trophy

Victor Hedman, a relentless part of the Lightning's push to the Eastern Conference final last season, was honored Wednesday night with the Norris Trophy, given to the NHL's top defenseman."To the Lightning organization, Mr. Jeff Vinik, Steve Yzerman ...
Published: 06/20/18