Saturday, April 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Goals mask Stamkos' completeness

TAMPA

He was always a star. Almost from the start, he had the lethal stick. He owned the net. He had the will of a great player, and the drive, and the passion.

These days, Steven Stamkos is better.

With all of his fireworks, however, you wonder if anyone will notice.

Before you respond, consider the image of Stamkos in front of the net. Thursday night's game was only 7 minutes, 37 seconds old, and the puck had just skittered free in the Edmonton end. Suddenly, Stamkos was there, because the puck always seems to find the great players, and as quick as a finger snap, Stamkos drove it home for his fifth goal in five games.

He could always score and, for a long time, that was all the world saw in him. From the time Barry Melrose was as wrong about Stamkos as any coach has ever been about a player, he has been an offensive force. He was a better skater than most realized, and he had great hands, and he had terrific vision. It was as if the puck turned into a grenade whenever it touched Stamkos' stick, and the explosion always happened in the back of the net.

The newest version of Stamkos has been improved, however. These days, he is a more complete player. He can still score (13 goals in 15 games), but at the ripe old age of 23, Stamkos has become a wiser player, more mature.

Before you ponder that, consider the blur that is Stamkos in the final minute of the first period. This time, he cut in front of Jordan Eberle and, as neatly as a pickpocket, took the puck as his own. He skated behind the goal, as if toying with the Oilers, then wrapped it in neatly. It was a cat-burglar's play, all anticipation and stealth, and the Lightning led 2-1.

Wouldn't you expect this? Great players in their early 20s tend to get better. They figure things out as they go, and the parts of hockey that didn't seem as important suddenly matter a great deal. They grow into their bodies, and they grow into their sport. They get it.

And so it is that Stamkos has spent this year challenging his own reputation. Yes, he is still the scorer from the highlights. These days, however, he is more. Honestly.

"He's playing the full 200 feet of the ice," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "He back-checks with a purpose. He understands that he doesn't need the extra step. He has that step in him. When he's on the offensive side of pucks, he's going to beat the guy anyway because of his speed. He doesn't need to cheat and be on the wrong side of a player.

"Coming into this year, if you were going to list the top 5-10 centers who are dependable on both ends of the rink, would you put Steven Stamkos' name in there? I don't know if you would have. Now? I think it's not in the top 10. I think you're talking about the top five who play both ends of the rink. He's for sure in that group."

For a long time, scoring was plenty when it came to Stamkos. Over his career, Stamkos has scored 408 points in 388 games.

For him, it hasn't been enough.

"When you first come in, there is a lot of pressure and expectations," Stamkos said. "You're known as a goal scorer. That's how you look at yourself, and that's how you want to play. But it doesn't necessarily turn into wins.

"I think I'm a better all-around player. It's not all about producing offensively. It's about playing the right way. I think this has been my most consistent year."

That says volumes about Stamkos. The world wants to praise him, and he wants to get better. This town has never had a better offensive performer than him, not on the Bucs, and not on the Rays, and not on the Lightning. And he wants to do more.

Ask Cooper the thing that makes Stamkos a great player, and he shrugs.

"It's his will," Cooper said. "He wants to be a great player. He's a competitive guy. He works on his skating. He works on his strength. He works on his shot. He has that p - - - and vinegar that boils inside him."

Given all of that, should it surprise anyone that Stamkos worked at being a better hockey player on both ends of the ice?

"What this league is about is results," Stamkos said. "It's about winning. If you're not doing the things to help your team win, you can't be satisfied with yourself. I just hate losing."

Oh, there is still room for growth. This year, for instance, he has won only 43 percent of his faceoffs. That isn't good enough.

"He will improve on it," general manager Steve Yzerman said. "I want Stammer out on the ice in the last minute of a game whether we're up by one or down by one. The ability to win faceoffs will make him even more valuable in those situations."

Oh, Stamkos is still an offensive player. When a guy can score the way he has, it's going to take a while before anyone thinks of him any other way. Stamkos is simply too good on offense for his other contributions to be fully appreciated.

"The one thing that sneaks up on people is how fast he is," Cooper said. "He has an unreal ability to make plays at high speed. He goes from 0 to 60 like a Ferrari. His first couple of steps I'd put up there with anyone in the league."

These days, Stamkos is more than that. And the Lightning is better off for it.

He's no longer just a hockey scorer. These days, he's a hockey player.

All he has to do is stop scoring long enough for people to notice.

Comments
Lightning-Devils: How the NHL’s top offense went on the defensive

Lightning-Devils: How the NHL’s top offense went on the defensive

TAMPA — It was a couple of days after the Lightning beat the Bruins at home late in the regular season when associate coach Rick Bowness talked about how the defensive effort used in that shutout victory was the one the Lightning would need in ...
Updated: 13 minutes ago
Rookie? Lightning D Mikhail Sergachev’s playing like a seasoned pro

Rookie? Lightning D Mikhail Sergachev’s playing like a seasoned pro

TAMPA — Pardon Mikhail Sergachev if he isn't so good at one of hockey's greatest traditions. After all, growing a Stanley Cup playoff beard isn't easy when you're still just a teenager.As he stood in the Lightning locker room Saturday evening w...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Lightning-Devils: Grading Tampa Bay’s clinching 3-1 victory in Game 3

Lightning-Devils: Grading Tampa Bay’s clinching 3-1 victory in Game 3

TAMPA — Closers.That's what the Lightning looked like as it closed out the New Jersey Devils in five games with a 3-1 win Saturday.Nikita Kucherov's star power blazed again, the defense controlled the game and not even Jersey goaltend...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Roger Mooney’s takeaways from the Lightning’s first-round series

Roger Mooney’s takeaways from the Lightning’s first-round series

TAMPA — In the postseason, teams want to bank days off so they are as fresh as can be for the next round. That's why it was so important for the Lightning to close out Jersey in five. The fewer the games, the less wear and tear on the body, les...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Lightning stays patient, even through 0-for-5 power-play drought

Lightning stays patient, even through 0-for-5 power-play drought

TAMPA — The Lightning so dominated the second period Saturday that the Devils had more penalties (five) than shots on goal (four), and yet Tampa Bay was unable to build on a 1-0 lead as they sought to clinch the opening-round series.Nowhere was...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Nikita Kucherov’s goal sets Lightning playoff series scoring record

Nikita Kucherov’s goal sets Lightning playoff series scoring record

TAMPA — After clinging to a 1-0 lead for more than two periods Saturday, the Lightning got a long-awaited cushion — and ultimately the winning goal — when Nikita Kucherov scored with 7:33 left in the final period of a 3-1 victo...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Lightning wins 3-1, advances to the semifinals

Lightning wins 3-1, advances to the semifinals

TAMPA — The Lightning closed out its quarterfinal series against the Devils with a suffocating defensive effort.The Devils finally solved Andrei Vasilevskiy in the waning moments with goalie Cory Schneider on the bench and the Devils skati...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Live blog: Lightning aims to eliminate Devils in Game 5

Live blog: Lightning aims to eliminate Devils in Game 5

Follow our live coverage of the opening-round NHL playoff series between the Lightning and New Jersey Devils. Times reporters, editors, sports columnists and photo journalists will chronicle the action on and off the ice through updates, analysis, ph...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Devils top D Vatanen out today vs. Lightning

Devils top D Vatanen out today vs. Lightning

TAMPA — Devils top defenseman Sami Vatanen will not play today because of an upper body injury suffered during the first period of Game 4, coach John Hynes announced this afternoon.Mirco Mueller will replace Vatanen in the lineup.Game 5 be...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Lightning feels Ryan McDonagh’s impact

Lightning feels Ryan McDonagh’s impact

BRANDON — Ryan McDonagh blocks shots. He competes for pucks in the corners and wins those battles. He moves the puck up the ice well. He can join the rush. He can shoot from the blue line. He kills penalties."It was a great pickup by (Lightning...
Published: 04/20/18