Vinny Lecavalier said he was sure his game was on the verge of a breakthrough.
He could tell by the way he felt on the ice, the way he was skating, the scoring chances he got.
"My game was coming," the Lightning captain said. "It was there."
Now it is on hold.
The fractured big knuckle on Lecavalier's right index finger, sustained Thursday against the Capitals, will keep him out at least three to four weeks.
It also stalled a reconstruction project. Actually, that's probably too strong a description. Call it a transformation project, with a goal of turning Lecavalier into an elite player — not just an elite scorer, a distinction he lost the past two seasons, but a complete player who competes and succeeds at both ends of the ice.
"It's disappointing," coach Guy Boucher said of the injury, "because when you're advancing in the right direction and you're right there on the verge of kicking butt … but he knows what he has to do. He got back a big part of his game, which was the goal the whole time."
Lecavalier's game, from a numbers standpoint, has been in decline the past three seasons. Since leading the league in 2006-07 with 52 goals, the center has scored 40, 29 and 24.
Injuries certainly have played a part, as well as having wing Marty St. Louis shifted to Steven Stamkos' line midway through 2008-09.
But what Boucher has preached — and not just with Lecavalier but all his players — is personal empowerment: doing the little things on the ice that make it difficult for opponents. Those things keep players in the action, and as a by-product, create scoring chances.
As Boucher said of Lecavalier: "When you have seasons where you're disappointing yourself in your results, there's reasons for it. You get into some habits. He had to figure out where his game was when it was at his best. It's a lot of work on his part and a lot of willingness."
What part of Lecavalier's game has Boucher influenced most?
"Skating," Lecavalier said. "There's just so much. And being first on the puck. There's absolutely no floating on either side of the ice."
General manager Steve Yzerman sees more:
"He's competing hard at both ends of the rink. He's blocking shots. He's good on faceoffs. He's just competing very hard."
But with just three goals and nine points in 14 games, his numbers can seem deficient given his 11-year, $85 million contract.
"I don't want him thinking too much about that," Yzerman said. "We're asking him to play a certain way. He's doing that.
"We talked about trying to be the best all-around player. Whether he's getting 60 points or 70 points or whatever, we're more concerned about him doing things the right way. The points eventually will come."
Lecavalier had chances before the injury, hitting at least three posts in his final two games. He had four assists in his final five.
"I believe in what I can do," he said. "I want to produce. The last five games, the chances I got, it's coming."
We'll just have to wait another month to see it.
DOWNIE UPDATE: Right wing Steve Downie, out three games with a back/neck strain, might be available for today's game with the Wild. Spokesman Bill Wickett said a decision will be made after the morning skate.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]