Friday, February 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning needs St. Louis, Lecavalier to help Stamkos

They are in trouble. Things are going wrong, and the schedule is about to hit a rough patch, and it is time for the good players of the Lightning to be good players.

In other words, it is Marty Time.

They are sliding backward. The losses keep mounting, and the ice is getting slippery, and the team could use a familiar face to get a little momentum going.

In other words, it is Vinny O'clock.

Isn't it?

For years, they have been the balled fists of the Lightning. If it wasn't Marty St. Louis burying a big goal, it was Vinny Lecavalier.

Sooner or later, one of them was going to get you.

Even now, with Steven Stamkos' emergence as the team's primary goal scorer, the strength of the Lightning was it had all three players ready to fill the net. Together, they attacked in a swarm. They split up big moments like diners splitting a check.

Lately, however, that hasn't been the case.

St. Louis has now gone six straight games without a goal and has scored only one in his past 17 games. Lecavalier hasn't scored a goal in four games, and he has only two in the past 12.

All of which leaves the goal-scoring in the hands of Stamkos and, well, who?

Look, it isn't as if these two are playing awfully. St. Louis entered Wednesday second in the NHL in assists, and Lecavalier has almost a point a game. In hockey, you can defend a lot with assists.

But when those two aren't scoring goals, it leaves too much of the game in the hands of Cory Conacher, or Benoit Pouliot, or Teddy Purcell. Nice players, all of them. But it's too soon to ask any of them to lead. You have to have the stature of St. Louis and Lecavalier to do that.

Perhaps that struck you Tuesday night, when the Lightning went out with the singular game plan of trying to leave dents in Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller. Except for Stamkos, who did you expect to score? St. Louis? Lecavalier? Anyone?

Through the years, St. Louis has carried this team. He has scored so many big goals in so many big games that you come to expect it. Lecavalier, especially in his best years, has had times on the ice that he seemed to be the largest factor out there.

If the Lightning is going to turn this 3-8-1 streak around, it's going to need more from them both. It's going to need goals. It's going to need spark. It's going to need its old reliables to be dangerous once more.

There is a difference to this team when St. Louis and Lecavalier are scoring. Suddenly, the Lightning looks fast, skilled, dangerous. Other players feed off of the energy, and then the scoring gets contagious.

But on those nights when it does not score, the Lightning simply looks too young to compete. There have been too many of those lately.

Again, Stamkos is a monster when it comes to scoring goals. But you need a second guy, too. And a third one. For that matter, you need a fourth guy, too, such as Simon Gagne two years ago when the Lightning reached the conference final.

Just wondering, but who is that player now, exactly?

The good news? This isn't that rare for St. Louis. After 19 games last year, he had only five goals. He had eight the year before but only four the year before that. So, no, it doesn't appear to be his age (37).

As for Lecavalier, he had eight goals last year after 19 games before hitting a slump. He had four the year before.

The difference, of course, is the urgency involved in a 48-game season. Players don't have time to hit their stride later on. They don't have time to be streaky. They don't have time to dig themselves out of a hole.

Look at the Lightning and ask yourself a simple question: Is this a playoff hockey team?

The answer? If St. Louis and Lecavalier are scoring goals, then yes, it is. If not, then no, it isn't.

Right now, the Lightning seems to be skating along the border of the teams that matter and those that do not. It is time for someone to grab the season and make certain it goes in the proper direction.

Maybe it turns out to be Stamkos.

Maybe it turns out to be St. Louis.

Maybe it turns out to be Lecavalier.

If not them, then who?

 

FAST FACTS

Big chunks

Does Steven Stamkos need help on the goal-scoring front from Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier? Well, entering Wednesday's games, Stamkos was one of only eight players responsible for 20 percent of his team's goals.

Player Team No. Tot. Pct.

Patrick Marleau Sharks 12 41 29.3%

Thomas Vanek Sabres 12 49 24.5%

John Tavares Islanders 13 56 23.2%

Jeff Carter Kings 10 44 22.7%

Zach Parise Wild 8 37 21.6%

Brad Marchand Bruins 10 47 21.3%

David Clarkson Devils 10 48 20.8%

Steven Stamkos Lightning 14 70 20.0%

Note: Team's goals don't include those given for a shootout win

Listen to Gary Shelton from 9 a.m. until noon on 98.7-FM the Fan.

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