Saturday, December 16, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning's focus on St. Louis

TAMPA — Marty St. Louis has been through plenty of scoring slumps in his career. As he said Sunday, "I know I can get streaky."

So the Lightning captain isn't overly concerned with his current skid, especially because he believes he is skating well and doing the right things on the ice.

Still, St. Louis has just one goal in his past 12 games and is minus-7 in his past eight at a time Tampa Bay, without injured star Steven Stamkos, needs him to be at his best.

Perhaps that is a bit unfair. It is a team game, and St. Louis isn't the only Lightning player missing from the score sheet. Teddy Purcell has one goal in 17 games. Ryan Malone has two in 17.

But St. Louis' stature puts him in a special leadership position, especially with Tampa Bay (14-8-1) coming off a 0-3-1 road trip in which it was outscored 17-6.

"My whole life I put pressure on myself," he said. "There's nobody that can put more pressure on me than myself. I think that's why I was able to play at the level that I am."

That will be celebrated before tonight's game with the Rangers at the Tampa Bay Times Forum when St. Louis, 38, is presented with a silver stick to commemorate his 1,000th game, played Tuesday in Los Angeles.

But then it is back to business. St. Louis — with eight goals and 21 points in 23 games, and whose average 21:13 of ice time is most among league right wings — acknowledged that business has gotten more difficult since Stamkos went down with a broken right leg Nov. 11 and opponents switched their primary defensive pressure to him.

"Every night I'm playing against the top guys," St. Louis said. "It's a task that I'm used to, and you want that challenge. If you start making excuses, that's when you're going to take a longer time to get out of it. But if you keep pushing and expect good things, you should be all right."

For St. Louis, like the rest of the Lightning, deliverance from an offensive slump starts with defense.

Tampa Bay had gotten lazy in the defensive zone. The concept of defending as a five-man unit had slackened. Forwards were cheating toward the offensive zone. And after an emotional surge in two victories after Stamkos was hurt, there was the inevitable letdown.

"A little reality set in for us, and we lost some games," coach Jon Cooper said. "Now we're spinning into that cycle of (Stamkos) hasn't played for us in a while. We understand how our team is and what we can do, and Marty falls into that, too."

St. Louis helped invigorate Tampa Bay's team defense by playing what Cooper called "perhaps his best game in weeks" in Friday's 1-0 overtime loss to the Ducks.

"He was humming," Cooper said. "We ran into a hot goalie (Jonas Hiller), but he was a big reason we played so well. He showed a lot of leadership. He was a big part of why we snuck out a point."

"A lot of what we've been doing wrong is defensive, and that's what we've been working on," wing Alex Killorn said. Against the Ducks, St. Louis "was definitely a leader in that sense," he said.

Still, a goal now and then would be nice.

"At the end of the day," St. Louis said, "it's about results."

MOVES: With defenseman Radko Gudas (upper body) and left wing Malone (foot) questionable for tonight, wing Nikita Kucherov and defenseman Dmitry Korobov were called up from AHL Syracuse. Kucherov leads the Crunch with 13 goals and 24 points in 17 games. Korobov leads at plus-7.

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