LOS ANGELES — Richard Panik said he always will take a victory over a goal.
Even so, the Lightning right wing admitted scoring his first of the season Saturday against the Coyotes, even in a 6-3 loss, was pretty sweet.
"It was like 'finally,' relief," Panik said, and added, "Hopefully, there is more coming."
Panik, 22, is a goalscorer, after all. He had 22 in 51 games last season for AHL Syracuse and five in 25 games after his callup to Tampa Bay. But through his first 18 games this season, Panik had zero and admitted it was getting to him a bit.
"The last few games I felt a little bit of pressure," he said before Tuesday night's game with the Kings at the Staples Center. "I just focused a lot. I needed to score that first goal. It was building up the pressure."
Panik still was contributing.
His eight assists entered Tuesday tied for third among league rookies. He led all rookies with four assists on the power play. His 33 hits were tied for the most among Tampa Bay's forwards and he averaged 14:15 of ice time.
Even his most negative stat — a minus-7 — was somewhat misleading as he was plus-2 in his previous nine games entering Tuesday.
"He's had his ups and downs, but for the most part he's been a warrior for us," coach Jon Cooper said.
Cooper still pulled on the leash now and again. He scratched Panik in the third game of the season and for a while had him on the fourth line, though he since has been reinstated to the third with former Syracuse linemates Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson.
"Did he have a tough start to the season? In many ways he did," Cooper said. "But we can't be in the business of pulling these kids out of the lineup every time they make a mistake because they're not going to get any better. We know what Richard has in him, and he's stuck with it here. I think he's playing his best hockey of the season."
Safe to say, though, Panik, 6 feet 1, 208 pounds, and with a highly skilled pair of hands, will not be completely happy until he is lighting the lamp with more regularity.
"If you have zero goals in 18 games it looks weird," Panik said, and added, "I'm starting to feel a little more comfortable now. I feel like I'm playing good hockey."
"It was about time for him to score a goal," Palat said. "It's good for his confidence and he'll keep going."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]