BRANDON — Over and over, Steve Downie insisted the goal he scored in Thursday's 4-1 victory over the Penguins was no big deal.
"It's just a goal. That's the way I look at it," the Lightning right wing said Friday at the Ice Sports Forum. "We won the game. I'd rather win the game than score goals."
There is no reason to doubt that sentiment. But the reality is, Downie's tally, on the power play with a crisp wrist shot from the slot, is not easily dismissed.
It was Downie's first goal since opening night, ending a 16-game drought. And it came after Monday's loss to the Jets in which Downie missed three open nets.
"You could see his face," coach Guy Boucher said. "To relieve that pressure, you could see it in practice. He scored a lot more in practice (Friday), too."
This season has been a challenging one of transition for Downie, who has played a different role than the past two seasons and seen his offensive production dwindle.
Paired the past two seasons on a top line with center Steve Stamkos and Marty St. Louis, Downie had a combined 32 goals and 78 points, and was plus-22. This season, in more of a third-line checking role, Downie has two goals and four points in 18 games and is minus-12, one of the worst ratings in the league.
Even so, Downie, 24, is doing the right things, Boucher said. And center Dominic Moore said Downie "is one of those guys who will play the same way regardless of the role he's playing."
Downie is screening more and carrying the puck more to the net, Boucher said. "He's got more opportunities around the net. Funny thing is, he's getting less points. The reality is, stick with the process, results will come."
"You get frustrated, not so much about not scoring goals but the way you play the game," Downie said. "I'll score a goal and still not be happy with my game. It's always nice to score goals, but scoring a goal is not the whole game."
Downie is like his teammates, Boucher said, in that he must improve defensively. Still, he said Downie's minus-12 is not overly worrisome.
"The last two seasons he played with Stamkos and St. Louis," Boucher said. "I'll put anybody with Stamkos and St. Louis, and we'll see their plus-minus improve pretty good.
"He's one of the guys who has had to adjust the most on our team."
For example, Downie's 1:48 average power-play time is about 30 seconds less than last season.
His power-play time spiked in the four games left wing Ryan Malone was out with an upper-body injury. Malone is expected back tonight against the Devils at the St. Pete Times Forum, but Boucher said Downie will keep getting more power-play time.
Overall, though, Stamkos said, "(Downie is) not given as much of an opportunity to produce, and that's tough. He wants to be that guy. He's going to do anything for the team, but I know he wants to produce. That's human nature for a competitive guy like him."
"As long as we're winning," Downie said. "Winning is the bottom line in this business, no matter how many goals you score."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @LightningTimes.