TAMPA — Lightning coach Guy Boucher told Steven Stamkos to skip practice Thursday; stay away from the St. Pete Times Forum as well.
Boucher said he did not want to see his star center or hear from him until today's skate before the game with Carolina.
"Get a rest, get out of my face, go see a movie," Boucher said he told Stamkos. "Relax, do whatever. … Just go with it and feel like all the pressure is off."
If only that was the case. If anything, the pressure on the NHL's leading goal scorer is mounting.
Stamkos has three goals in his past 19 games — three in almost a quarter of a season, and at a time his team needs him most.
Tampa Bay is in a 2-5-4 skid, has scored more than two goals only four times in its past 16 games and desperately needs some equilibrium before the playoffs.
Stamkos also is minus-14 during his drought. In other words, he is not scoring and is on the ice a lot when the opposition does.
"It's frustrating," he said Wednesday. "You want to be a guy who can be counted on to be a game-changer. You want those pucks in those situations, and when you don't (score), it's tough because of how competitive I am and how much I want to help this team win."
How hot was Stamkos? His 43 goals still lead the league, though by one over the Ducks' Corey Perry. He still was second with 17 power-play goals entering Thursday, is third with 86 points and leads the Lightning with seven winning goals.
But during Stamkos' downturn, Sean Bergenheim and Dominic Moore have five goals each. Nate Thompson has two in his past four games. Good for them, but they should not be outplaying one of the faces of the league.
It should be mentioned wing Marty St. Louis is minus-15 in his past 19 games and Boucher gave him the same pass for Thursday's practice. But St. Louis has six goals and 21 points in that stretch and has been through tough times before. Stamkos, 21, is facing adversity for the first time since establishing himself as a star.
"The way you fight that adversity is the way you become a better player," Stamkos said. "You've got to stick with the plan."
That means not cheating in the defensive zone or extending shifts because maybe a lucky bounce is coming.
"You might score a lucky goal," Stamkos said, "but you're not getting back to the player you were when you were playing well."
Has Stamkos simply hit a wall?
He is averaging 20:23 of ice time, 10 seconds fewer than last season. But opponents have made it a lot tougher for him to find open ice, meaning Stamkos has had to work a lot harder.
Boucher said he will try to give Stamkos more practice days off the rest of the regular season. He also wants Stamkos to keep perspective.
"If he's looking here and around him in the last whatever games, it's overwhelming because he doesn't see a way out," Boucher said. "But if I would have told him before the year he would have 43 goals with nine games left in the season, 'Would you take it? Well, that's what you've got.
" 'Now take the pressure off because it's not you that has to make the team win. It's the team that has to make the team win. You're a part of the team. You're not the part of the team.' "
Stamkos watches video of when he was at his best to "get that confidence back and know you can make plays and score goals." He said he visualizes and thinks positively, and he does not bemoan all the posts he has hit.
"He's not coming in here grumpy, not at all," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "He's frustrated, but he's not showing it. He's acting like he's determined and wants to get out of it."
"It's not for lack of effort. It's not me not working hard enough," Stamkos said. "It's just something I'm dealing with right now. I want to step up and help this team out."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.