Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Slumping Steven Stamkos seeks spark

TAMPA — Lightning captain Steven Stamkos can be streaky.

The two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner as the league's top goal-scorer has been through his share of droughts in his career.

But Stamkos, 26, is in his second prolonged slump in the past three months, having just one goal in his 11 games. It has become more magnified with Tampa Bay's two-game losing streak, which included no goals from the top two lines.

"I'm sure I've been through this before," Stamkos said. "It's not easy to score and produce in this league. We've got a balanced attack. I don't think we're a team that's set up to where you've got one guy that's going to get all the points.

"We rely on our depth with the makeup of this team, and obviously certain guys want to step up when you're not winning. But we were winning before and I'm just trying to do things to help the team win."

Stamkos has 21 goals, tied with Nikita Kucherov for the team lead. But Stamkos is on pace for just 32, which would be his lowest total in a nonlockout or injury-shortened season since getting 23 his rookie year.

The fact that Stamkos has just one goal in the past month — a power-play tally against Toronto on Jan. 27 — went under the radar because the Lightning was rolling, having won 10 of 11 before losing its past two on a trip to Eastern Canada.

But Stamkos is the team's biggest star, the one with 297 career goals and an uncertain contract saga that has been the talk of the hockey world. So the focus will be on him to produce.

When Stamkos went through a 10-game goal drought in November-December, he followed up with nine goals in his next 12 games. Coach Jon Cooper hopes that can happen again, noting Stamkos had five shot attempts and some quality chances in Tuesday's 4-2 loss at Montreal.

While teammates such as Ryan Callahan said Stamkos' demeanor hasn't changed during scoring struggles, Cooper acknowledged it has to wear on the captain.

"I'm sure it does, he's a goal scorer," Cooper said. "This has happened to him before and Stammer can get streaky. He's struggling to put the puck in the net now, but look at his 10 games prior to that, he was filling the net. We haven't really needed his goals because other guys have been scoring, but when we struggle scoring in 48 hours, that's magnified a little bit."

Stamkos has tried to contribute in other ways, including playing a bigger role in the penalty kill. He has won 50 percent or more of his faceoffs in nine of the past 11 games. Stamkos continues to play right wing, as opposed to his preferred natural position of center, and that doesn't appear likely to change soon.

"I'm the leader of this team, you do what you're asked to do," Stamkos said. "You do what's felt is best for the team, and that's my attitude."

NUTS AND BOLTS: There should be an update today on the severity of D Jason Garrison's lower-body injury. The Lightning was off Wednesday but is scheduled to practice at 11 a.m, today at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon.

Contact Joe Smith at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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