BUFFALO, N.Y. — Steven Stamkos, with head down and voice soft, said he has run out of analysis for how this season is going.
The Lightning lost 3-1 to the Sabres on Sunday at the First Niagara Center in a game that had as much energy as you would expect from two teams that will miss the playoffs and were playing on consecutive days.
But there was more for Stamkos, who shoulders so much pressure to help carry the team and who in his past eight games has one goal.
That's not a big deal for mere mortals. But the center is going for a third Rocket Richard Trophy in four years, and his 26 goals are one behind Washington's Alex Ovechkin for the league lead.
In fact, the Elias Sports Bureau says, when Ovechkin took the lead Saturday against Tampa Bay, it marked the first time Stamkos was not on top since Feb. 22, when his 11 goals were one behind Pittsburgh's James Neal and Buffalo's Thomas Vanek.
"Obviously, I want to produce," Stamkos said. "But right now it's about working hard and not cheating. You go through these stretches every year. The only reason we're talking about it now is because it's the end of the year and all the individual stuff."
But there also is this: Stamkos' sore left shoulder from a March 23 game against the Senators in which he slammed into the end boards while checking defenseman Marc Methot. Then, on April 1, Stamkos briefly left practice because of what he called a "dead arm stinger."
His eight-game scoring slump began April 2, as did a stretch in which he has won only 46.4 percent of his faceoffs, though he won 9-of-17 against Buffalo.
"I'm not going to use anything as an excuse," Stamkos said. "You find a way to battle through things. You're going to get bumps and bruises throughout the year."
"I'm sure maybe there's something to do with it," coach Jon Cooper said. "But he's a pretty gutty kid. He competes. It's a game of inches, and eventually it's going to go in for him."
For Cooper, most important is Stamkos is getting scoring chances. Still, Stamkos has only 20 shots on goal in his past eight games and had one against Buff in 23:31 of ice time. He had 14 shots and four goals in three games leading up to April 2.
"He expects the most out of himself," said defenseman Matt Carle, who was solid against the Sabres with five shots, two hits and two blocked shots in 25:41 of ice time.
"He puts a lot of pressure on himself to produce, and he wants to do that every shift. I think he's successful even when he doesn't have the puck or isn't scoring. He's got a lot of speed and can make all the plays, and he's physical as well, so he's a complete player in that sense."
"I'm trying to finish off the year strong and work out something in my game that can help this team win," Stamkos said. "Right now it's not going well for both sides."
First Period—1, Buff, Ennis 10 (Vanek, Ehrhoff), 4:09 (pp). Penalties—Stamkos, TB (slashing), 3:56; Crombeen, TB (hooking), 13:44.
Second Period—2, Buff, Hecht 4 (Gerbe), 8:00. 3, Buff, Porter 4 (Flynn, Ott), 12:37. 4, TB, Pouliot 8 (Brewer, Lecavalier), 13:30. Penalties—None.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Ehrhoff, Buf (delay of game), 6:23; Malone, TB (hooking), 8:55. Shots on Goal—TB 7-15-11—33. Buff 10-8-4—22. Power-play opportunities—TB 0 of 1; Buff 1 of 3. Goalies—TB, Garon 5-9-2 (22 shots-19 saves). Buff, Enroth 4-2-1 (33-32).