Sunday, June 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Steven Stamkos displays enormous skill, desire to score

Mike Bossy has a simple piece of advice for Lightning center Steven Stamkos: "Never give up a shot." • "Goal scorers have to be selfish in an unselfish way," Bossy added. "Scoring goals is what helps your team win." • Bossy should know. The former Islanders wing and Hall of Fame player is one of the NHL's greatest goal scorers. He also might be the closest equivalent to how Stamkos plays the game.

Stamkos, who with 58 goals is putting on one of the greatest scoring shows the NHL has seen in a while, calls the comparison "surreal." And the 22-year-old in his fourth season has a way to go before reaching Bossy's stature.

But Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman, an area resident who attends most Lightning home games, said, "The thing with Bossy is he was always thinking, 'How am I going to get open and get in scoring position?' Stamkos does the same thing."

An important point because like Bossy, who had 573 goals in a 10-year career, Stamkos went through an evolution from a player perceived to score mostly from the perimeter to being a threat anywhere on the ice.

Deflections from in front of the net, wraparounds from behind and dekes through traffic leading to a zippy wrist shot with pinpoint accuracy all were added to a repertoire that has grown exponentially from the days Stamkos was known for little more than a devastating power play one-timer.

"He's got more to his game," Devils goaltender Marty Brodeur said. "He powers through people. He gets into those dirtier areas."

As did Bossy.

"I may not have been a physical player but I went into the physical areas because you don't score goals unless you get there," he said. "By what he's done he's proven he wants to be a great all-around player, not just a power-play specialist or the guy who shoots the puck from the top of the faceoff circle, so in that area he reminds me a lot of myself."

•••

Stamkos' transformation began last season, when he scored 45 goals but stalled with five in his final 28 games.

Opponents had adjusted. The power play one-timer from the left faceoff circle was not readily available; a problem since in 2009-10, Stamkos scored 24 of his 51 goals — tied with Sidney Crosby for the league lead — with the extra man.

This season, he has only 12 power-play goals and his 46 even strength entered Tuesday 10 more than anyone else.

The one-timer? He has scored with it just a handful of times.

"He had to adapt, and that's the mark of a very great athlete," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "He's worked real hard at being around the net for tips, rebounds, jams. And instead of being too far on the outside taking shots, he's taking those extra steps to get inside the dots and shoot while he's striding."

There is more, of course, namely the will to use the skill.

Stamkos is a marked man. Opponents game plan to stop him. They put their best defensemen on him, match his line up against their best checking lines.

And, yet, there he was Monday, outmaneuvering two Capitals in front of the net to score his league-best 12th winner, off a rebound, with 1:03 left in Tampa Bay's 4-2 victory.

"He scores goals in every possible way now," Maple Leafs defenseman and Stamkos friend Luke Schenn said. "I mean, there's no single way of shutting him down. Teams have tried different things throughout the year and he still gets the job done."

Added Toronto coach Randy Carlyle: "He's become an elite athlete. You talk about where he was and how much time and work and effort he's put in. It's all part of 'I'm accepting the responsibility,' and developing himself into an elite-level hockey player."

•••

Stamkos has three games left to reach 60 goals, beginning tonight against the Canadiens at the Bell Centre. If he does, he will be just the second NHL player to do so in 15 seasons and the first since Washington's Alex Ovechkin scored 65 in 2007-08.

He also needs one point to surpass his career high 95.

Considering he is on one of his hottest stretches of the season with eight goals and three assists in a six-game points streak, the odds seem good.

"Steven just looks like he loves to score goals," Bossy said. "He is someone I notice is always looking for the open spot and always making himself available for the pass to get a shot away."

To Glenn "Chico" Resch, that also described his former Islanders teammate.

"They both know how to deceive the defenders and read the play, to be in one place one second and show up in a whole different scoring position the next," said the former goalie, now a television analyst for the Devils. "The biggest thing, though, with both guys is they can shoot the puck hard from anywhere in their shooting arc. That's the No. 1 thing, getting the puck off with enough velocity and accuracy even when you're off balance."

Stamkos said it is "an honor" to be compared to Bossy, who had five 60-goal seasons and scored fewer than 50 only once.

"He was able to find so many ways to score. He could always find the seam, the open spot in front of the net.

"And," Stamkos said, "he hardly ever missed."

NORFOLK STILL STREAKING: The Lightning's Norfolk affiliate won its 23rd straight, 2-1 over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, to extend its AHL-record winning streak. Mark Barberio scored the winning goal in the third period.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]

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