Sunday, December 17, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Steven Stamkos scoring more and Lightning needs it more than ever

TAMPA — You can count on one hand the number of players in the world who can score a goal like Steven Stamkos did in Saturday's second period.

Okay, maybe two fingers.

"The other guy plays in Washington," Kings center Anze Kopitar said, referring to the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin. "You've got to pay special attention."

Pay attention to how Stamkos, 25, scored, beating Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen, and it shows how the Lightning captain is gaining confidence, much like his team, which carries a two-game winning streak into tonight's game against the Kings.

Stamkos used his world-class speed to burst into the Ducks zone. He took a quick peek, noticing a small opening above Andersen's right shoulder. Stamkos figured he could surprise Andersen with a wrist shot from the top of the right circle, and he did.

There's a reason Kings goalie Jonathan Quick says Stamkos might have the quickest release in the league.

"You have to first and foremost have to have confidence in your shot, and I do, that I can score a goal from out there," Stamkos said. "It's having that shooter's mentality. At the beginning of the year, I might have taken that extra stride, or flipped a pass. It's just trusting your ability, and when you're feeling good, things start to bounce your way."

There's much unknown about Stamkos when it comes to his contract situation, specifically whether he'll re-sign with the Lightning, get traded or walk when he can become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

It's hard to pinpoint how much it'll cost, $11 million a year believed to be a starting point, or how close the Lightning is to retaining the All-Star, especially with general manager Steve Yzerman and Stamkos' agents at Newport Sports declining to publicly comment on negotiations.

Whether the Lightning can afford to keep Stamkos within the salary cap remains to be seen — especially with Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, among others, needing new deals in coming years. But another question is this: Can they afford not to?

Where would Tampa Bay (10-9-3) be without Stamkos' 11 goals, five more than the team's next highest, Nikita Kucherov (six)? On a goal-starved team, and in a league where scoring is reaching historic lows, there's only one player (Ovechkin, 266) who has more goals since 2009-10 than Stamkos (264).

"He's a goal scorer," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "I don't know if there's a better one."

Stamkos is the first to say scoring goals isn't all that matters. He has tried every year to become a more well-rounded, two-way player, even hiring Hall of Famer Adam Oates as a consultant this season, assisting him with habits and small details of the game.

There's still room to grow. Stamkos' faceoff percentage is still under 50 (49.3). Despite a team-high 17 points, Stamkos is minus-1. Like the rest of the Lightning, he turned the puck over too many times early this season. Part of that might be putting too much pressure on himself to score when he, and the team, was struggling.

"For me, at times, when things aren't going well, it's forcing plays, it's trying to make something out of nothing," Stamkos said. "It's actually funny, I was watching the (Monday Night Football) game, you watch (Patriots quarterback) Tom Brady. I watched him throw the ball away 3-4 times when he was under pressure, not trying to force anything. That's why he's only got (four interceptions) this year, is he doesn't try to make plays out of nothing. As you get more experience in this game, you realize sometimes easy plays are the right ones."

But Stamkos made one thing clear — even when he had a five-game goal drought or made bad giveaways, they had nothing to do with distractions over his contract. Kopitar, also in a contract year, said he'd "be lying if I say it doesn't creep up from time to time."

Not Stamkos.

"When I come to the rink, it's really not on my mind," Stamkos said. "For me, it's been pretty easy. It's not, I'm on the ice, 'Oh I better make this play because it's my contract year.' It's the furthest thing from the truth. It's been nice to get on this run as a team and help produce and help us get out of the funk we were in."

On call: Defenseman Luke Witkowski, reassigned Sunday to AHL Syracuse, was recalled Tuesday.

Contact Joe Smith at [email protected] [email protected]_JSmith.

. Tonight

Lightning vs. Kings

When/where: 7:30, Amalie Arena

TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 970-AM

Key stats: The Kings (13-8) are wrapping up a five-game trip, having split the first four, including a 3-1 victory Monday at Florida. Los Angeles entered Tuesday co-leading the Pacific Division, sparked by C Tyler Toffoli, who has nine goals. The Lightning (10-9-3) has back-to-back wins for the first time since starting 3-0. Tampa Bay lost both meetings last season with the Kings. The Lightning might get back C Tyler Johnson (upper body), who has missed the past three games. LW Jonathan Drouin (undisclosed) and C Cedric Paquette (upper body) appear questionable. The Lightning is second in the league in goals allowed (2.18), the Kings third (2.19).

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