CALGARY — Lightning coach Guy Boucher and wing Marty St. Louis scoffed when the "S" word was mentioned in regards to Steven Stamkos.
In fact, both said it was absurd even to consider the star center's goal-scoring drought a slump.
"He's not sinking," Boucher said. "He's getting the same chances. They're just not going in. So, for him, right now, it's not a slump."
Besides, St. Louis said, "If you had told him he'd have 21 goals after, what, 28 games now, he would have paid for that."
But including Tuesday's 4-2 loss to the Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome, Stamkos has gone six games without a goal, his longest stretch since Dec. 23-Jan. 6 last season. He also has just two assists and has a season-high three games without a point.
Coincidentally or not, Tampa Bay is 2-3-1 during his, um, downturn.
Frustrating? Stamkos, with four shots against Calgary but none that tested goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, admitted, "a little bit."
"You want to contribute, especially when you don't win," he said. "It's on my part. I have to work even harder now that the bounces aren't going my way."
Evaluating Stamkos, 20, is, of course, all relative. Even Flames wing Alex Tanguay marveled that Stamkos' drought "is a long one for him."
Stamkos' scintillating 21 goals in his first 22 games created speculation he might become only the sixth NHL player to score 50 in 50.
He was elevated into the stratosphere of superstars with Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alex Ovechkin. And his ability to score from areas other than the left faceoff circle, and with more than his blazing one-timer, signaled a more mature game than the one that last season produced 51 goals to tie Crosby for the league lead.
Those elements are still there. Greater, though, are the forces committed to stopping them.
"But that's the challenge," said Stamkos, who with linemates St. Louis and Simon Gagne went against Calgary's top defensive pair of Jay Bouwmeester and Robyn Regehr.
"Every player that goes against the top pairing is in the same boat," Stamkos said. "You've got to generate chances. That's what makes you an elite player. It's not easy, but you have to find a way."
Same for Ovechkin, who recently went nine games without a goal. Even Crosby, the game's best player, had a five-game drought before a 17-game points streak in which he has 20 goals and 15 assists.
Stamkos is second in the league behind Crosby's 26 goals and is second with 40 points behind Crosby's 50. Stamkos' 10 power-play goals lead the league, as do his 20 power-play points.
"So, it's not like his skills are gone," Boucher said. "Teams are just keying so much on him that it takes away from his scoring. But it doesn't take away from his game. He's getting scoring chances. If he was playing bad, I'd be worried, but he's playing good. He's a threat."
Stamkos also sees the bigger picture, in which the team is 7-3-1 in its past 11 games.
"If we were 0-5 the last few games it might bother me a little bit," he said. "But we're still doing well."
"He's so unselfish," Boucher said. "He's got the biggest smile after games we win because it's about the team for him. That's his biggest strength."
But that doesn't change the fact that Stamkos has just 17 shots his past six games, failed to bury chances and has had pucks skitter through his legs and off his stick.
It also doesn't change the question: Is he in a slump?
"People are saying I am," Stamkos said. "You have to be realistic. You're not going to get a point every game. … The chances are there. I'm working hard every night, so, for me, it's not a slump."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.