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Sure, he's tough, but Tampa Bay Lightning wing Steve Downie can play, too

Steve Downie’s energy and relentless style of play impress 
his teammates and frustrate opponents.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Steve Downie’s energy and relentless style of play impress his teammates and frustrate opponents.

The black-and-blue bruise Steve Downie wore around his left eye this month could symbolize the toughness and grit the right wing brings to the Lightning.

Downie, 23, has continued to embody those qualities the past three weeks, despite fighting a lingering high right ankle sprain that had forced him to miss a month.

But when it comes to Downie's overall impact, there's a lot more than meets the eye.

"He's a physical presence," assistant captain Marty St. Louis said. "But people forget he can actually play."

Downie's playmaking ability, vision and puck control are aspects of his game that are often overlooked. And they are reasons why he has clicked so well on the top two lines with All-Stars like St. Louis and Steven Stamkos.

"I think protecting the puck and making plays is probably the best part of his game," St. Louis said.

That was on vivid display during Sunday's 7-1 victory over the Thrashers when Downie's hustle prevented goaltender Peter Mannino from covering the puck. Downie then passed from behind the goal line to St. Louis, who scored his 20th goal.

"He didn't cover it, so keep going," Downie said.

Besides, he added, laughing, "Marty would have yelled at me had I stopped."

"When he plays his game, that's exactly what happens; he creates free pucks, he creates battles that make Stammer and St. Louis get opportunities," coach Guy Boucher said. "(Sunday) was his best game since he's been back."

Teammates talk about how much energy Downie gives them and how much his relentless style frustrates opponents, and Downie, who leads the team in penalty minutes (92), backs down from nobody.

"He plays the game so hard, that the way he plays the game, teams don't like playing against him," center Nate Thompson said. "He's got that target on his back every game. But he has that element of playmaking ability that's so underrated. His offensive ability, when he was playing with Marty and Stamkos, people sometimes forget how many plays he makes for them. … His playmaking ability, his shot, his passing is right up there with all our other top forwards."

Downie, who had a breakout, 22-goal season last year, has four goals and 17 assists and is plus-4 despite missing 13 games because of the ankle.

Boucher tried to work Downie back in slowly after his injury, not wanting him to feel all the pressure right away.

Just having Downie back in the lineup makes Tampa Bay better.

"He's got that rare combination of grit and skill," Stamkos said.

Not to mention savvy.

"He's very smart with the puck," Boucher said. "That's the one thing we talked about at the beginning of the year; I think he's smart, then tough. I know he's a tough guy and works hard and finishes checks, but I strongly believe, same as Ryan Malone, they're smart players with the puck and they just need to have it more than they think."

Downie has always believed in his scoring ability but points out he's playing a certain role on this team. And he doesn't mind doing all the "little things," including winning battles in the corners and helping get the puck to the likes of St. Louis and Stamkos.

"Those two players are All-Star players; you can put anyone with them and they'll do good," Downie said. "They're that good."

To the Lightning, so is Downie.

NOTable: The Lightning postponed a news conference to showcase next season's new uniforms because of the police shooting in St. Petersburg. It has not been rescheduled.

Times staff writer Damian Cristodero contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

>>Tonight

Lightning vs. Maple Leafs

When/where: 7:30; St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa TV/radio: Sun Sports; 620-AM

Key stats: The Lightning has won four straight games. … C Steven Stamkos leads the league with 38 goals and 67 points and has seven goals and three assists in a six-game points streak. … The Maple Leafs have been outscored 52-33 in the first period. … Tampa Bay, which entered Monday with the league's best home penalty kill at 88.9 percent, has killed 16 straight power plays.

Sure, he's tough, but Tampa Bay Lightning wing Steve Downie can play, too 01/24/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 24, 2011 9:23pm]
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