BRANDON — Officially, the changes made to the Lightning's forward lines are meant to revive a moribund offense.
More to the point, though, is the challenge of reviving struggling superstar Vinny Lecavalier.
So, even though coach Rick Tocchet reminded that "we have a few guys struggling" and "it's not the Vinny Lightning, it's the Tampa Bay Lightning," he said:
"Obviously the focus is on Vinny because of his status. We've got to get him going. … He's a big part of it, and we have to try to help him get better."
That is why Tocchet during Sunday's practice at the Ice Sports Forum — and in the wake of a 0-2 road trip in which Tampa Bay was outscored 11-2 and got a tongue-lashing from general manager Brian Lawton after Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Penguins — reunited Lecavalier on a line with Marty St. Louis, the right wing with whom the center has had his greatest success. "I hope," Lecavalier said, "it's going to get a spark."
Even a flicker would be welcome. Lecavalier is goal-less in seven games this season and 14 straight including last season.
The much ballyhooed pairing with Alex Tanguay fizzled. The left wing, also without a goal, was demoted to the third line with center Jeff Halpern and right wing Drew Miller.
"He's out of whack, and he knows it," Tocchet said of Tanguay, who has six shots on goal. "He's losing position in the defensive zone coverage. Hopefully, playing with Halpy and Miller, he can be a straight-line guy" — in other words, play more north-south, less on the perimeter, with better puck possession and a mind-set of getting pucks to the net.
It's the same formula for Lecavalier, who has two shots in his past two games, has stopped getting scoring chances and admitted losing "a little bit of confidence."
The hope is St. Louis' relentless style will force Lecavalier into a straight-ahead mode. It has worked in the past. They were paired in 2006-07, when Lecavalier had career bests of 52 goals and 108 points, and for a good part of 2007-08, when Lecavalier had 40 goals and 92 points.
But since St. Louis was placed last season with center Steven Stamkos and left wing Ryan Malone, his time with Lecavalier has been limited. Tocchet last week voiced concern over removing St. Louis from a line that has 13 of Tampa Bay's 17 goals.
No surprise, then, the coach reserved the right to reunite that trio. For now, though, Stamkos and Malone will play with right wing Steve Downie.
"He's got an excellent winger in Malone, and Downs and him had success last year," Tocchet said of Stamkos. "Like I said, you may have to chip a little here to get stronger somewhere else. But even (the Malone-Stamkos-St. Louis) line has given up too many goals, so nobody is exempt right now" from changes.
Another change: moving rookie James Wright from Halpern's line to right wing on Lecavalier's.
"He's just going to dog the puck," Tocchet said. "You need somebody like that. Quite frankly, you're just trying to find a guy who will work hard on that line."
In the end, though, it all comes down to Lecavalier and St. Louis.
"Obviously I played three years with Marty, and we played very well together," Lecavalier said. "We know each other well. It's not anything new, but sometimes you need that in a team, you switch players around, you get that spark going."
"When the team doesn't get success, things are going to switch around," St. Louis said. "I'm pretty confident we'll be able to find one another and play together like we know how to play."
For more comments from coach Rick Tocchet and the players on the line changes, go to the Lightning Strikes blog at tampabay.com/blogs/lightning