BRANDON — Vinny Lecavalier may continue to be frustrated that he's not scoring, but it's not the Lightning captain's lack of goals that has coach Rick Tocchet the most concerned.
Tocchet said that when Lecavalier started the season with an eight-game goalless streak, he was still doing the little things well: finishing checks, playing low, handling defensive responsibilities. But Tocchet said that part of Lecavalier's game has slipped recently and "we've got to get him cleaned up."
That's partly why Lecavalier was moved off a line with Marty St. Louis in Sunday's practice — and likely for tonight's game in Philadelphia — and paired with Drew Miller and Stephane Veilleux.
Tocchet said he's not picking on Lecavalier. Other players have to pick up their games as well, he said, especially coming off a 2-1 loss to the Devils on Saturday in which "we had no life." But Tocchet said it could help Lecavalier, whose minus-5 is lowest among Lightning forwards, to be paired with two "north-south guys" and a line with fewer offensive expectations. Plus, the move reunites the St. Louis-Steven Stamkos-Ryan Malone trio that Tocchet says "have kind of carried us."
"Vinny is a big part of the team, he knows," Tocchet said. "He's got to get his game sharp. There's nothing wrong with saying it."
Tocchet acknowledged that often with scorers, if their offense isn't clicking, it can affect other areas of their game. But if that happens, he'll make sure it's addressed — fast.
"Not finishing checks, cheating a little bit … it's unacceptable," Tocchet said. "That's the one thing I came into this year (thinking): If I see your game slipping — if you're not scoring, I can live with it — but if you're turning away from checks and not battling down low defensively, if you're constantly on the ice and teams are getting chances against you … this is something we're going to correct the next day. It's not going to be corrected next week."
Lecavalier, 29, said not scoring has been frustrating, but he understands it's important to keep up the other parts of his game if he's not getting goals.
"With the puck, I'm still confident with it," said Lecavalier, who has one goal (10 points) in 11 games. "Playing on the power play, moving the puck, and it keeps you in the game when you have the puck on your stick. I think it's going to come."
Tocchet is eager to see how his team responds on its four-game road trip that begins today (it also includes stops in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal) considering how flat it was Saturday and its 0-3-1 record away from the St. Pete Times Forum.
"I think it's … defining who we are this week," Tocchet said. "When we start to lose focus and we lose our grittiness, you can tell we're a different hockey club, we're in trouble as a hockey club. But when we're focused and got a little bit of grit to us, we can compete.
"How do you handle success? We're still trying to find that equation."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]sptimes.com.