TAMPA — Steve Downie has quietly emerged as one of the bright spots in the Lightning's young season.
The fourth-line wing won't rack up points like Steven Stamkos, and he's not expected to.
But coach Rick Tocchet has praised Downie for being one of the team's better forwards over the past week. He says the third-year pro has been more consistent in his play, shown better practice habits and toed the difficult line between playing with "reckless abandon" and doing it under control.
"I think it comes with age for me," said Downie, 22, the Flyers' first-round draft pick in 2005. "I feel I'm making strides in my game. I feel good about it right now, but it's still not where I think it can be. … It's been a while for me to feel good, so I'm excited to feel good. I've just got to keep getting better."
Downie proved he deserved a chance to earn more responsibility beginning in the summer, when he began an improved offseason conditioning program and approach to nutrition. The 6-foot, 200-pound Ontario native said strength coach Chuck Lobe showed him the way, and "it's paying off right now."
"Last year, I was feeling a little bit slow, slow on the puck," Downie said. "I feel quicker. That extra stride or two gets you to the puck faster. It makes it a lot easier to make plays out there."
Tocchet said Downie's positioning has improved and he has shown poise with the puck, so he has earned opportunities on the power play. Though Downie ranks sixth on the team with nine points (three goals, six assists), his plus-3 is fourth-best. And he and his line often have made the most impact on plays such as a big hit, an aggressive forecheck or drawing a penalty.
"He's not afraid to get his nose in there and stand up for his teammates," linemate James Wright said. "He always backs up his teammates."
Downie also takes pride in not hurting the team with bad penalties. He realizes his reputation follows him. He has been suspended in the past, including for instigating a fight with a teammate in 2005 with OHL Windsor and for a from-behind hit while with AHL Norfolk last season.
Downie said he knows "the refs are watching me out of the corner of their eye," and he is trying to change his reputation.
"It's my third year as a pro now, so it's not like any surprise when you play," he said. "You know yourself better than you do when you're 19 or 20. I'm definitely a changed player."
Around the league
Coyotes 3, Ducks 2, OT: James Vandermeer scored his second goal of the game at 1:18 of overtime for the Coyotes. Anaheim's Corey Perry extended his point streak to 18 games with an assist on Bobby Ryan's tying goal with 1:54 left in regulation, breaking the franchise record set by teammate Teemu Selanne in 1999.
Penguins: Forward Matt Cooke was suspended for two games for a check to the head area of Rangers forward Artem Anisimov on Saturday. Cooke was assessed a minor penalty for interference. Anisimov was injured and did not return.
First Period—None. Penalties—Fiddler, Pho (hooking), 5:25; Marchant, Ana (high-sticking), 14:49; Hanzal, Pho (cross-checking), 15:53; Niedermayer, Ana (cross-checking), 15:53.
Second Period—1, Anaheim, Getzlaf 5 (Selanne, Niedermayer), 5:12 (pp). Penalties—Lepisto, Pho (hooking), 4:51; Artyukhin, Ana (interference), 13:57; Korpikoski, Pho (hooking), 16:13; Perry, Ana (tripping), 18:52.
Third Period—2, Phoenix, Vandermeer 3 (Lang, Boedker), 5:28. 3, Phoenix, Lombardi 5 (Lepisto, Upshall), 10:07. 4, Anaheim, Ryan 11 (Boynton, Perry), 18:06. Penalties—Selanne, Ana (roughing), 13:38.
Overtime—5, Phoenix, Vandermeer 4 (Lang), 1:18. Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—Phoenix 10-4-11-1—26. Anaheim 7-9-11-1—28. Power-play opportunities—Phoenix 0 of 4; Anaheim 1 of 3. Goalies—Phoenix, Bryzgalov 14-8-1 (28 shots-26 saves). Anaheim, Giguere 3-3-3 (26-23). A—13,023 (17,174).
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.