TAMPA — Alex Tanguay will be the first to say that this season — his first with the Lightning — hasn't started exactly the way he had envisioned.
The left wing, a scorer his entire career, struggled out of the gate, with just four goals in his first 36 games.
Coach Rick Tocchet benched the 10-year veteran two weeks ago in Nashville, hoping to get more out of him, as well as the rest of his slumping team.
Tanguay has responded, scoring two goals in the past two games and tallying five points total in the past five games. The two goals were his first since Nov. 16, and he has as many points as he had in his previous 13 games.
"He's found his groove right now," Tocchet said.
It couldn't have come at a better time for the Lightning (15-15-9), which has won four of its past five heading into tonight's game against the Canadiens at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa.
Tampa Bay will need this type of contribution from Tanguay in the season's second half to make a playoff push.
And Tanguay, who signed a $2.5 million free agent deal in the offseason, welcomes the challenge, saying his surgically repaired right shoulder is feeling better.
"I had a very slow start. I didn't want that, but it's part of reality," said Tanguay, 30. "Right now, I'm feeling better and better. I'm just trying to contribute as much as possible to bring my game to the level where I think it should be at. I don't think I'm there yet."
Tanguay, who injured his left shoulder last year, had arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in the offseason.
While Tanguay said he worked his legs the same way as usual during the summer, the shoulder injuries could have had an impact on his slow start.
"I don't know if it mentally took me a little bit of time to really trust my shoulders and go into the corners freely as perhaps I needed to be confident to," said Tanguay, who has five seasons of 20-plus goals. "I don't know if I was taking the extra second of just being careful with it. Now it's coming around, now it got better, and I'm here to help this team make the playoffs."
When Tocchet scratched Tanguay for the game Dec. 15 in Nashville, it didn't sit well with the former first-round pick, and Tanguay admits he's still "frustrated about it."
But Tanguay turned it into a bit of motivation and hopes to earn his coaches' trust with his play.
"As an athlete you have pride, and it's something that never happened to me before," Tanguay said. "I'm just going to work harder and prove them that they were wrong."
Said Tocchet: "He's very talented. The thing is, he's got to stay focused, and he's got to be able to stop on pucks and get to those areas.
"And when he does, he's a good hockey player; he's a very good hockey player."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.