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Tampa Bay Lightning star Vinny Lecavalier searches for answers in season gone wrong

MONTREAL — Vinny Lecavalier needs a jolt, a kick in the pants, something to shake up his game.

It sure has gone stale for the Lightning captain, who leads the team with 29 goals but has just four in his past 18 games, in which he's minus-9, and two in his past eight, in which he's minus-8.

That is why Lecavalier agreed tonight's game with the Canadiens at the Bell Centre couldn't come at a better time.

"I love to play there," the Montreal native said. "Sometimes you need one game to get you back. Maybe going into a building where I love to play will help."

It is difficult to pinpoint what is clogging up the works for the star center, whose 67 points put him on track for 75, which would be his fewest since 2001-02. Perhaps it simply is the weight of a dreadful, stressful season.

Lecavalier, 28, missed training camp while rehabilitating after shoulder surgery, and he likely has played catchup all season with his conditioning. There were the mentally taxing trade rumors. He lost longtime linemate and offensive engine Marty St. Louis to a line with center Steven Stamkos. He has had little chemistry with left wing Vinny Prospal, and the right side of his line has been a revolving door.

As a result, the Stamkos-St. Louis-Ryan Malone line has become No. 1, and there have been times, coach Rick Tocchet said, opponents have not used their top defensive pairing against Lecavalier.

"No excuses," Lecavalier said. "I can only get better from adversity."

Lecavalier can get better by tweaking his game. He admitted he has been too much of a perimeter player, and Tocchet said Lecavalier relies too much on the one-timer instead of getting to the net to create scoring chances.

Lecavalier also hasn't been as physical. He insisted it is not his shoulder, which he said needs only strengthening. More important: a lack of consistent focus.

"The seasons I've had a lot of success were seasons where, mentally, I was sharp every single game," he said

Lecavalier, with 92 goals and 200 points combined the past two seasons, said he doesn't get the change. But former NHL star Ray Ferraro, a Canadian TV analyst, said it's not rocket science.

"I've played on bad teams, and at times you can't believe you're part of this mess," he said.

Lecavalier dismissed that talk and said he hopes to "start fresh" with a summer workout program he said will put him in the best shape of his career.

Tocchet said he has no doubt Lecavalier can rebound: "In 25 years I've been involved in the NHL, as high-end players go, he's as good as it gets working hard in practice."

That said, "I can't say enough how big a summer this is for Vinny Lecavalier. It's his 10th year. This could be the midpoint. Where is it going to go? He's won the Stanley Cup. Now he's had a season which hasn't been that good. It's time for him to take over the locker room, and take over the physical and mental part of his game."

It is not as if Lecavalier has lost standing, Ferraro said: "He's built up enough collateral that he's well respected. It just can't be good enough to be a good player for Vinny."

Lecavalier, whose 11-year, $85 million contract kicks in July 1, said it is not: "If I'm not happy with something, I do everything I can to make it better."

Tampa Bay Lightning star Vinny Lecavalier searches for answers in season gone wrong 03/25/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 26, 2009 6:43am]
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