BRANDON — The play, as it unfolded Sunday, could not have set up better for Alex Tanguay.
On a two-on-one with Steven Stamkos, and with a player between them, Florida's Keith Ballard, who Tanguay knows likes to sprawl to disrupt plays, the choices for the Lightning left wing were clear: shoot the puck or pass quickly before Ballard went down.
But Tanguay held the puck too long, and his pass slid right into Ballard, who was spread eagle on the ice.
"I knew he was going to dive," Tanguay lamented Monday at the Ice Sports Forum. "That's a play you can't miss."
That is the kind of season it has been for Tanguay, who began with hopes of re-establishing himself as a top-six goal scorer and helping center Vinny Lecavalier recapture his own magic.
Instead, Tanguay, who in September signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal, is mired in frustration and a statistical abyss.
With nine goals and 34 points, he is on pace for career lows. He has been benched twice, something he never had experienced, and his 79 shots are only three more than he had in 50 games in 2008-09 for the Canadiens in an injury-shortened season.
Tanguay, who averaged 21 goals his first nine seasons, has one goal in his past 22 games, zero in his past 15.
"I can't sugarcoat it," coach Rick Tocchet said. "It hasn't been a good year for him."
"It's been frustrating not to be able to contribute, but also not to be used a whole lot," Tanguay said. "The feeling of, I wouldn't say unwanted, but I would say that other guys are better than you to do a certain job."
Tanguay said he and his surgically repaired right shoulder feel good, so no excuses there.
He's bounced from line to line, which is not optimum for creating chemistry. But Tanguay hasn't given Tocchet a reason to let him stick, though he is expected to play for a second straight game with Stamkos and Steve Downie tonight against the Hurricanes at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa.
Tanguay's power-play time also has been inconsistent, though it is not as if his play has forced the issue. Consequently, his 16:10 average ice time is four to five minutes less than Tampa Bay's top forwards.
"Mentally, perhaps, sometimes I wasn't as sharp as I should have been," Tanguay said. "But I've learned a lot from that and, hopefully, can use that the rest of the way. … Good players play with a lot of confidence. I'm kind of searching for that."
"It's like anything," Lecavalier said, "you start losing it and it's tough to get back. He didn't all of a sudden one day stop being able to get the points he's been getting his whole career. He's a really good player."
He was a tentative player when assessing what to do against Florida's Ballard, or as Tocchet called it "stuck in between," something he said happens when "you're not shooting it and don't have the confidence."
But it's even more than that, Tocchet said: "You've got to be able to come up with loose pucks and read coverages properly. He's had a tough year in those aspects, too. He knows it."
"I know I'm capable of a lot more than I did this year," Tanguay said. "It's up to me to find that confidence and get ready for the next step. But this is certainly not over. I'm going to try my hardest the rest of the way."
Wings stop Penguins
DETROIT — The Red Wings beat the Penguins 3-1 on Monday to pad their lead for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs with their fifth win in six games.
During the final seconds, Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby cross-checked Henrik Zetterberg, leading to punches, pushing and shoving in a scrum behind the net.
Around the league: Flyers leading goal scorer Jeff Carter will miss three to four weeks with a broken bone in his left foot. … Flames center Daymond Langkow flew to Calgary after spending Sunday in a St. Paul hospital when he took a shot off the back of his neck. He is out indefinitely.
First Period—1, Ottawa, Regin 10 (Karlsson, Alfredsson), 10:15. Penalties—Foligno, Ott (high-sticking), 4:32; Foligno, Ott (hooking), 7:01.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Volchenkov, Ott (holding stick), 8:17.
Third Period—2, Ottawa, Karlsson 2 (Fisher, Alfredsson), 8:17 (pp). Penalties—Fisher, Ott (roughing), 1:59; A.Kostitsyn, Mon (high-sticking), 2:19; Moore, Mon (hooking), 7:34; Phillips, Ott (tripping), 10:58. Shots on Goal—Ottawa 5-11-11—27. Montreal 6-13-10—29. Power-play opportunities—Ottawa 1 of 2; Montreal 0 of 5. Goalies—Ottawa, Elliott 24-17-3 (29 shots-29 saves). Montreal, Halak 23-11-3 (27-25). A—21,273 (21,273). T—2:23.
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First Period—1, Detroit, Filppula 9 (Bertuzzi, Zetterberg), 19:03. Penalties—Fedotenko, Pit (hooking), 1:23; Gonchar, Pit (holding), 8:31; Franzen, Det (tripping), 8:31; Gonchar, Pit (interference), 14:24.
Second Period—2, Detroit, Zetterberg 21 (Bertuzzi, Lidstrom), 7:38. 3, Pittsburgh, Dupuis 18, 16:54. Penalties—Staal, Pit (slashing), 1:35; Holmstrom, Det (interference), 1:35; Holmstrom, Det (interference), 4:12.
Third Period—4, Detroit, Zetterberg 22 (Filppula, Lidstrom), 1:20. Penalties—Guerin, Pit (goaltender interference), 5:52; Goligoski, Pit (high-sticking), 8:24; Crosby, Pit (roughing), 20:00; Zetterberg, Det (roughing), 20:00; Howard, Det (roughing), 20:00. Shots on Goal—Pittsburgh 10-9-8—27. Detroit 10-10-13—33. Power-play opportunities—Pittsburgh 0 of 1; Detroit 0 of 4. Goalies—Pittsburgh, Fleury 33-19-5 (33 shots-30 saves). Detroit, Howard 29-15-9 (27-26). A—20,066 (20,066). T—2:24.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com. Information from Times wires was used in this report.