TAMPA — Simon Gagne finally feels at home.
The Lightning left wing didn't believe it would take this long. Oh, he knew it wouldn't be easy. You don't leave a team and a community after 11 seasons and simply turn a page.
But that it took until January for Gagne and his family to really settle in blindsided him.
"I figured I had the whole summer to get over it," Gagne said Thursday of July's trade from the Flyers. "But it was hard on me."
It is easier to talk about now.
Gagne, a two-time 40-goal scorer, has nine goals and 15 points in 34 games. But in what is his best stretch of the season, he has six goals and eight points in his past nine games, and three goals and five points in his past three.
His line with center Vinny Lecavalier and right wing Teddy Purcell is clicking, too. "It's fun to play hockey now," Gagne said.
Compare that with the 18 games Gagne missed from Oct. 22 through Nov. 27 because of a neck injury and how his conditioning suffered because of it.
Then there was the pressure of relocating wife Karine and son Matthew, 1, from Voorhees, N.J., a community Gagne said his family loved. Not to mention the pressure Gagne felt to break his ties to the Flyers, the only NHL team for which he had played.
That Karine is pregnant with their second child, a daughter expected in two weeks who will be named Lily Rose, didn't make it easier. There were worries about finding a new doctor and new friends.
"So there were a lot of things," Gagne said. "You try to leave that stuff at home when you come to the rink, but this one was a little bit tougher because there was a child involved.
"Now we have our doctors. We know all the people we need to know. We feel very at home. It's definitely helping on the ice."
It helps he is back in game shape. Now instead of being able to go hard for 10 seconds, Gagne said he can go for more than 30. Now instead of being jammed at the blue line by opposing defensemen, he can go around them.
"The big difference is my legs, my speed and my legs," Gagne said. "They feel a lot stronger, and they don't get tired as quick."
"He's healthy," Purcell said. "And because of that, his legs are going. He's getting to a lot of pucks, and because of that, he's getting more chances. He's a guy who knows where to go on the ice, and he's getting rewarded because he's such a smart player."
But the rewards took time. Before his current streak began Jan. 12 against the Capitals, whom Tampa Bay faces tonight, Gagne went 11 games and 26 shots without a goal.
"I felt like I would never score again," he said. "Goalies were making save after save. But it only took one to go in. After that, your confidence starts to build."
"There was just a lot to manage," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said of Gagne's move. "It was a lot more complex than for another person who didn't have all these issues. The reality is, when you deal with more than normal circumstances, you don't have normal responses. Everything was there for him to take a long time to find his game."
Now that he has, "I want to finish strong," Gagne said. "I want to be at the top when the playoffs come. It's feeling pretty good."
It feels like home.
Smith clears: Goal Mike Smith cleared waivers and will be assigned to AHL Norfolk by the end of the weekend.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.