TAMPA — There was much confusion about what to call the six games Steven Stamkos went without a goal.
Was it a slump, a drought, a downturn or simply a blip in what so far has been a terrific season for the Lightning's star center?
Turns out, it was an education.
"Sometimes you forget how hard you have to work to produce in this league," Stamkos said. "It's not that I wasn't working hard, it's just you forget how hard it is. You have to get back to basics, make simple plays and not cheat."
With four goals and five points in four games since the slump/drought/downturn broke, Stamkos, 20, seems to have learned his lesson.
He no longer is on pace for 50 goals in 50 games, but with 25 in 32, he is on pace for 64 for the season, 13 more than 2009-10, when he tied Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby for the league lead.
"Obviously," Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier said, "nobody should have been worried."
Actually, they should be impressed with how Stamkos during the slump/drought/downturn from Nov. 26 to Dec. 7 recognized he had stopped doing some of the little things that helped him pile up 21 goals in his first 22 games.
With his favorite spot at the left faceoff circle blanketed by defenders, Stamkos flourished at the net and at staying in motion to find open shooting space.
The center rediscovered that formula and bought into coach Guy Boucher's power-play tweaks, in which Stamkos, in search of open ice, can be anywhere from the side wall to the high slot.
Stamkos scored twice Dec. 11 in Vancouver; from in front of the net, where a shot from defenseman Mike Lundin hit him and deflected in, and from the top of the slot on the power play, from where he scored the winner in a 5-4 overtime victory.
"I wasn't going right in front of the net," Stamkos said, analyzing his slump/drought/downturn, "not actually screening the goalie, little things you don't really realize until you take a step back and think about it."
"And that it's him telling me and realizing he wasn't working hard around the net, there was a maturation from a young fellow, that's for sure," Boucher said. "It's not like he wasn't working hard, but there's a difference between working hard and being relentless. Working hard is for losers, I always say."
Stamkos hardly is that. Entering tonight's game with Carolina at the St. Pete Times Forum, he is second in the league with 25 goals and 46 points, and leads with six winners, 11 power-play goals and 21 power-play points.
Still, Boucher said: "He's going to have to constantly reinvent his game. He's going to score a certain way, and when he gets used to that, well, the other team gets used to it, too. Eventually, he's going to find another way.
"In the long run he's going to have all these different ways that he'll use at the right ratios, and that's when he's going to be a complete offensive player. Right now, he's an explosive offensive player."
No confusion about that.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]