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Tampa Bay Lightning's Vinny Lecavalier lacks confidence

NEWARK — All Vinny Lecavalier had to do Wednesday against the Bruins was tap in a perfect pass from Victor Hedman.

The puck bounced off his stick.

All he had to do Monday against the Avalanche was one-time into an open net a pass from linemate Jeff Halpern.

The shot went high and wide.

That is how it has been for the Lightning captain, who has just five goals in 26 games; make it 33 if you include the last seven games of 2008-09.

"The frustration level is very high," Lecavalier said Thursday. "It's all about confidence. I see the puck coming, and I tense up."

It is one thing that Lecavalier is on pace for 16 goals, his fewest since he had 13 in 1998-99 as a rookie. That he spoke so freely about a lack of confidence is extraordinary.

This is a former 50-goal scorer who from 2006-08 racked up 200 points and was considered one of the best in the world.

"Squeezing the stick," he said. "Around the net, when you don't have a lot of goals, your vision is not the same. I feel great everywhere on the ice but around the net. It doesn't shut down, but for some reason, your vision gets smaller."

Lecavalier, 29, isn't the only Lightning star in a drought. Marty St. Louis and Alex Tanguay have nine goals between them. But this was supposed to be Lecavalier's year.

Finally healthy after surgeries in consecutive summers to his right shoulder and right wrist and with a berth on Canada's Olympic team at stake, the center, with a new contract that pays $10 million this season, was expected to return to 40-goal, 90-point form.

It isn't as if Lecavalier is stinking up the joint. His 16 assists are second on the team, his 95 shots entered Thursday tied for ninth in the league, and he has hit several posts.

"And he continues to create," Halpern said. "I've played with him for five or six games now, and some of those games you walk away and shake your head and say, 'How did he not have five or six points?' "

"It's not like he's moping around," coach Rick Tocchet said. "He's trying to score goals."

But Lecavalier's 21 points are fourth on the team, and he has zero power-play goals, so something is going on. Pierre McGuire, the ex-Whalers coach turned analyst for NBC and Canada's TSN, wondered if Lecavalier is hurt.

Lecavalier has said he is not, but McGuire noted, "He's such a prideful guy, he would never say."

Still, McGuire said he has noticed a difference in Lecavalier's play:

"He's not holding onto the puck. He used to be so dominant with the puck down low. From side to side from the hash marks down, he used to dominate the game. That's where I see he's not as dangerous as he used to be."

Lecavalier admitted he has not done enough to get to the net and has had puck-possession issues.

"That's the lack of confidence," McGuire said.

Perhaps things will get better with Lecavalier off the power-play point, where he was a puck distributor, and back on the side wall, from where he can get in better scoring position.

As for Lecavalier tensing up around the net, Tocchet said, "I don't have an answer. He's a … veteran. That's something he has to figure out for himself. Eventually, hopefully, the dam is going to burst for him and he's going to start scoring."

"I'm working hard on it," Lecavalier said. "I've been doing this for 11 years. It just doesn't stop like that, so I'll keep working. I work hard in practice and believe in the end I'll get my confidence back."

NOTES: Goalie Antero Niittymaki was in New York to take care of an immigration issue and was expected to rejoin the team for tonight's game. … Hedman sat out practice for what the team called "body maintenance."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Lightning's Vinny Lecavalier lacks confidence 12/03/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 3, 2009 11:31pm]
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