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Tampa Bay Lightning's Vinny Lecavalier trying to find balance between offense and defense

TAMPA — Vinny Lecavalier said he preferred not to talk about his game Tuesday against the Sabres even though it was one of his best of the season.

The Lightning captain had two goals and his first three-point game. He tied a season best with six shots and had seven scoring chances.

But Tampa Bay lost 7-4.

"When you get some results, you want your team to win," Lecavalier said. "Otherwise, the results don't count."

That's a noble sentiment, but for a player who has struggled offensively, the outburst is notable. Add that he has three goals and seven points in his past six games, and perhaps it is the start of a trend.

Whatever it is, it is part of the re-education of Vinny Lecavalier as coach Guy Boucher demands the star center devote as much energy to defense as offense.

It is the demand he makes of every player. But if you think the transition is easy for someone who from 2006-08 had 92 goals and 200 points, and whose single-minded purpose always has been to put the puck in the net, think again.

Lecavalier, with 11 goals and 28 points in 39 games, admitted finding the right balance — and in fact, remaking his game — hasn't been easy.

"It's just trying to get close to that line of offense and defense," he said. "Don't get me wrong. I'm here to produce. It's not something I'm giving up on. But at the same time, our (defensive) zone is the most important thing."

That's quite a statement from a player who in 2006-07 led the league with 52 goals.

"But we have a system here that puts defense first," Lecavalier said. "A lot of teams say it, but here it really is."

"We believe in having complete players because we want guys who are continually reliable and pay the price on both sides of the ice," Boucher said. "The thing about guys used to getting some points is to think that because you're playing great defense, you get less offensive chances."

In Lecavalier's case, that meant more than just getting him to backcheck and work hard in the defensive zone. It meant curtailing his tendency to leave the defensive zone early looking for outlet passes to start the transition to offense.

That not only hurt the team defensively — "For every one break you get, five times it's not and it's coming back your way," Boucher said — it created too much separation from the puck.

"So you need an incredible passer to find your stick through two guys from the other team," Boucher said.

"I've learned how to do things," Lecavalier, 30, said. "It's helped my whole game."

Teammates have noticed.

"His game is very good," defenseman Brett Clark said. "He's competing every night and getting stronger and stronger in the defensive zone, and that's where it all starts."

"Maybe he's scored more before, but he's such an all-around player nowadays," left wing Sean Bergenheim said. "As captain, that's a great example for everybody on the team."

The lack of goals also has been an educational opportunity.

"He was trying to pick corners for a long time, and then you miss and become more tentative," Boucher said. "If you look at the last game when he shot his one-timer, it wasn't at the top corner, it was right at the net.

"His game is exactly where it needs to be. The last month he's doing everything right except it's not going in."

Seven points in six games heading into tonight's game with the Hurricanes at the St. Pete Times Forum signals the trend might be reversing.

"I want it to snowball, but I'm not going to change the way I'm playing," Lecavalier said. "I'm here to produce but at the same time play a solid defensive game."

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

Tampa Bay Lightning's Vinny Lecavalier trying to find balance between offense and defense 02/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 11, 2011 10:29pm]

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