TORONTO — Teddy Purcell admitted he doesn't know how to explain it, but every season he seems to go through it — a goal drought, a big one, and this year's lasted 13 games.
Goal droughts aren't unusual in the NHL.
"Every guy goes through them, except 'Stammer,' maybe," Purcell said of linemate Steven Stamkos, the NHL goals leader entering Tuesday.
But with Purcell, they always seem to get in the way of what were expected to be breakout seasons for a player Stamkos said "has one of the best skill sets I've ever seen in the entire league."
That is why the past two games are so noteworthy.
Purcell broke his drought with goals in each, including the winner Monday against the Flyers. And with captain Vinny Lecavalier out with what is believed a fractured left foot and Tampa Bay still pushing for a playoff spot, Purcell seems to be heating up when needed most.
That's just what general manager Steve Yzerman wanted to see when he signed Purcell to a three-year, $13.5 million contract extension through 2015-16.
"When I got that extension, I talked to Steve, and he said, 'You're going to be counted on and leaned on more,' " Purcell said. "I want to take that step, personally, as a player and be a go-to guy night in and night out."
Purcell, 27, has the tools, particularly a wrist shot considered Tampa Bay's best. Coach Guy Boucher even has called Purcell, with six goals and 24 points in 29 games, "the most skilled player on the team."
"In terms of pure skill," Boucher said, "he is unbelievable."
The droughts, though, have been just as significant.
Purcell had just two goals in a 25-game stretch in 2010-11. He had a 16-game stretch without a goal last season.
Even so, in 2010-11 Purcell had 17 regular-season goals and six in 18 playoff games. Last season he had career bests of 24 goals, 41 assists and 65 points.
No wonder so much is expected of him.
The feast-or-famine narrative isn't difficult for Boucher to figure out. When Purcell doesn't move his feet, battle for pucks and position, and get to the net, he falls into something called "thinking and gliding mode," though Purcell said it is more just being "uncomfortable with the puck" and "rushing plays."
He also is unselfish to a fault, passing first, and his 49 shots entered Tuesday tied for 178th in the league.
The key, Boucher said, is "getting him into a skating mode, a battling mode."
"He always wants me to battle more," said Purcell, 6 feet 3, 203 pounds. "We don't even have to have a lot of talks anymore. Whenever I'm not playing my game, all he has to say is those two words. It's pretty straightforward what he wants from me."
You could see it the past two games. Purcell was aggressive scoring on a breakaway Saturday against the Hurricanes. And by going to the net against the Flyers, he was in position to deflect in Keith Aulie's point shot.
It's a process the Lightning hopes continues tonight against the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.
"You just have to battle through it," Purcell said of the droughts. "You can't get down and feel sorry for yourself. It's a tough league, and it's a long season. Those things are going to happen. I just hope it doesn't happen anymore."