Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier got a lot of pats on the back last week from coach Guy Boucher and general manager Steve Yzerman for the way his game is evolving.
From a player focused only on scoring, the 30-year-old center is developing a more complete game, one that puts as much emphasis on defensive awareness and effort, back-checking and positioning as putting the puck in the net.
It is part, they said, of Lecavalier's responsibility as a team leader.
Still, Lecavalier cannot lose the essence of his game. In fact, perhaps he should concentrate on getting some of it back.
Lecavalier has eight goals and 13 assists in 33 games. He has one goal and five assists in his past 12.
On a team whose offense is so top-heavy — Steven Stamkos, with a league-best 37 goals, and Marty St. Louis, with 19, are 40 percent of Tampa Bay's 140 — another reliable producer would be golden.
The same could be said of left wing Simon Gagne, a two-time 40-goal scorer who has six goals and 10 points and is minus-22 in 31 games. But Lecavalier is, well, Lecavalier, with team records of 334 goals and 760 points and 10 consecutive 20-goal seasons.
Perhaps this is unfair. A fixture in the community who helped sell the game in the Tampa Bay area, Lecavalier has had surgeries on both wrists and his right shoulder. Surgery in August on his right knee kept him out of training camp. Surgery in November on his right hand kept him out of 15 games. That is a lot to manage, never mind trying to redevelop one's game.
But Lecavalier said he feels great on the ice and has no limitations, and Boucher and Yzerman say they are happy with the way he is playing.
Is it out of line to expect more?
Lecavalier is on track for 16 goals, fewest since his 1998-99 rookie season. He is on track for 42 points, fewest since 2001-02. He is minus-10 and has only 95 shots. His average of 2.9 shots is only slightly better than Adam Hall's 2.3, and Hall averages about four fewer minutes and isn't on the power play.
It is admirable Lecavalier is striving to be a complete player.
But if the Lightning is to remain competitive in the season's final three months, when the intensity of games really ratchets up, and then compete in the playoffs, Lecavalier's contributions, defensively and offensively, are essential.