For six seasons, Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis have been one of the NHL's most dynamic pairings, joined at the hip, so to speak, as center and right wing, respectively.
But Tuesday, as Stamkos was having a titanium rod inserted in his broken right tibia and the Lightning prepared for a game at Montreal — its first game without its best player — St. Louis quietly noted his buddy's absence.
"To not have him around on the ice, off the ice, it's different," St. Louis said. "It's part of the game. But he's one of our leaders and a really well-liked guy, so when he's not around, it is different."
But especially for St. Louis, 38, who has said playing alongside Stamkos, 23, keeps him young. And their undeniable chemistry certainly has pushed both to offensive heights.
But Stamkos, whose 14 goals are tied for the league lead and whose 23 points are second, is out indefinitely, which means St. Louis is without his primary catalyst during a stretch in which his production has gone flat.
"If anybody is going to be a little chemistry-affected, it's going to be Marty," coach Jon Cooper said. "But he's played 900 games in this league (actually 997). He's our captain, and this is an opportunity I think he'll seize."
"Yeah, it's going to be a little bit of a different game for me," St. Louis said. "But I also take that as a challenge."
How much does St. Louis feed off Stamkos? Consider Stamkos has assisted on all of St. Louis' seven goals this season.
Lately, though, even with Stamkos in the lineup, St. Louis has struggled, with no goals and two assists in his past seven games and no goals in his past five.
"It starts with me," St. Louis said when asked how the team will cope without Stamkos. "I have to be better. Hopefully I'm able to lead the way here in what we have coming up the next few months."
St. Louis, playing with center Brett Connolly and Alex Killorn, did not get a point in Tuesday's 2-1 shootout win over the Canadiens. But he played a season-high 24:04 and led a vintage first-period rush in which he passed to himself off the side boards and zipped around a defender.
He got the best of Montreal's P.K. Subban with a defensive-zone check that separated the puck from last season's Norris Trophy winner as the league's top defenseman.
"I thought he was exceptional," Cooper said. "He created. We had chances, and that's what we're going to need. We need leadership. He's the one leading the way. Ultimately, I think he's putting a little unnecessary weight on his shoulders. But he's probably taking a little off the rest of the team's shoulders."
Knowing St. Louis, he will feel every ounce of that weight as the Lightning (13-5-0) tries to maintain its Eastern Conference lead through a brutal five-game stretch that begins tonight at the Tampa Bay Times Forum against the West-leading Ducks.
Road games at Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Jose and Anaheim follow. The combined record of those opponents is 65-20-10.
"This is a time you want to play well for a guy who has given everything to this organization," St. Louis said of Stamkos. "It's time to go to work."