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ALWAYS GIVING HIS ALL, ST. LOUIS SPECIAL LEADER

The Lightning wing inspires teammates, coaches with his style in all he does.

It looked like a lost cause for Team B. Alex Hutchings was on a breakaway for Team C and a good 10 feet ahead of the pursuit.

But Marty St. Louis would not have it. The Lightning right wing put his head down and caught Hutchings in a race shorter than half the rink. He lifted Hutchings' stick from behind and pilfered the puck as he was about to shoot.

"I saw that play," coach Rick Tocchet said. "The guys on the bench are sitting there going, 'Oh, my God.'"

It is easy to make too much of such moments. It was just a scrimmage, after all, and St. Louis' squad of NHL-caliber players Monday at the Ice Sports Forum faced an opponent made up mostly of prospects.

On the other hand, perhaps that is the point. In a setting that seemingly should have meant little to the star player and former league MVP, St. Louis, 34, emptied his tank.

The result: a goal and three assists in a 5-3 victory.

"You don't expect anything else from him," center Steven Stamkos said. "He's going to go out there every opportunity and give it his all, and that's what makes him so special. That's why he's one of the leaders of this team."

"I'm just playing the game," St. Louis said. "I'm not saying I have to catch that guy to be a leader. I'm just playing with my instinct. If that sets an example, great. That's the way I like to play. If you're a guy who can make a difference at a time in a game, you try to do that regardless of whether you're a leader or not."

But it was a scrimmage.

"I'm trying to get ready for the start of the season," St. Louis said. "I don't want to need 10 games into the year to get going. These are scrimmages. They're an opportunity to get in game shape. ... I take it seriously."

His linemates are happy to make the most of the fallout.

Stamkos and left wing Ryan Malone each had a goal and three points Monday. That's three goals and 10 points for a line that seems ready to pick up where it left off.

Its "wow" factor was a give-and-go that began with a nice contain at the blue line by defenseman Mike Lundin, who sent the puck to Malone in the zone.

Malone passed to St. Louis, who somehow, in tight quarters, got it back to Malone, who had an empty net at which to shoot.

"That's why my shooting percentage is so good," Malone joked, adding, "You just try to get him the puck and keep moving."

After leading the team last season with 30 goals, 50 assists and 80 points, St. Louis, too, wants to keep moving.

With St. Louis as the Lightning's oldest player, questions about age are inevitable. He also wants badly to make Canada's 2010 Olympic team. A fast start will help.

It's gravy for Tocchet, who relishes St. Louis' leadership in the locker room and by example.

"It makes my job easier to get guys to play the right way," Tocchet said. "I don't think Marty knows any other way. It's like brushing his teeth. Every day he does the same thing. He wills himself to do it. He's bringing that attitude to training camp right off the bat."

"Guys look up to him," Stamkos said. "He's going hard, so we're all going to go hard."

Even in a scrimmage.

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

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