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Mikhail Sergachev's healthy-scratch lessons: Be consistent. Don't get frustrated.

DIRK SHADD   |   Times   Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) puts a move on Calgary Flames defenseman Dougie Hamilton (27) as he walks around him to get the puck towards the net during first period action at Amalie Arena in Tampa (01/11/18).
DIRK SHADD | Times Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) puts a move on Calgary Flames defenseman Dougie Hamilton (27) as he walks around him to get the puck towards the net during first period action at Amalie Arena in Tampa (01/11/18).
Published Feb. 4, 2018

VANCOUVER — Lightning rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev used his All-Star break to explore New York City.

Sergachev, 19, had been there before. This time he said he didn't spend much time in his hotel.

"Just walked around," he said. "The whole city is so much different than other cities."

That short trip likely served as a great mental break for Sergachev, who is trying to rebound after some midseason struggles. Sergachev was a healthy scratch for the final two games before last weekend's All-Star break. He's played better his first two games back, though he was a combined minus-2.

Sergachev took a step Saturday against Vancouver, showing the kind of assertiveness and confidence that has been fleeting as of late. That included a highlight-reel move to blow past Alex Edler for a scoring chance in the first period. Still, his 13:04 of ice time Thursday against the Flames was his lowest since Nov. 28. And Sergachev was in the same range Saturday.

This is just the natural learning curve for a talented, young defenseman whom Tampa Bay expects can be a cornerstone for a long time.

"He's still finding his way," associate coach Rick Bowness said. "But you see the upside, which is tremendous. Then you say, 'Okay, the things we need to keep working on a daily basis, they're there, and they will be there for a while, and that's okay. It's to be expected.' But we know where we can get him to — let's put it that way."

Sergachev said he learned a lot from the games in which he was a healthy scratch. Not only did he get more beneficial practice time, Sergachev watched the games on TV from the dressing room, getting a different perspective.

"You've got to be consistent every game, every shift," he said. "When you're not playing well, you've got to work through it. Don't get frustrated; don't think about it too much. There's a lot of games in the season and the playoffs, and you've just got to play harder. If you get inconsistent, there's a lot of good players that can execute plays and make you look bad."

Bowness sat down with Sergachev after games, and they went over clips, good and bad. Bowness encouraged Sergachev to use his strengths: his skating and puck skills.

Sergachev said his struggles don't stem from anything physical. "I don't get tired at all," he said.

It's more of a mental adjustment to the league, which flips the switch to a quicker, harder pace the final 40 games of a season.

"From the first half to where we are now, the intensity of the league has picked up," Bowness said. "That's what he's going through now. It's like, 'Oh, god, it's a littler harder now. It's a little bit more intense. There's not as much time.'

"All those things happen in the second half and will multiply when we get into the playoffs. That's what he's learning."

Sergachev said the good thing is that he has been through this before, in his first junior season with Windsor in the Ontario League.

"I was trying hard but not getting bounces," Sergachev said. "But in the last 20-something games of the season, I was getting those (bounces) better than our forwards. I'll just try hard and maybe I'll get the lucky bounces like it was going in the first 30 games. We'll see."

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Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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