BUFFALO, N.Y. — Captain Steven Stamkos has insisted that his ongoing contract saga would not become a distraction to either him or his team.
With Stamkos, 25, in the final year of his deal with the Lightning, his situation is the talk of the hockey world, but he has said it never creeps into his mind.
"I'll let my play do the talking," Stamkos said. "And so far I haven't worried about it."
So far, so good, especially with Stamkos scoring his first goal of the season in Saturday's 4-1 win over the Sabres at First Niagara Center.
Admittedly a slow starter, Stamkos said getting his first goal just two games into the season does a lot for his confidence, not to mention for warding off questions about whether the uncertainty of his future will impact him or derail the defending Eastern Conference champion Lightning, which is 2-0-0 for the first time since 2010-11.
"I look at it from (Stamkos') perspective, and I ask, 'Is it in his head?' " coach Jon Cooper said. "I don't know, but he hasn't played like it's been in his head. Our team hasn't played like it's been in our heads."
The Lightning hasn't been perfect, but it has found a way to win, including Thursday's 3-2 overtime victory over the Flyers in the debut of the 3-on-3 OT format. Saturday, Tampa Bay displayed its depth against the new-look, and much improved, Sabres, with each of the four lines contributing a goal.
Wing Erik Condra, the only "new guy," scored his first in a Lightning uniform. Nikita Kucherov put the Lightning up for good late in the second period on a goal coming as a power play expired.
But it was Stamkos' tally midway through the third that sealed the deal. Veteran wing Ryan Callahan craftily set it up, banking a pass off the side of the net in front to a streaking Stamkos, who racked up his 499th career point.
It looked like an improvised trick play — Cooper dubbed it "playground rules" — but Callahan's pass was planned.
"Couple shifts before, he tried to feed one out front, and the goalie got his stick on it," Stamkos said. "(Callahan) came back to the bench and said, 'I should've thrown it off the net.' Second time he does it and it's right on my tape. Pretty impressive play."
Said Callahan: "You're trying to put it there, but there's obviously some luck in getting the right bounce, and (Stamkos) finished it off."
Stamkos, who went goal-less in last season's Stanley Cup final against the Blackhawks, said that when he has a scoring drought, "there's some doubt that creeps into your head," but he has learned to deal with it better than he did earlier in his career.
Stamkos said that other than the media, nobody in the Lightning locker room is talking about his contract. That general manager Steve Yzerman and his agents at Newport Sports, Don Meehan and Mark Guy, aren't discussing negotiations publicly has eased any distractions. Meehan and Guy, both at Saturday's game, indicated there was nothing new to report, though there's no deadline.
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If nothing is done by the Lightning's first trip to Stamkos' hometown of Toronto for a Dec. 15 game, that scene will likely be a circus. "He's a human, so is it going to affect him? Maybe it will," Cooper said. "But he hasn't shown any signs of it now, and neither has it jumped into our room."
Contact Joe Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.
First Period—None. Penalties—Stamkos, TB (cross-checking), 10:37; Gorges, Buf (interference), 19:04.
Second Period—1, Tampa Bay, Condra 1 (Hedman, Filppula), 8:14. 2, Buffalo, Deslauriers 1 (Reinhart, Gorges), 13:55. 3, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 1 (T.Johnson, Stralman), 19:34. Penalties—Eichel, Buf (interference), 2:08; Buffalo bench, served by Ennis (too many men), 17:34.
Third Period—4, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 1 (Callahan), 8:53. 5, Tampa Bay, Brown 1 (Garrison, Coburn), 12:41. Penalties—Sustr, TB (holding), 2:33. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 8-14-9—31. Buffalo 11-5-9—25. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 3; Buffalo 0 of 2. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Bishop 2-0-0 (25 shots-24 saves). Buffalo, C.Johnson 0-1-0 (31-27). A—17,739 (19,070).