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Lightning’s Ross Colton working his way out of sophomore scoring slump

The center has had many shots and scoring chances, but has just one goal this season.
Ross Colton is finding scoring a little harder to come by in his second season with the Lightning.
Ross Colton is finding scoring a little harder to come by in his second season with the Lightning. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Nov. 13
Updated Nov. 13

TAMPA — When Ross Colton joined the Lightning in February, he made adjusting to the NHL game look easy.

He scored on the second shift of his debut and tallied eight goals in his first 17 games. He ended his rookie season by scoring the only goal in the Lightning’s Stanley Cup-clinching win in Game 5 against the Canadiens.

Through the first month of his sophomore season, Colton has learned that scoring success doesn’t always come that easily. While the 25-year-old has shown improvement in other parts of his game, he is having a frustrating scoring drought.

Colton has had plenty of opportunities — 20 entering Saturday night’s game against the Panthers — but had just one goal to show for them in the first 12 games. He entered Saturday without a goal in his previous 10 games.

“I’ve got to keep shooting the puck and not overthink it,” said Colton, who finished the last regular season with nine goals in 30 games and had four total goals in 23 playoff games. “I think it’s as simple as that.”

The Lightning went into this season expecting big things from Colton, including centering the rebuilt third line. The experiment to flank Colton with veteran Pat Maroon, who mentored him throughout his rookie season, and veteran newcomer Corey Perry worked in many ways except on the score sheet.

The Lightning need a bigger scoring boost from their bottom lines. Now Colton is back on the fourth line, working with rookies Taylor Raddysh and Alex Barre-Boulet. His playing time has shrunk. After averaging 19 shifts and 13:11 of ice time in his first nine games, Colton averaged 9:47 in the previous three entering Saturday.

“I think he’s been great,” coach Jon Cooper said. “The problem is I haven’t gotten Ross on the ice enough. And it was weird. As we were kind of navigating our lines and our chemistry and how our team is fitting together, he’s probably been shafted a little bit. And we’ve talked about that.”

Ross Colton has spent time on the third and fourth lines this season as the Lightning try to find the right mix of scoring and chemistry.
Ross Colton has spent time on the third and fourth lines this season as the Lightning try to find the right mix of scoring and chemistry. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Through the first 12 games, Colton had 36 shot attempts, fifth among the forwards.

“I think it’s just a matter of time for him,” Cooper said. “If you’re going to score every single night, then you’re going to be in the Hall of Fame. A lot of guys can’t do that. But I look at all the other parts (of his game), and he’s done really, really well. And I just think when you’re doing the right things, when you’re putting yourself in positions to score, eventually you are going to score, so I’m not worried about that.”

While Colton’s third line struggled to add complementary scoring, it was successful getting the puck deep, creating zone time and scoring chances. And Colton has improved his faceoff percentage. He credited veteran forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who joined the Lightning in free agency in the offseason, with helping him with his technique and approach.

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Colton played some with Barre-Boulet and Raddysh at AHL Syracuse, but it is taking time for him to get adjusted to his new linemates. The Lightning hope the switch can jump-start Colton’s offense.

“When you’re playing (with) guys like Perry and Maroon, they play a heavier game and you’ve kind of just got to get pucks deep and get below blue circles,” Colton said. “You’re going to play in the offensive zone because I don’t know a defenseman in this league that’s going to have an easy time taking the puck off (them).

“And then when you’re playing with guys like (Barre-Boulet and Raddysh), I think it’s more of maybe a skill game off the rush and you’re trying to create offense in different ways. It’s just trying not to overthink it too much.”

Through the first 12 games, Ross Colton has 36 shot attempts, which rank fifth among Lightning forwards. The puck just isn't finding the back of the net for him.
Through the first 12 games, Ross Colton has 36 shot attempts, which rank fifth among Lightning forwards. The puck just isn't finding the back of the net for him. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Ultimately, Colton said he wants to trust his process and have faith that eventually his shots will start finding the back of the net. He has received a bigger role on special teams as a member of the second power-play unit, so he’s not isolated to 5-on-5 time. But he doesn’t want to get preoccupied by his shrinking ice time.

“I kind of just want to play my game,” he said. “For me, it’s just playing fast and physical and winning faceoffs. If we’re getting two points at the end of night, then I’m happy and whatever I can do to help the team win is what I’m trying to do. But when it comes to ice time and stuff like that, that doesn’t really matter to me.

“On a night-in and night-out basis, I know what my role is. And right now, I think I’ve got to do a better job of competing hard and kind of finding some offense here. But I think it’ll come. We’ve just got to stick with it.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.

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