Once, he was feared. Once, he was dangerous. Once, he made goaltenders nervous and kept coaches up at night.
Once, he was Steven Stamkos.
Lately, not so much. It has been a very long time since Stamkos was a threat. At this point, no one is sure he can still lift his arms in celebration.
Stamkos has not scored for the Tampa Bay Lightning since May. That blistering shot of his has been AWOL for eight straight games now. At a time his team needs him the most, he has been smothered by the Chicago Blackhawks. His season, and everyone else’s, could end in tonight’s game.
And now, with the Stanley Cup Finals down to one game, maybe two, the Lightning once again turns in his direction.
This is not who he is. For most of the season, a drought for Stamkos was four games, tops. Then the net would open up again, and he would score as if he were playing pinball, and once again, the puck woud love him.
Oh, there was that one streak, back in March, when Stamkos went seven games without a goal. But everyone thought that a rarity, not an omen. But the playoffs have not been kind to him. He did not score a goal for the first eight games of the playoffs. Now, he has not scored for the last eight.
The Lightning moved him to the wing, which worked for a while. His ice time has been a constant debate. His relationship with Jon Cooper has been questioned.
For a great scorer, and Stamkos has been that, this must be like being lost in the desert. In seven of the eight games, he has had two shots or less.
Now, with the Triplets hurting, with Nikita Kucherov doubtful and with Tyler Johnson in a funk of his own, a large slice of the responsibility falls on Stamkos. Yes, it is nice that Stammer is becoming a more well-rounded player. On the other hand, a couple of goals would be nice.
“I want to help our team any way possible,” Stamkos said. “We’ve struggled to score, obviously me personally. We’ll find a way. There’s really no choice. I definitely want to go out there and have my best game. I feel like the chances are there. I definitely want to be a guy who can step up and help our team win.”
Cooper seems to understand that his captain, and the second leading scorer in the league, has hit a dry spell.
“First of all, you’re playing the best team in the West with arguably some of the best defensemen in the league. That’s going to have an effect on everyone. I think he sees that attention. He has to go against the best players on every shift.
“I never worry about his goal scoring or ability to score. He puts himself in the right positions all the time. If he scored every night, he’d had 112 or 113 goals. It’s hard to score in this league. Has he had a couple of bad breaks? For sure. I think he’s missed a couple that usually go in for him. There’s no concern on our part. I’ve watched that kid rise to the occasion every time he’s been asked.”
Well, ask already.
Look, it’s fine to be patient, but it’s an urgent game. And the old line in hockey is still that in the biggest games, a team’s biggest players have to show up.
That’s Stamkos. He has built himself a reputation as one of the finest scorers in the league. And you know what? In those games, too, he played against the opposition’s best.
Squint. Think of Stamkos. What image pops into your mind?
It is of him scoring a goal, right?
Isn’t it time you saw it again?