It would be easy to join the rest of the crowd and start ripping on the captain. After all he’s gone seven games and hasn’t scored a goal. If the team is struggling the simple thing to do is to point the finger at the guy banking $10 million and is getting outscored by Todd Fedoruk. But you know what? I don’t care. With more than 70 games to go I have no doubt Vincent Lecavalier will end up with at least 30 goals.
Why am I not concerned? Well the answer, my friend, is three fold.
1. Vincent is a streaky scorer.
Throughout his career there have been scoring droughts. Granted, none have been this long (14 games if you include last season). On the same token there are stretches where he scores goals at an elite rate. Even while mired in a miserable slump last season he briefly broke out in January with a 5 goal, 8 points in five games performance.
All scorers, with maybe the exception of the one they call Ovcehkin, go through slumps for unknown reasons. As long as he keeps getting his chances he will be fine. Twenty-six times he’s fired the puck towards the net which is second only to Steven Stamkos. A couple have clanged off of the pipe and he’s been robbed by good saves. Fourteen of the shots have found the goalkeeper, sooner or later they’re going to start trickling in.
The shake up of lines might help him out. He’s always enjoyed success when skating with Marty St Louis and James Wright is the type of player that can allow Lecavalier to roam a bit more. If the teenaged Wright holds up his end of being the defensive forward on the line then Vincent is free to be a little more daring offensively.
There is the possibility that the St Louis / Lecavalier combination will get too pass happy, a drawback that used to drive Coach Tortorella insane during his tenure with the team.
2. He’s healthy.
This can’t be stressed enough. The past two season’s haven’t seen a 100% healthy Vincent Lecavalier. Whether it was his shoulder or wrist something was always bothering him to some point. If there are two things a skilled player doesn’t want bothering him it’s his upper body.
His play this season has been much more physical this year and his shot has been a lot heavier. There is still probably some rust being shaken off so he might not be up to full speed for another month or so.
3. He’s doing well with the intangibles.
Well they’re not really intangible, rather the little things. He’s winning 53% of his faceoffs, he’s shooting the puck and he’s using his size to shield the opposition from the puck. He’s also staying out of the penalty box. So far he’s only been called for one penalty, and that means the more he’s on the ice the better chance he has of scoring.
When Lecavalier has slumped in the past it’s been noticeable on the ice. His body language would speak of his disappointment. Sagging shoulders, lack luster skating, turnovers are all indicators of a disinterested Vincent. His skating would be off and he would pick up lazy penalties like hooking or tripping.
So far those traits have been largely absent. He is fighting for the puck, diving to block shots (and he’s even managed to block one!) and working hard to set up his teammates. As long as he keeps the work ethic going he will break through.
Out of the six assists he has four of them have come on the power play. Though they are at a pedestrian 17% on the season as a team, their first line is lethal. It’s strong enough that a Pens fan texted me during the game on Saturday amazed at the talent they put on the ice.
Playing the point with the extra man isn’t going to lead to a ton of goals for him, bit it is where he is most effective, and it’s best for the team. As Coach Tocchet has mentioned repeatedly this isn’t the “Vinny Lighting” (I like Vinny Bay Lightning better) it’s the Tampa Bay Lighting. There is no need to move him from that spot, let Ryan Malone get the garbage goals in front, Vincent will find his where he always does - one timers from the right circle.
Is he pressing a bit now? Most definitely. It seems like he is waiting for the perfect opportunity to shoot rather than just ripping the puck at the net. Against the Panthers he had the puck in a good shooting zone (in front of the net) and the goalie was off balance. Rather then shoot he took an extra stride and allowed the defense to recover and disrupt the shot. When his confidence is soaring he trusts his inherent talent and lets it fly.
Once he lights the lamp for the first time whether is be on the power play, penalty shot, empty net, triple deflection, the floodgates will open.