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Lecavalier taking his game to the next level

by Dan Rosen

After three-straight seasons of 30-plus goals, Vincent Lecavalier pumped in 52 last season to win the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the League’s leading goal-scorer.
Vincent Lecavalier didn’t need to find a new strategy that would turn him into a standout NHL player. He already was that.

The difference, though, between a standout player and a superstar is the superstar always seeks ways to tinker with his game and his approach. Tampa Bay’s veteran center found a way to do that last season, and the results have been staggering ever since.

After three-straight seasons of 30-plus goals, Lecavalier pumped in 52 last season to win the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the League’s leading goal-scorer. He already has 14 goals and 20 assists this season, which makes him the early front-runner for the Art Ross Trophy as the League’s top scorer, and puts him in the mix for the Hart Trophy as the League’s most valuable player.

“You always have objectives you want to accomplish, and before I used to go in 10-game segments, but now I just go game by game and it’s going well,” Lecavalier said. “Something I have learned as time has gone on is the short-term objectives are more productive. You’re more focused on that game and not the game after.”

Lecavalier’s recent focus never has been better; just look at his preposterous-looking stat sheet:

* He has registered multiple points in eight-straight games heading into Wednesday night’s game against the New York Rangers. The last such streak recorded in the NHL was in 1996 by Jaromir Jagr.

* On Monday Lecavalier was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week for the second-straight week. In the last eight games he has seven goals and 14 assists. Lecavalier has five goals and five assists in the last three games, including three goals and two assists and a plus-5 rating in a 6-1 win over Carolina last Wednesday.

* Lecavalier has registered two or more points in 13 of the Lightning’s 20 games this season, including three or more three times. He has been held off the score sheet only four times.

* After dropping its sixth-straight game to fall to 5-8-1 on Nov. 5, Tampa went on to win five in a row before a 4-3 overtime loss to Atlanta Monday night. The Lightning now are in second place in the Southeast Division, only five points behind Carolina.

“Once you start scoring it seems like you really see the net well, but if you go three, four or five games (without scoring), you get to squeezing your stick a little bit and you see the goalie as being a lot bigger,” Lecavalier said. “Right now my confidence, and our confidence (as a team), is pretty good. When you get in front of the goalie it’s all about confidence. If you’re calm and don’t squeeze the stick good things will happen.”

Lecavalier credited a lot of Tampa’s recent resurgence to goaltender Johan Holmqvist, who allowed only seven goals during the five-game win streak after letting in 21 in five of the six previous games, all losses.

“That’s what makes a team win, getting those big saves from your goalie,” Lecavalier said, “and he’s been doing that.”

Lecavalier also made mention of defenseman Paul Ranger, who had scored in three-straight games until being blanked by the Thrashers Monday night; Tampa’s strong power play (it ranks fifth in the NHL); and linemates Martin St. Louis and Vaclav Prospal, who have 27 and 24 points, respectively.

“It’s important to get goals from everybody and we have done that,” Lecavalier said. “If you do that you have a good chance at some success.”

Lecavalier’s game is so coveted by scouts and hockey enthusiasts alike because he’s not all about the end result.

All that, though, is just Lecavalier showing his modest side. Anyone who doesn’t realize Tampa goes as No. 4 goes either is being silly or isn’t a hockey fan.

“If I was to start a hockey franchise and I had the first-pick overall, I’d take Vinny,” former NHL coach Pat Burns, who sees a lot of games in Tampa as a special assignment scout for the New Jersey Devils, told the St. Petersburg Times.

Lecavalier’s game is so coveted by scouts and hockey enthusiasts alike because he’s not all about the end result. He has a mean streak in him, which he showed last month when he was issued fighting majors on back-to-back nights.

He first dropped the gloves with Washington’s Shoane Morrisonn Oct. 24, and again with Philadelphia’s Scott Hartnell the next night. Lecavalier has fought 18 times in his nine-year career, but none last season.

“It’s not something I look to do,” Lecavalier said of fighting, “but if it happens, it happens.”

When it does happen, his teammates take notice.

“I think that’s what puts him beyond some of the other superstars in this game,” Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella told the St. Petersburg Times. “What he’s done as a player on the ice and how he’s taken care of some of that business goes a long way in the locker room and with his teammates.”

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