TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Lightning reached the 50-game mark during the weekend, and — to the surprise of many — sit in second place in the Atlantic Division.
There are many great stories to account for why the Lightning have been able to overcome the loss of Steven Stamkos, including Ben Bishop’s play in goal, the rookies who have helped carry the team, and defenseman Victor Hedman coming into his own.
“It’s been a bunch of rookies and wily vets that have just bound together, and that’s why we are where we are,” coach Jon Cooper said. “But Marty (St. Louis) is the leader of that group and helps make this team tick.”
St. Louis continues to be the engine that pushes it all — on the ice and off.
With 50 points in 50 games, St. Louis is tied for seventh in league scoring, tied for fourth with 25 goals and tied for eighth with eight power-play goals. The 38-year-old two-time NHL scoring champion carries an eight-game scoring streak into Thursday’s game against Ottawa, the longest active streak in the league. He was named the NHL first star of the week after compiling five goals and eight points in five games, highlighted by his franchise-record-tying four-goal performance on Saturday against San Jose.
“I feel good about my game,” St. Louis said. “I’m getting rewarded for some goals and just trying to do my part.”
As usual, St. Louis has done more than his part, and that goes beyond what shows up in the box score. Just as many people counted the Lightning out after the loss of Stamkos to a broken leg in November, many didn’t believe St. Louis could maintain his elite level of play, even coming off a season in which he won the Art Ross Trophy.
Yet he continues to be the hardest worker on the ice and in the gym, setting the tone and the example for everybody else in the locker room.
“Marty is Marty,” said rookie Tyler Johnson, who has been the center on a line with St. Louis since Dec. 5. “He might not get the number of points that he is getting right now, but he’s always the same kind of player. He’s going to work his butt off out there and tries to do everything for the team. He’s such a skill guy that it really makes it a lot easier to play with him.”
Perhaps it’s only coincidence, but St. Louis’ current eight-game scoring streak began Jan. 7, the day he was left off the Canadian Olympic team. Though St. Louis might say the omission is unrelated to his recent production, Cooper said at the time of the omission that St. Louis likely would be motivated by it.
“He’s not Superman, he’s Marty St. Louis. He’s got aspirations and dreams and goals, and not saying he’s given up on that goal (of playing in the Olympics again) yet, because who knows,” Cooper said. “But he has had that ability to separate his day job from what would have been a part-time job, and he’s put our team ahead and he’s done a hell of a job under what I would consider some tough circumstances for him.”
That ability to compartmentalize the situation — and not only prevent the snubbing from affecting his game, but being the example for others to follow — continues to show what type of player, and person, St. Louis can be, especially now as the team captain.
“It’s crazy. The guy is 38 years old and he’s the fastest guy and has the most energy every night,” Bishop said. “It’s good for these young guys to see that, because when he comes out and works hard every night, plays well every night, we have nine rookies out watching him out there, it’s good for our team. When you have a chance to play with someone like that, it’s something special.
“Marty does an unbelievable job as our captain, and as our leader. Coming out to practice, he works that hard, and in games he’s working that hard. It’s really fun to watch as a goalie.”