Tampa Bay Lightning
Cooper: Lightning's Stamkos can be even better
Steven Stamkos knows what's coming, and he says he's ready. Jon Cooper's NHL coaching career was only 25 minutes old when he gently reminded the league's leading goal scorer that gifts should be reserved for Christmas morning. “I turned the puck over on the blue line and coach was the first to let me know you can't have that,” Stamkos said after the Lightning rallied past the Devils 5-4, winning a shootout in Cooper's debut behind the Tampa Bay bench. “He's going to let me know in a way that I can go correct mistakes. That's accountability, and every player has to have that. For sure, you embrace that.” Cooper observed every facet of Stamkos' game as the Lightning came back from a pair of two-goal deficits.; Stamkos scored twice and added a critical assist while firing off seven of Tampa Bay's 25 shots at future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur. But his blue-line gaffe led to New Jersey's first goal and a weak backhand pass in the offensive zone during a third-period power play triggered a breakout capped by Ryan Carter's goal and a 4-2 lead for the Devils. “Steven Stamkos is Steven Stamkos,” Cooper said. “He's a gifted, gifted talent. In saying that, we've just got to round out his whole game. He's an electrifying player.” After reaching the 25-goal plateau in Tampa Bay's first 34 games, Stamkos was also proud of his 11-6 record in winning faceoffs against the Devils, who annually excel in hockey fundamentals. Stamkos has won more than 50 percent of his faceoffs this season, expanding another facet of his game at the age of 23. But there's more work to be done — and more tough love to be administered to an All-Star performer.; Despite registering 375 points in 359 NHL games, Stamkos is saddled with a career plus-minus mark of minus-12. Cooper doesn't plan on being shy about reminding Stamkos of his shortcomings as an all-around center, even if he has already established himself as the best player in the world at depositing pucks in the net. “Stammer was upset with parts of his game, he knew exactly what happened,” Cooper said. “He said, 'I'll get that goal back for us,' and he did. I've found out that guys like Stamkos, Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier, not once have they said that we know more than you. It was more about what can we learn. Those guys are receptive to new ideas and that's why they're special players.” Stamkos, who entered Saturday's action second in the league to Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby with 46 points, appears poised to own at least a share of the NHL goal-scoring title for the third time in four seasons.; No one has accomplished that feat since Brett Hull of the Blues was firing one-timers past overmatched goaltenders two decades ago. Opposing clubs are so aware of Stamkos lurking on the ice that teammates often find themselves wide open for scoring chances. That was the case Friday with 16 seconds remaining and the Lightning trailing 4-3. When the puck was passed to Stamkos in the left circle, the entire New Jersey defense tilted toward No.?91, who promptly found a passing path to Alex Killorn in the right circle. Brodeur, who had been hugging the post to his right, was unable to recover in time as Killorn scored into a half-open net. “Lots of people in this league expect me to shoot the puck,” said Stamkos, “and don't get me wrong … I love shooting it. But on that particular play, I knew the lane was going to be there.” Cooper will continue to monitor Stamkos closely, examining his commitment to defense and the little parts of the game that often provide a winning edge. And if Stamkos ever requires extra motivation to diversify his game, he'll throw on a tape of Lightning GM Steve Yzerman in a Red Wings uniform. “When Steve came into the league, he was this offensive dynamo,” Stamkos said. “He realized Detroit had a young team and he was able to grow into that tremendous leader, that two-way player and captain with all those Stanley Cups. Why wouldn't you want to follow in the footsteps of a guy that's done so much in this game?”
Hot Wheels: Kids are driving Pinellas County's car-theft epidemic. It's a dangerous, sometimes deadly, game.