Erik Erlendsson covers the Tampa Bay Lightning for The Tampa Tribune.
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Vinny Lecavalier to be a father (and he’s playing better, too)
Posted Dec 30, 2009 by Erik Erlendsson
Updated Dec 30, 2009 at 01:09 AM
There’s quite a bit to the Vinny Lecavalier story that will not be in the story in the paper.
First off, Lecavalier and long-time girlfriend Caroline Portelance are expecting the couple’s first child in May. It’s something Lecavalier will discuss when the time is right, but that time is not right now.
So, the focus of what is in the paper is Lecavalier’s play of late, which has been on the rise since a a two-month long slump. And it’s not just the three goals and eight assists in the past seven games. It’s been the whole package, driving the net, being physical, playing good defense, backchecking, winning faceoffs.
“He’s been one of the best players every night on the ice, just using his size, using his skill and it looks like he’s really on a mission to prove what he can do in this league,’’ center Steven Stamkos said. “We knew it all along and it was just a matter of time. He’s getting some bounces now where maybe before he was working hard but the bounces weren’t going his way. He’s getting into the right positions, winning faceoffs which is key to puck possession and obviously Tangs and Downs are playing really well, but he’s kind of the piece to that puzzle that gets everybody going. And it’s exciting to see your captain going out there, he’s really working hard and going into the dirty areas, creating a lot of chances, using his size and skill. He’s pretty dangerous, he’s probably one the toughest players to play against when he uses that combination. He’s been great the past couple of games for us.’‘
Lecavalier said the confidence that eluded him for so long early in the season has slowly starting to comeback.
“I think I’m really trying to play with my instincts and I think it’s been working,’’ Lecavalier said. “I just kind of let it go and not think too much, just play hockey. When you feel comfortable on the ice, good things happen when you keep it simple, as a team we are driving the net a lot better and we are getting more opportunities.’‘
It’s something that Lightning coach Rick Tocchet has noticed.
“Even in practice, he just looks like he’s lighter in the things he’s doing, his mannerisms,’’ Tocchet said. “He just seems to have more energy in his skates, which is nice to see. Especially the past two weeks, he’s just got into stretches where he’s got a little more bounce in his stride and if he continues to go to those areas we talk about and continues to do the half-wall stuff we are asking him, he’s playing good defensive hockey and if he continues to do that, he’s going to reap the benefits. He just has to stick with it.’‘
It’s those kind of things that lend itself to good leadership, as well.
“It’s contagious when you see Vinny Lecavalier going to the net hard, handling the puck, dumping the puck in and getting off after a 30-second shift, all those guys see their captain do it, they start doing it.,’’ Tocchet said. “And I think he’s done it more than ever the last bunch of games and you can tell it’s contagious.’‘
It’s also something 19-year-old Steven Stamkos picks up on.
“He’s our leader and guys are going to follow,’’ Stamkos said. “If he’s out there working his tail off, hitting guys, going to the net, scoring and making great plays, for a young guy like me, to see that, it gets you motivated and gets you excited to get out there and try to do the same thing. He’s been great and we all knew what he could bring to the table, it’s nice to see him finally get rewarded.’‘
The play Lecavalier made by putting a between-the-legs, backhand-pass through his legs to Tanguay was a dazzling play, but it doesn’t happen if he doesn’t take off for the net when Kurtis Foster bounced the puck in on Tim Thomas. There was no hesitation on Lecavalier’s part.
“I just think when he is struggling, he delays and waits,’’ Tocchet said. “He’s the type of guy, a big body, if he plays a game where he is waiting, it’s a tough night for him. He knew Foster was going to (dump) the puck and he just made a bee line for the net instead of delaying, and that stuff is just huge.’‘