Martin St. Louis was on an 11-game point streak before last night's loss to the Panthers. He didn't want you to talk about it. He himself didn't want to talk about it. Why question success, right? Especially during a season when success has been so fleeting for the former Hart Trophy winner.
The conversation shouldn't be in a "Marty's back" aspect though with his recent production. The conversation should be about what is different with St. Louis this season that has limited his scoring so greatly? What's changed that the perennial 20+ goal scorer was on the worst goal-scoring pace since he joined the Lightning?
Where goes St. Louis, so goes the Lightning. It's the truism that has followed the Bolts for better part of 8 years. This isn't an attempt at putting the entirety of the Lightning's success or failures on the back of #26 as-so-much using Marty as a barometer of part of the problems (and potential solution) for the club.
There are two different incidents in the previous two games that highlight a change in attack from St. Louis. Two different incidents that show two different sides of Marty's game, and how things have changed.
Lets go back to Tuesday night's victory against the Washington Capitals where St. Louis scored his latest goal -- number 12 on the season... It was nothing sexy, a shot from the top of the lower face-off circle, but it was on-net and that's what matters...
Even a little deception could be thought of in this instance because of the attackers in the zone. One fast feeding pass and St. Louis nails one into the open part of the net.
But now lets jump forward in time to Thursday night's game against the Panthers and a classic St. Louis situation in a forced parameter: Marty, one on one with a goalie. The "forced parameter" being a penalty-shot attempt, where Martin has struggled...
Solid save by Tomas Vokoun, Marty denied again. Ho-hum, what's the big deal? You can't net'em all, you know?
Riddle me this though, why is Marty going at net so tentatively? So slowly?
One of the most troubling aspects goaltender face with Martin St. Louis is the fact Marty is quick. Agile. Deft. His speed and reaction time is part of why he is so hard to defend. He's as good a play maker as you can find in the NHL.
You want proof? Lets take a look back over the years (via YouTube) at some of Marty's previous work - short handed, even strength, it's all mixed in on this Top Ten video:
Not only is speed and deftness an integral part of the St. Louis attack, but there is a fearlessness that has him crashing the crease or working intimately around the net.
That seems to be missing this season. The brakes have been applied.
There was an incident in Tampa Bay's loss to Buffalo last week that stood out with me, it outright pained me when I watched the replay. Ryan Malone and St. Louis going in, two-on-one, on Ryan Miller as the Lightning were down by two in the 3rd.
It's the fact Marty peels off and Malone goes in one-on-one with (likely Veinza Trophy winner and likely Hart Trophy candidate) Ryan Miller that unnerves me. St. Louis, as well as Lecavalier, Stamkos, Tanguay and even Malone knows that throwing a goalie off-balance is the way to get an open net to shoot on. Two forwards, going in on Miller, and St. Louis peels off to play the support role?
It's not a question of heart, it's not a question of skill, it's not a question of "does he still have it" that should be asked. It's a question of what St. Louis has had requested of himself from coaching that has changed his game.
My partner here at Raw Charge, Cassie McClellan, described on of the faults of the situation as thus:
...it's not Tocchet discouraging Marty's speed, just encouraging Marty to go from goal scorer to more of a supporting role and mentor for Stamkos. When your coach is encouraging you to be more of a mentor than an on-ice leader, you start wondering what's wrong with you to make him think that. Confidence also plays into that as well.
Vinny Lecavalier's sort of in the same boat. He's transitioned more from scorer into captain - which is also Tocchet's fault since he's making Vinny focus more on his leadership skills than his goal scoring abilities. He's not playing as selfishly as he once was, but trying more to set up teammates instead. He's thinking team first, not me first. Which is why he has a greater assists to goals ratio than he ever has in his career.
The idea that St. Louis has been asked to play more of the supporting role holds water when you look at how things play out -- on the power play, at even strength... You're more likely to see Marty shooting from the perimeter with a man in the crease (Malone, most of the time) to redirect the shot than see Marty crashing the crease. You're more likely to see St. Louis passing off (to Stamkos on most occasions) than taking the puck to net.
And the saddest aspect is that you're more likely to see Marty hold up on a break-out to allow line-mates to catch up to him so he can set up Stamkos, Malone or another player. Often this falls apart in the fact that St. Louis, immobile and waiting, is easier to defend against.
The fact Marty's not being asked to finish -- to go to the net and beat the opposing goalie -- plays into the fact he can't score on the shootout or on a penalty-shot. It reminds distinctively of 2000 when Marty was transitioning from 3rd-line/4th-line Calgary Flames castoff to a scoring wing again. Fans could spot his skill, and all wondered what he could become if he could just finish.
One can look at things as Marty "taking one for the team" by playing the support role and doing the best he can instead of scoring, but where Marty goes - so goes the Lightning.
And where this team is goes is often lost, as the majority of the roster fights to figure out how best to fill the role that's been asked of them.