During a 20th Anniversary season in which the Tampa Bay Lightning are celebrating the past, it sure is appropriate that each of the team’s first three games thus far have seemed like turn-back-the-clock night for forward Vincent Lecavalier.
The Lightning captain’s play resembles more and more of that which he put on display from 2005-06 to 2007-08, when he amassed a total of 127 goals and 275 points in a 243-game span.
And although he already has one goal and three assists through just three games, it is in contrast, what hasn’t appeared on the score sheet that is causing others to take notice.
Just over 24 hours following Monday’s 4-3 loss to the New York Islanders, there was Lecavalier setting the tone in the finale of the team’s back-to-back set on Tuesday night at Carolina, driving to the net, throwing body checks, and much to the delight of head coach Guy Boucher, was the first player to get back defensively when the puck transitioned out of the offensive zone.
Just for good measure, he assisted on each of his team’s first two goals of the night, too, that shifted momentum early on in the Lightning’s favor.
“He’s doing it all right now, and I’ve been here for three years now, and this is the best I’ve ever seen him,” Boucher said. “He’s leading as a captain and he’s doing it with the winning things, not the flashy things.”
There were glimpses of that on Tuesday against the Hurricanes, when Lecavalier first eluded a defender to hold the puck in the offensive zone before a floating a backhand pass toward the net that Tom Pyatt smacked out of the air and past goaltender Cam Ward for a 1-0 lead.
Approximately six minutes later, Lecavalier was in on the action again, this time when he skated in off the end boards and drove the puck near the net, creating a scoring chance that Cory Conacher soon cashed in on by following up and poking the loose puck between Ward’s legs for another Lightning goal.
“I’ve felt really good and I think I’ve been more ready mentally,” Lecavalier said. “When you mentally prepare I think some of that translates on the ice and you perform better physically, so it’s probably a combination of things.”
If Lecavalier at all seems better this season on the ice, a lot of it may have to do with what he actually did off of it.
Breaking one of his own individual moratoriums, Lecavalier chose to alter his summer workout program prior to the start of the season.
Working primarily with Lightning strength and conditioning coach Mark Lambert, Lecavalier’s training regimen targeted the lower back, glutes and hamstrings. Lambert then mixed in plyometric exercises to build Lecavalier's vertical leap, which also increased his speed.
Speaking of the training, Lecavalier said he feels “great,” unsure of the last time he possessed as much energy and focus as he claims to currently have.
Both proved to be essential, of course, in helping the Lightning captain achieve the 1,000-game milestone, which he achieved this past Monday against the Islanders.
Asked if his high level of play could sustain itself for yet another 1,000 games, Lecavalier opted to just remain content and focused on the present.
“We like what we’ve done and we’ve started the right way, but it’s only been three games,” Lecavalier said. “I just want to keep it going.”
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