Seen Stamkos?

One of the biggest stories in the first half of the NHL season was the incredible pace at which Steven Stamkos was scoring goals.  People were talking 50-in-50.  Some were talking 70 on the year.  The electrifying scoring race between Stamkos and Sidney Crosby was burning up the headlines.  Then Sidney Crosby got hit in the head… and we all know what happened there.

What we don’t know is what happened to Steven Stamkos.  Sure, he’s second in goal-scoring and only one goal behind Corey Perry for the league lead, but his 43 goals is a far cry from what people were expecting based on his earlier output.  Obviously the scoring pace that Stamkos set earlier in the year wasn’t one that could be maintained throughout the course of the season.   There are only a few players in the league that would consider 43 goals a disappointment, but Stamkos is one of them.

However, what’s more concerning is that he hasn’t scored a goal in his last six games.

So what happened to Steven Stamkos?

His last goal was March 12th.  In his last 25 games he’s only hit the back of the net five times.  Those are not Steven Stamkos numbers.

On the bright side, he’s scored 12 more goals than Sidney Crosby since January 5th.  Of course, the problem is that Sidney Crosby hasn’t played a game in that time period.  One the most exciting Rocket Richard races in recent history has totally flamed out.

So what’s wrong?

Obviously there’s no way to know for sure, but whether it’s exhaustion, nervousness, an injury or just a slump, Stamkos’ recent lack of scoring is certainly hurting the Tampa Bay Lightning.  At the beginning of March, the Lightning sat in first place in the Southeast Division and second in the Eastern Conference.  They’ve lost 10 out of 13 games this month and they’re now fifth in the conference, only four points ahead of sixth and seventh place Montreal and New York.

“It’s frustrating,” said Stamkos about his recent scoring drought. “You want to be a guy who can be counted on to be a game-changer. You want those pucks in those situations, and when you don’t (score), it’s tough because of how competitive I am and how much I want to help this team win.”

That said, the team could still clinch a playoff spot tonight, so it’s not like their season is doomed.  This is, however, a rather unfortunate time for Stamkos and the Lightning to fall into a slump.  With the playoffs right around the corner, contending teams usually use these last few games to fine-tune their systems and gear up for the grind that awaits them.  When a team limps into the postseason, as it looks like the Lightning will do, it comes in unprepared and that doesn’t usually bode well for the team’s chances.

Not many people predicted a Tampa Bay Stanley Cup win this season, but they were expected to be a contending team.  Right now they don’t look like it.  Whether the team’s struggles are the reason for Stamkos’ scoring drought or whether it’s the other way around, the Lightning need to solve this problem and fast if they hope to make a run in the playoffs.

If the season ended today, Tampa Bay would play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.  A few months ago that would have been looked at as a dream series between two of the greatest scorers in the game today.  Now… not so much.  No one knows if Sidney Crosby will return this season and right now we’re not sure if Steven Stamkos will be back either.