Tampa Bay Lightning star center Steven Stamkos has only one goal since February 6th. Not only that, but his plus/minus rating is half of what it was on January 4th and he's taking a lot less shots, while racking up more penalty minutes. All of this leads me to ask "What's going on with him?"
In his defense, he does still lead the NHL with 41 goals and is 2nd in the NHL with 79 points, behind Vancouver's Daniel Sedin. He is also a plus-7, which is better than both Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis on this Lightning team, according to statistics found on lightning.nhl.com
However, when making a playoff push, a team needs their best players to step up. Stamkos has not been doing that in recent games for the Lightning.
Since the Phoenix game February 23rd, Stamkos has no goals and very few points. That's not the only problem though. He also has a lot more penalty minutes than expected and very few shots taken per game.
To illustrate my point, in two games, February 27th vs the New York Rangers and March 2nd vs the New Jersey Devils, Stamkos had no, I repeat NO, shots on goal, causing head coach Guy Boucher to call him out in the local newspaper, the St. Petersburg Times.
In the game March 3rd in Boston against the Bruins, Stamkos had somewhere between three and five shots on goal, better than the previous two games, but still not his absolute best. Granted, one of those shots did hit off the left goal post.
Is Stamkos the main key to the Lightning making the playoffs?
Unfortunately, he took a few steps back in the Lightning's most recent game against Montreal. He took two bad penalties, giving Montreal the man advantage, which is where they got their game-winning goal.
Those penalties tie him with newcomer Eric Brewer for second on the team with 66 penalty minutes, according to statistics found on lightning.nhl.com. Last I checked, you don't want your top players spending a lot of time in the penalty box.
Stamkos also took a pass in Montreal's zone and tried to be fancy with the puck instead of shooting it. It was stolen from him and within seconds Montreal had scored their fourth goal, essentially sealing the win for them.
With all that being said, maybe Stamkos is in a slump; those things happen to every player in every sport. He is also only a month removed from his 21st birthday, so yes, he's still young. He may also be upset with the way contract negotiations have been going lately. I really don't know though.
The only thing I know is that the Lightning needs Stamkos to step his game up, now more than ever, especially with the Lightning finally in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race and only one point behind the Washington Capitals for the Southeast Division lead, with the two teams facing off tonight in Tampa.
If he steps up, the Lightning will make the playoffs, possibly with home-ice advantage, and COULD get past the first round, depending on their opponent. Stamkos would also get his first taste of postseason hockey. If he doesn't, it's safe to say that the Lightning, and Stamkos himself, could be golfing a lot sooner than anyone expected.