SUNRISE, Fla. — In his first season as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s captain, Martin St. Louis has established one clear policy while at the helm: There will be no sinking.
With several of his teammates — including superstar Steven Stamkos — battling injury and young prospects being forced to accelerate their development process, St. Louis has shouldered the responsibility of making sure his squad continues its march to the postseason unimpeded.
"You know you’re counted on and you want to deliver," St. Louis said. "I feel everyone is going to be watching our team. Everybody is going to be watching me. I definitely took it as a challenge. There’s still a lot to do. I’m glad of our response as a team. I’m glad at how I’ve responded, personally, and I am going to be pushing."
Here on Monday night, the winger led with that mentality. St. Louis registered a goal and two assists in Tampa Bay’s 6-1 triumph over the Florida Panthers, the Lightning’s fifth straight victory. The win shifted Tampa Bay into second place in the Atlantic Division.
Individually, St. Louis extended his points streak to five games, and his goal streak to three.
"I don’t know if we’ve had a better player on our team the last eight games than 26," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of St. Louis. "He’s the captain and he’s led the way for us."
Since Nov. 11, when Stamkos suffered a broken leg, St. Louis has amassed nine goals and 12 assists.
"If anybody will sit there and say [St. Louis and Stamkos] need each other, Marty has clearly put his team on his back a little bit here of late and it’s been great to see," Cooper said. "He’s leading us and a reason we’ve won a five straight is a big part because of the play of Marty St. Louis."
The Bolts have yet to fall from a top-three position in the Atlantic Division. And when the two-time Hart Trophy winner gets on the scoresheet, either in regulation or a shootout, the Bolts are 9-2-2.
"I’d better get on the scoresheet then," St. Louis said.
St. Louis accomplished that a little more than three minutes into the second period. But had it not been for a few big plays by Florida’s defense and goaltender Scott Clemmensen, St. Louis’ numbers might have been astronomical.
The Bolts captain set the tone early, speeding in on a lackadaisical Clemmensen to pick off a pass. He skated behind the goal, aiming to stuff the puck into a wide-open net on a wraparound before Dmitry Kulikov broke up the play.
A little less than seven minutes into the second period, St. Louis turned on the afterburners again, skating in on a partial breakaway. Clemmensen, sprawled on his belly, got the right pad up just in time to deny the winger. St. Louis drew a penalty in the process.
Tampa Bay scored on the ensuing power play, set up by none other than the Lightning captain.
"He uses his speed pretty well and on that play," Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn said. "He almost had the goal, but in turn he got a goal for us, so it was good."
St. Louis added to the onslaught with his 16th goal of the year, an off-balance one-timer from the right circle that knuckled past Clemmensen.
"It’s amazing," St. Louis said. "I had a good chance on that breakaway, he made a great save. That one-timer on the 5-on-3 was a hard shot. A little higher, it’s in the net. And then I take a shot off-balance, it barely gets to the net and gets in. Sometime it has a funny way of evening things out."
It is the kind of effort St. Louis’ teammates find infectious.
"He’s obviously the leader of our team and we look to him for strong play," Killorn said. "He came up huge in the second period. A big night for him and everyone followed his lead."
That has been essential this season for Tampa Bay, a team which has suited up 13 players with fewer than 100 career NHL games. Eight of those have played in fewer than 50.
Although he admits to missing Stamkos, his linemate of nearly six years, St. Louis is excited about the opportunity he’s had playing alongside guys like Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat.
"There are no better players I want to play with than Stammer," St. Louis said. "The guy is, in my mind, the best goal scorer in the league. When he goes down, you have to re-invent yourself a little bit and find different ways. I am playing with two young guys right now that have high energy and it’s been going good.
"A lot of guys are playing minutes that they wouldn’t have played. And so the repetition in the trenches that there is a high demand in being successful because we have a lot of bodies out. This is valuable time for them to grow as players."
At 38-years-old, St. Louis continues to show even he is capable of growing, too.