St. Louis as confounded with his slump as anyone

In a funk that saw him move from first to third line in practice, a few little things are adding up to one big problem.

Published October 19, 2005

ATLANTIC CITY - The clock inside the see-your-breath cold Skate Zone ice rink in Atlantic City Tuesday clicked over to 9:49 a.m.

In 11 minutes, Lightning practice would start, but a lone figure came out of the dressing room early and skated on to the ice: forward Marty St. Louis.

He skated to one end of the ice and picked up a net that was pressed against the side boards and moved it to its proper spot. Unfortunately for St. Louis, finding the net during the games hasn't been quite as easy.

"I'm fighting it," St. Louis said in a voice barely about a whisper after practice.

In seven games, the NHL's defending MVP has one goal, and that came during a 5-on-3 power play. In seven games, the NHL's defending points leader has two points after leading the league with 94 (38 goals and 56 assists) in 2003-04. Right now, he's on a pace for (gulp) 12 goals and 12 assists.

"I can't really put my finger on it," St. Louis said. "A few little things are going wrong."

Perhaps part of it is old-fashioned rotten luck. It seems he has several scoring chances a game, only to have the puck flip off his stick or just miss the target.

"I'm not going to blame the puck or the stick or the gloves," St. Louis said. "It's between my ears right now."

And don't think it isn't wearing on him.

In case he wasn't noticing his troubles, he got a reminder that others are noticing Tuesday when he found himself in practice playing on the so-called third (or checking) line with Dave Andreychuk and Tim Taylor. Third-liner Dmitry Afanasenkov moved up to St. Louis' usual spot with Brad Richards and Fredrik Modin.

"Those are the lines," Tortorella said. "(The St. Louis-Richards-Modin) line hasn't done anything. They haven't created any scoring chances. It's not working, so we're changing things around. Richy's line isn't working so we got to try find something that's working. We can only wait so long. We'll see how it goes."

Tortorella admitted the new lines with St. Louis playing with defensive specialists might last 10 minutes. Maybe it will never happen at all.

"It's like throwing mud against a wall," Tortorella said, "and seeing what sticks."

But something needs to change.

"(St. Louis) has to score," Tortorella said. "He has to start scoring."

Tortorella paused and his eyes drifted off as if in deep thought. Then he said, "But my thoughts there, I'd just rather keep to myself."

Later, when pressed more about St. Louis, Tortorella repeated his phrase: "I'll just keep my thoughts to myself."

Last week, Tortorella suggested St. Louis was trying too hard, squeezing his stick until it practically crumpled into sawdust. Now, he's a ... checker?

"Marty is one of our better offensive players, but he has to be one of our better defensive players," Tortorella said. "With the amount of ice time (more than 20 minutes a game) he has been getting, no, his role doesn't change. He needs to be a complete player or he won't get that ice time."

St. Louis seemed to come out of his slump with a good performance against Buffalo in the season's fifth game. But just as quickly he slipped back into it again.

"Every year, there have been times (I've struggled)," St. Louis said.

Perhaps more attention is being paid because St. Louis' slump comes early in the season while the Lightning is struggling, as opposed to a midseason slump during a winning streak when no one notices.

"Right now, obviously, it (stinks)," St. Louis said. "I was looking to pick up where I left off (in 2003-04). It (stinks) even more because I was hungry to pick up where I left off."

He also has about $6.5-million reasons he is feeling extra pressure these days. That's how much he is making this season after signing a five-year deal just weeks before training camp.

"I'd lie to you if I didn't say it's not something I think about," St. Louis said. "It's not so much playing up to the contract. It's trying to play up to what I know I can do. It's the performance - or the lack of performance - that is bothering me."

After practice, Lightning players showered and dressed, while a lone figure stood in the sweaty clothes he wore under his equipment and sifted through his sticks. Marty St. Louis was, perhaps, looking for the one that would snap him out of his season-long slump.