TORONTO - Steven Stamkos refused to panic.
The 21-year-old from Markham, Ont., failed to score during the first five games of December as the Tampa Bay Lightning fell further out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. And Stamkos felt the urge to change his game, but then he remembered what happened last year.
"I think with that stretch that I went through at the end of last season, I've learned a lot from that," Stamkos said. "At the time it was frustrating, but looking back you realize when things aren't going well you can't get away from what made you successful in the past.
"[There can be] a tendency to try to cheat, try to look for plays that aren't there when things aren't going well, but in reality you got to stick to playing solid hockey all around the rink and create chances for yourself."
Confidence can be fleeting for a professional athlete. Stamkos scored just seven times during the final 30 games of the 2010-11 regular season. He had scored 38 goals in the first 52 games and seemed destined to win the Rocket Richard Trophy. Instead Anaheim's Corey Perry came on strong and finished atop the NHL with 50 goals.
Last season's slump has given Stamkos much-needed perspective, according to Lightning head coach Guy Boucher.
"Last year, during his drought, the first two weeks of his drought he was getting more scoring chances than usual and he was just missing the net, hitting posts, missing open nets and it wasn't going in," said Boucher. "I think last year he got frustrated with that and instead of sticking to what he was doing he started doing different things and got into a deeper drought whereas this year, after a week and a half of not scoring, instead of changing his game he did the opposite. He stuck exactly with what he was doing.
"I think that's maturity and I'm impressed by his maturity this year."
Stamkos has stuck to his game this season and also tuned out the pundits who perhaps padded his ego a little too much a year ago. He admits the focus on reaching the 50-goal mark, which Stamkos did during his sophomore season (2009-10), was a distraction.
"I think it's an important number in hockey when we're talking individual statistics, but for me, I saw last year everybody talked about 50 in 50 and what happens when you start to think about that," said Stamkos, who scored 19 goals in his first 19 games last season. "I think even when you tell yourself you're not thinking about it you're still thinking about something that involves that. For me, I haven't thought about any statistics this year."
Stamkos is once again on pace to crack the half-century mark. He leads the NHL with 26 goals in 37 games and has helped the Lightning start to dig out of an early-season hole. Stamkos has scored six goals in his last three games, which all ended in Tampa wins. Overall, he has eight goals in his last 10 games.
"I think once you get a couple goals, a couple points you feel a lot better about yourself, your confidence is higher and you're not waiting for other guys to make plays," said Stamkos. "You want to go out there, you want the puck and I think the last couple games we've realized how big the games are and, for me, I want to contribute in those big games."