PITTSBURGH — Teddy Purcell often tantalizes with his skill level and sometimes frustrates with his production level.
That’s been the story of the talented 28-year-old winger throughout most of his career.
Purcell is prone to prolonged stretches where piling up points is elusive. At other times, his skill shines through.
The Lightning hope the latter is about to begin as Tampa Bay closes out a three-game road trip with this afternoon’s game against Pittsburgh.
Purcell, in the first year of a three-year contract extension that pays him $4.5 million per year, scored twice during Thursday’s victory at Ottawa to bring his season total to 12, putting him on pace for his lowest full-season total since being acquired from the Los Angeles Kings (Purcell scored 11 in last year’s lockout-shortened schedule).
Those two goals for Purcell, both coming in the first period, also match the number he scored in the previous 34 games of the season, which included a 19-game drought that he snapped 23 seconds into the Ottawa game. He had last scored Jan. 19 at Carolina.
Though he did have 18 assists in that 34-game span, going two months without producing a goal weighed on Purcell’s mind and affected his confidence level.
“For sure, you put extra pressure on yourself as an athlete to help,’’ Purcell said. “It’s always a little bit easier when your team is winning, but when you are getting chances (and not scoring), sometimes you are holding your stick a little tight, and it’s tough.’’
At earlier points in his career, when he would find himself in these sort of scoring droughts, he would often find himself sitting out games as a healthy scratch. That didn’t happen in this case, but he did see his ice time drop as he was moved down into a third-line role, playing 13 minutes for a three-game stretch from March 13-17, more than 3:30 below his average for the season. The thought of possibly being benched did cross his mind.
“When you don’t score in (nearly) 20 games, you are still getting assists, but this business is about production and getting the job done,’’ Purcell said. “I guess when you play less minutes, everything goes through your head, but you just have to try to stay positive and realize that every player in the league goes through it, and you just try to get lucky and keep grinding away.’’
An opportunity opened up for Purcell on Wednesday in Toronto when Alex Killorn was ejected from the game for a hit on Paul Ranger, creating a spot on the top line with Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson for the final two periods. Purcell remained on that line Thursday and responded with the two goals, and he also tied a season high with seven shots on goal, something coach Jon Cooper would like to see Purcell do on a more consistent basis.
“I’m sure he’s a little rattled he hasn’t scored the way he has, but you show him the stat sheet (from Thursday) and he led our team in shots,’’ Cooper said. “Teddy has a good shot, he just likes to pass first. So, hopefully getting results like he did ... the kid has a shot, and he got in his wheelhouse and he was shooting pucks. So it was a really good effort from him.’’
For most of the season, Purcell’s lack of production was masked by the emergence of rookies Ondrej Palat and Johnson and the play of free agent acquisition Valtteri Filppula while Stamkos was out of the lineup with a broken leg. But as the season winds down to the final weeks and the Lightning gear up for what they hope will be a playoff appearance, the team will need Purcell to be a more consistent presence than he has been the past few months.
“We need everybody to click, you can’t just rely on the same guys game in and game out,’’ Cooper said. “Everybody is going to have ups and downs throughout the year, and the one thing is, Teddy has gone from the first line to the fourth line, and the one thing he has always done is he always has a smile on his face, he’s been great in the (locker) room, he keeps the room light and he’s worked his way back into the ice time he’s been getting.
“And he has it in him, there is no question. But the one thing about Teddy is, he is a team player and he knows what the standard is here and he’s living up to it now, so that’s good for him.’’