The sizzling stick of Steven Stamkos is once again searing hot.
With four goals in his past two games and seven in his past six, Stamkos is back into familiar territory – at the top of the goal scoring leaders.
Since going without a goal in the opening three games of the season, Stamkos has 10, which puts him in a tie for the league lead with Toronto's Phil Kessell heading into Tuesday's game.
"It's fun,'' said Stamkos jokingly, when asked about his recent streak. "But it's nice to be rewarded for the hard work. A lot of the time you are working hard and not getting the bounces. But when you are, this is where you can't let yourself cheat just because things have been going your way. If you keep working hard you are going to keep getting those bounces.
"It's nice to contribute, especially in wins, and that's what I want to do, keep contributing but realize that I'm getting those opportunities and bounces because I am working hard at both ends of the ice. And you live and learn from past experiences.''
One of those learning opportunities came at the end of last season. Stamkos was primed to become the first player in franchise history to record back-to-back 50-goal seasons when he reached the 40-goal mark on Feb. 6. A year after tying for the league lead, scoring 52 goals to match Sidney Crosby, it appeared Stamkos was a shoo-in to capture consecutive Rocket Richard Trophies.
But Stamkos ended the season with only five goals in the final 28 games as Anaheim's Corey Perry was the league's only 50-goal scorer.
Instead of hiding in a shell, Stamkos handled all the questions about his scoring slump, didn't let his lack of offense deteriorate his defensive game and grew from the experience.
"When you go through stuff like that, sometimes you forget how hard you have to work to get yourself open or get to the front of the net to get the bounces,'' he said. "I've learned the lesson the hard way going through that last year, realizing now you have to work extremely hard to score in this league, it's not easy.
"You can't dwell on it, it's over and it's in the past so you do learn from those situations, and that's what I did. It's about finding different ways to score, and it's not always fun but it's fun when the puck goes in the net.''
Stamkos has been finding those other ways to score. Of his 10 goals, only one has come from his trademark one-timer from the left circle. Whether it's tip-ins from the crease, redirections from the slot, or rebounds around the net, Stamkos has evolved his game. That makes him more dangerous offensively.
"If you look at the beginning of the year, the goals were not going in that much,'' Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said of Stamkos. "Then without me even saying anything, he started going to the net even more and it's funny, he's scoring more. So I think that last year during that (scoring drought), he wasn't going to the net as much or was looking for open space to get off his shot. …
"He's really learned from last year and it's a credit to him, his game has grown up, that's for sure.''
Ritola on waivers
The Lightning placed RW Mattias Ritola on $125 waivers on Tuesday, which is generally a precursor to the termination of a player's contract. Ritola was placed on normal waivers last week and cleared before the team assigned him to Norfolk of the American Hockey League.
But Ritola, 24, is refusing the assignment and instead is looking to return to his native Sweden to play.
"He is not going to report to Norfolk, and he and I spoke last week about it, he's been in the American League a long time and has kind of last his desire to go down and play there,'' Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. "He feels that if he is not playing in the NHL then he prefers to go back to Europe.''
Ritola was claimed off waivers from Detroit last season, but struggled with an inner-ear problem that limited him to 31 games in which he scored four goals and eight points. He has one more year remaining on his contract, but assuming Ritola clears unconditional waivers Wednesday at noon, the remainder of the contract will be mutually terminated, Yzerman said.