In our daily lives, unselfishness is considered a virtue.
In hockey, it can be a curse.
Just ask Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Teddy Purcell, who would rather feed an open teammate than unleash one of the NHL’s better wrist shots.
Purcell’s 21 points ranks third on the Lightning, but he has only four goals in 25 games and Tampa Bay craves more offensive balance around Steven Stamkos, the league’s top goal scorer.
Given Tampa Bay’s 1-9-1 mark in one-goal games, Purcell is determined to end an 11-game goal drought Tuesday night at Sunrise, where he last put the puck in the net Feb. 16 in a 6-5 overtime triumph against the Panthers.
“I consider myself a goal scorer, but I’ve always been a pass-first guy,’’ said Purcell, who was obtained in a trade from Los Angeles three years ago. “It’s a bad habit I’ve got to break.’’
Purcell couldn’t have picked a worse time to enter a scoring slump.
After a quick start, the Lightning are tumbling toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and coach Guy Boucher is beginning to reduce Purcell’s ice time.
During his 11-game tailspin, Purcell has registered six assists and only 14 shots while posting a minus-4 mark.
“Teddy’s always in shooting position and always trying to make a pass when he doesn’t have to,’’ Boucher said. “He plays well when his battling level and his speed are high. If he’s not having a good game, 100 percent of the time it has to do with those two factors.’’
Purcell was considered a bit of an underachiever until a breakthrough performance in the 2010-11 playoffs, when he scored 17 points in 18 games as Tampa Bay advanced to Game 7 of the conference finals.
He followed that up with a solid season last year, setting career highs in goals (24) and assists (41) while leading the Lightning with a plus-9 rating.
“The last couple of years, I feel like I’ve taken a step up with my game,’’ said Purcell, who signed a 3-year contract extension last July. “Now, I’m trying to get to that next level. I scored 24 goals last year and I feel I could be a 30-goal scorer in a full season.’’
A year after finishing with eight power-play goals, Purcell has scored only once this season with the Lightning enjoying a manpower advantage.
He remains on the No.1 power-play unit, but that privilege may be rescinded if the Lightning’s doldrums continue.
In a recent home matchup against Winnipeg, Purcell found himself with the puck in the slot three times during a power play. On each occasion, his attempt at a pass went awry and the Lightning ended up losing 2-1.
“When Teddy’s at his best, he’s battling, he’s skating,’’ said Boucher, who must decide whether to keep Purcell on the club’s top line with Stamkos. “When he relies on his skill, his game is no good. You want the skills to come out of the battling and the grit. When you’ve got the opposite, it ain’t happening.’’
At the age of 27, Purcell is skating toward the NHL crossroads.
He knows he has to raise his competitive level and win more battles, but he also knows he has to be more assertive when the puck is on his stick.
Purcell has taken only 43 shots all season -- three less than Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman.
“When you’re playing with Steven Stamkos and having a lot of success giving him the puck, you want to keep on doing it,’’ Purcell said. “At the same time, there are opportunities when I could shoot more. Sometimes, the best play is just to put it on net and get rebounds because you’re not always going to score the pretty goals.
“Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to pass first. You get in a shooting position, but then you’re like, ‘Stamkos is over there, so maybe I should try to find him.’ We’re finding ways to shoot ourselves in the foot right now and it’s just a habit I’m trying to break.’’