Scanlan: St. Louis still chugging along at 38

The game still hours away, No. 26 races effortlessly from one end of the practice ice to the other, finally gliding into position for a tap-in goal at the edge of the crease.

Scanlan: St. Louis still chugging along at 38
Martin St. Louis #26 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates a goal against the San Jose Sharks at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on January 18, 2014 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

The game still hours away, No. 26 races effortlessly from one end of the practice ice to the other, finally gliding into position for a tap-in goal at the edge of the crease.

As if the goalie, Anders Lindback, shouldn’t have known.

Easily the smallest player on the ice, Martin St. Louis could be mistaken for a freewheeling child, pouring that boyhood energy into one of the most demanding of games. Instead, St. Louis is 38, and should be showing some sign of age, or at least fatigue from carrying the offence of the Tampa Bay Lightning on his slender shoulders.

Why is it that he hasn’t yet lost a step, as so many of the NHL elders do by this age?

“I don’t know, I think people are waiting for that,” he says, peering up from his stall in the visitors’ dressing room at the Canadian Tire Centre. “I’m not waiting for that. People used to question my size, now they question my age. That’s a comfortable place for me to be in, I’ve been there my whole life.

“People ask me – I said the same thing last year – how do you do it at 38? I don’t know what 38 feels like, it’s my first time.”

With the Lightning facing the Senators Thursday, it set up a battle of Olympic no-goes – Senators winger Bobby Ryan, not included on the USA roster and St. Louis, left off the Canadian team.

Whether it’s coincidental or not, Ryan entered the game with just one goal since the announcement and the distasteful backroom discussion that became public. Ryan will tell you he often hits a slump around this time of the year, and he ended the drought emphatically with his team-leading 20th of the year, on a backhand pass from Kyle Turris. This was a neat return of favour for the Turris goal, assisted by Ryan.

It may also be coincidence – or just business as usual, that St. Louis has been rolling along. Neither sleet, nor hail, nor being left off Canada’s Olympic roster can slow St. Louis down. If anything, it seemed to inspire him further, as he has scored eight goals and seven assists in the 12 games since the Canadian roster was announced.

He was approaching 38 when he put the finishing touches on a scoring championship in 2012-13, with 60 points in the 48-game schedule. This year, the little guy from Laval has maintained roughly a point-per-game pace, 53 in 54 games, despite playing without sniper Stephen Stamkos.

As expected, St. Louis had little to say about the Olympics, or talk that he is among a list of three possible replacements – Claude Giroux and James Neal being the others – if Stamkos isn’t recovered enough from a broken leg to play in Sochi. Watching Stamkos casually skate here, being ready for an Olympic tournament in a couple of weeks seems like a stretch.

Yet, having suffered through two non-Olympic selections, St. Louis isn’t about to publicly entertain thoughts of going as his linemate’s replacement.

“I didn’t make the team, so there’s nothing to think about with the Olympics,” St. Louis said. “I’m here to help the Lightning.”

That he has done, showing the way for a group that includes as many as nine rookies some nights for the injury-ravaged Bolts.

“I feel like I’m counted on, I play a lot of minutes with the absence of Stammer,” St. Louis says. “We had to create an identity since we lost him and I think we’ve done a pretty good job . As a player, you get challenges sometimes when you lose a player that you play with for a long time. So, you have to find a way to adjust and re-invent yourself a little bit, I guess.”

St. Louis has been doing that since he first came to a free agent tryout camp in Ottawa and was rejected, following a brilliant NCAA career with the University of Vermont. He finally earned a cup of coffee with the Calgary Flames in 1998-99, before breaking through with the Lightning in 2000-01.

Opening up to a crowd of reporters is hardly St. Louis’ style. So, it was hardly a surprise that a small scrum had to endure a couple of cold St. Louis stares before he shared some insights, this player who generally does his talking on the ice.

It’s often said that St. Louis plays with a chip on his shoulders, but he likes to think he’s matured some since he broke into the league as an angry young man.

“Of course, when you’re young if you’re not motivated you’re not going to get to where you want to go,” he says. “For me, motivation is just part of getting ready for games and I go and play. I’m past trying to prove people wrong, I’m just going to try to live up to my own expectations.”

Not on this night for St. Louis and the Lightning, as the return of former Senators goaltender Ben Bishop was short-lived. Not long after St. Louis had tabbed Bishop “our MVP,” Bishop was helped off the ice, just one minute and 49 seconds into the game following a nasty collision with the knee and skate of his own player, Nikita Kucherov.

Bishop did not return, and the Lightning did not recover, a 5-3 Ottawa win that had Senators fans thinking about playoff possibilities.

wscanlan@ottawacitizen.com
Twitter.com/HockeyScanner

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