Martin St. Louis knew he couldn’t just pick up his game where he left off with the Tampa Bay Lightning and transfer it to the New York Rangers.
Even for a talented veteran player, it just doesn’t work that way.
“You can’t go on your own page,” St. Louis said. “You’ve got to respect the structure of the system and you’ve got to bring your game inside of that.”
St. Louis struggled with that at first, recording just a goal and seven assists in 19 regular-season games following the deadline-day trade. But in his first Rangers playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers, the 38-year-old Laval, Que., native looks comfortable and is starting to produce like the player who won the Art Ross Trophy a year ago.
“I found some comfort zone I think the last couple weeks of the regular season. I tried to carry that to the playoffs,” St. Louis said after the Rangers’ morning skate Tuesday at Wells Fargo Center. “You always want to be on top of your game this time of the year, you’ve got to elevate your game and you’ve got to earn it and build it up every game.”
Through the first five games of the Metropolitan Division semifinals, St. Louis had two goals and four assists and looked dangerous just about every time he cut through the offensive zone with the puck.
St. Louis has speed and a knack for playmaking, but those things didn’t come together right away with the Rangers. He didn’t score his first goal until his 15th game, by which time Ryan Callahan already had six goals and four assists for Tampa Bay.
It looked like a painful adjustment, but former Lightning star Brad Richards knew that St. Louis’ struggles wouldn’t last.
“I wasn’t worried about him at all,” Richards said. “You feel for him when he’s going through it and wanting him to adjust as quick as possible. When you’re not him, it’s easy to sit back and say, ‘You’re going to be fine, it’ll all feel normal.’ But when you’re him, those days go by, they feel like they’re going forever.”
Finally things clicked for St. Louis when coach Alain Vigneault put him on right wing with Rick Nash — who had been playing on the left side for the majority of the season — and centre Derek Stepan.
“I can sit here and sound like a genius and tell you I knew this was going to happen,” said Richards, who had his own growing pains in his first year in New York. “I never really thought it wouldn’t happen. ... If you know him long enough, even if you don’t know him and you just watch hockey the last five years, you knew it was going to happen.”
With St. Louis contributing offensively, the Rangers are a victory away from a second-round matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Meanwhile, Callahan had no points as the Lightning were swept by the Montreal Canadiens.