TAMPA — When Ross Colton joined the Lightning back in February, he made adjusting to the NHL game look easy.
He scored on his second shift of his debut and tallied eight goals in his first 17 games. He ended his rookie season by scoring the only goal in the Lightning’s Stanley Cup-clinching win in Game 5 against the Canadiens.
Through the first month of his sophomore season, Colton has learned that scoring success doesn’t always come that easily. While the 25-year-old has shown improvement in other parts of his game, he opened this season with one of the most frustrating kind of scoring droughts imaginable.
Colton has had plenty of scoring opportunities (20), but just one goal to show for them. He entered the weekend without a goal in his past 10 games.
“I’ve got to keep shooting the puck and not overthink it,” Colton said. “I think it’s as simple as that.”
The Lightning went into the season expecting big things from Colton, including centering the team’s rebuilt third line. And the experiment to flank Colton with veterans Pat Maroon, who mentored him throughout his rookie season, and savvy newcomer Corey Perry worked in many ways — except on the scoresheet.
But the Lightning need a bigger scoring boost from their bottom lines. Now Colton finds himself back on the fourth line, working with rookies Taylor Raddysh and Alex Barre-Boulet. His playing time has become more scarce. After averaging 19 shifts and 13:11 of ice time in his first nine games, Colton averaged 9:47 in the past three.
“I think he’s been great,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “The problem is I haven’t gotten Ross on the ice enough. And it was weird as we were kind of navigating our lines and our chemistry and how our team is fitting together, he’s probably been shafted a little bit. And we’ve talked about that.”
Through the first 12 games, Colton has 36 shot attempts, which rank fifth among Lightning forwards.
“I think it’s just a matter of time for him,” Cooper said. “If you’re going to score every single night, then you’re going to be in the Hall of Fame. A lot of guys can’t do that. But I look at all the other parts and he’s done really, really well. And I just think when you’re doing the right things, when you’re putting yourself in positions to score, eventually you are going to score, so I’m not worried about that.”
While Colton’s third line struggled to add complementary scoring — something the Yanni Gourde line did so well last season — it still was successful getting the puck deep, creating zone time and scoring chances. And Colton has improved his faceoff percentage; he credited veteran forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare with helping him with his technique and approach in the dot.
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Colton played some with Barre-Boulet and Raddysh at AHL Syracuse, but it is taking some time getting adjusted to his new linemates. The Lightning hope the switch can jumpstart Colton’s offense.
“When you’re playing guys like Perry and Maroon, they play a heavier game and you’ve kind of just got to get pucks deep and get below blue circles,” Colton said. “You’re going to play in the offensive zone, because I don’t know a defenseman in this league that’s going to have an easy time taking the puck off.
“You know (Maroon) or Perry’s stick down low. And then when you’re playing with guys like BB and Raddy, I think it’s more of maybe a skill game off the rush and you’re trying to create offense in different ways. It’s just trying not to overthink it too much.”
Ultimately, Colton said he wants to trust his process and have faith that eventually his shots will start finding the back of the net. He has received a bigger role on special teams as a member of the Lightning’s second-team power-play unit, so he’s not isolated to 5-on-5 time. But he doesn’t want to get preoccupied by his shrinking ice time.
“I kind of just want to play my game,” he said. “For me, it’s just playing fast and physical and winning faceoffs. If we’re getting two points at the end of night, then I’m happy and whatever I can do to help the team win is what I’m trying to do. But when it comes to ice time and stuff like that, that doesn’t really matter to me.
“On a night-in and night-out basis, I know what my role is. And right now, I think I’ve got to do a better job of competing hard and kind of finding some offense here. But I think it’ll come. We’ve just got to stick with it.”
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