Penguins right winger Michel Ouellet has gone eight games without a goal and has just one in his past 17.
That is a significant dry spell for a top-six forward, but Ouellet's slump has cost him neither his spot on the No. 2 line nor the confidence of coach Michel Therrien.
When asked after practice yesterday at Southpointe "if there's anything a coach can do to get a guy like Ouellet going offensively," Therrien responded with a forceful defense of Ouellet's overall performance and role on the team.
"There are some guys who will hurt a hockey team if they don't score, OK?" he said. "But Michel Ouellet is more [than] a goal-scorer. He is playing ... what is he doing wrong defensively?
"He's playing the system really well, he became a good checker, [when] the puck's on his side, the puck will go out [of the defensive zone]. If he would hurt the team, we'd be in a tough position. But, right now, he doesn't hurt the team.
"We want him to score some goals, there's no doubt. He's a guy who has great hands, has always had the ability to score goals. But Michel Ouellet is more than just a goal-scorer right now, in his career.
"He's doing the little things right. He's forechecking right. He's in good position. He understands, perfectly, the way we play."
Ouellet enters the Penguins' game against Tampa Bay tonight at 7:38 at Mellon Arena with seven goals, 10 assists and a plus-minus rating of minus-6 in 31 appearances this season.
Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup in 2004, and has a lineup studded with quality forwards like Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards.
The Lightning also has a losing record, going 19-21-2 in its first 42 games to rank 13th in the Eastern Conference and 23rd overall before last night. Which is well below where many observers expected Tampa Bay to be this deep into the season.
"The league is so tight, I don't think anything really surprises me now, to be honest with you," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said. "They have a great team, and sometimes it goes like that. I don't think they're underachieving, or anything like that."
Dominic Moore didn't just clinch the Penguins' 4-2 victory in Buffalo when he scored into an empty net with 12.7 seconds left in regulation Friday night.
He earned a footnote in franchise history.
Moore's goal was the Penguins' first empty-netter since the next-to-last game of the 2003-04 season, when Aleksey Morozov got one in a 3-2 victory against Atlanta. They had gone 121 games without one.
"I guess that means that when we did win, we won big," Moore said.
Or that they didn't win very often.
Not much action for Roy
Left winger Andre Roy, a member of Tampa Bay's Stanley Cup team in 2004, rejoined the Lightning when he was claimed off re-entry waivers from the Penguins Dec. 3, but has been used in a limited role since returning.
Roy has logged five or fewer minutes of ice time in 11 of his 15 games with Tampa Bay, picking up one assist and 18 penalty minutes.
An Oklahoma City business group says it's interested in landing a National Hockey League franchise and expects a formal invitation to be extended next week for the Penguins to visit the city's Ford Center arena.
"We've always had an interest in the NHL or anything that contributes to Oklahoma City or the Oklahoma environment," Bob Funk, the founder and CEO of Express Services Inc. and the owner of the Oklahoma City Blazers hockey team, told The Oklahoman.
"It's Pittsburgh's team to lose, and Kansas City is well ahead of us," Lund acknowledged.
The Penguins had no comment.
-- Associated Press