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Coach Tocchet hopes Tampa Bay Lightning responds after "one of our worst games"



What does Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet expect out of his players in tonight's matchup with the Canadiens? A focused effort after Saturday's 2-1 shoot out win over the Thrashers, a victory Tocchet called "one of our worst games" of the season.

Tocchet said Atlanta had 25 scoring chances. If not for a great game by goalie Antero Niittymaki, Tampa Bay likely would have lost.

The funny part of the conversation was how Tocchet responded to a question about how to keep the team focused. Do you break down the rest of the season into five-game segments, 10?

"I think there are too many games yet to do that, breaking it down," Tocchet said. "You get down to 20 games, 22, 23 games you can do that. But for this team, the way we're built, I just look for the first period against Montreal. we almost have to go by the first 10 minutes, just go short-term with this team. The team focuses better if we keep it a minute-by-minute, period-by-period thing."

Tocchet said that on Tuesday. By Wednesday, he changed his tune a bit when considering the two-week Olympic break that begins after the Feb. 14 game against the  Rangers.

"All the tams that are kind of like us, the next few weeks are huge," Tocchet said. "I think we have 10 games left. If you have a bad three weeks, you could be out of it. It'd ben very tough to stay in this thing if you dropped the ball. Our attitude has to be do-or-die in these games, playoff hockey almost till the Olympic break. Leave it all on the ice. It's 10 games. Do whatever you want to do, five-game segments, three. For us, it's Montreal tonight, first period."

Stat of the Day: In case you missed today's main story in the paper, if the Lightning wins tonight, it will have its first three-game winning streak in exactly one year. On this date last year, Tampa Bay beat the Canadiens to win a third straight game. In a terrific understatement, left wing Alex Tanguay said, "That's a long time not to get three in a row." Tampa Bay has failed four previous times this season to add to two-game winning streaks.

Other stuff from the morning skate: Niittymaki gets his seventh straight start. Mike Smith, recovered from a strained neck, will be the backup. "He's had three really hard practices," Tocchet said of Smith. That's what we wanted." Asked if Smith could play Friday against the Ducks, Tocchet said, I'm not sure. We'll see how the game goes tonight,"  against the Habs. ... Expect wings Stephane Veilleux (leg) and Todd Fedoruk to be scratched. ... On defenseman David Hale, who was sent down to AHL Norfolk on a conditioning assignment, Tocchet said, "We want to keep him sharp, and he wanted to go down and get some games in." ... Interesting back and forth between Tocchet and Marty St. Louis who has been on left wing the last little while, opposite his usual right wing. "It's a work in progress," St Louis said. "It's been an adjustment to me. I'm trying to work on it." St. Louis said the differences between right and left wing are not much in the offensive zone. But coverages are different defensively as is his view of the action on breakouts. And Tocchet understands the reluctance of a player to leave a position at which he has had so much success. "The guy's won a couple of awards from the right side so he's got some pretty arguments for me," Tocchet said. "But I think he's still playing really well." Indeed, since the beginning of the year, when the shift was made, St. Louis has five goals and 11 points in 11 games. Why was St. Louis moved? As a lefty, Tocchet said, St. Louis has the ability to shield the puck with the boards when he  is on the forehand in the defensive zone and neutral zone. And fellow linemate and wing Steve Downie, is much more comfortable on the right side. "To me, watching his play since he's been on the left side, he's blazing through the neutral zone," Tocchet said. "He must have drawn five penalties going through the neutral zone because he's got the speed." ... Minnesota natives Matt Smaby, Brandon Bochenski and Mike Lundin all were disappointed with the Vikings heartbreaking loss to the Saints in the NFC title game. But each said bringing Brett Favre in was a worthy experiment, and they hope he returns. "The poise he brought, whether he come back or not, the poise that he brought is going to make them a better team next year," Bochenski said. "I'd like to see him back." Said Smaby: "I hope so. It will be worth waiting the next six months him flip-flopping his decision." But Lundin had the most interesting take, saying the Vikings perhaps could give Favre three games off in the middle of the season to keep him fresher for the end. As for Favre's ill-advised final interception, Lundin said. "He was doing everything he could do to win. Maybe he tried too hard."

[Last modified: Friday, February 26, 2010 12:15am]


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