Lightning coach Rick Tocchet deserves credit for how he handled "extended training camp"
Let me start by saying I understand it was only one game, and the real test, when some of the adrenaline of this week might have run off, could be Saturday when the Tampa Bay Lightning faces the Sabres at the St. Pete Times Forum. But let's give credit where it is deserved. in his first mini-crisis of the season, coach Rick Tocchet handled it just right, and he got results.
I'll admit I write this in part in response to e-mails I have received and some questions on this week's chat that wondered if it was time to fire Tocchet. It is the worst kind of knee-jerk reaction to a couple of bad games (geez, at least Barry Melrose got 16 games). That said, a lot would be deduced by the way the players responded to whatever the coach came up with to break a terrible two-game stretch in which the team lost twice and was outscored 11-2.
For Tocchet and his coaching staff, it was all business. The four days of "extended training camp" leading up to Thursday's 5-2 victory over the Sharks were full of intense skating drills and drills targeted to what was not going well, specifically defensive zone coverages, breakouts and winning battles for the puck.
As Vinny Lecavalier said Wednesday about the practices leading up to that game, "The guys are feeling good. Guys are practicing very well. It's been hard but intense practices. ... It was perfect."
Were all those problems solved? Of course not. Much work needs to be done. But the players responded to what the coach and his staff was selling, including the re-tooled lines and threats to reduce playing time for some if things didn't improve. That was aimed mostly at the forwards of which there are only 12. In other words, reducing playing time is Tocchet's only "bullet," as he called it.
You make threats and you proclaim an "extended training camp," you better get results, something that did not happen last season when Melrose walked out of a practice the day before a 4-0 LOSS to the Panthers, perhaps the Lightning's worst game of the season in 2008-09.
Look, I don't pretend to believe effort and focus don't ultimately come from the players. But the players have to buy in to the coach's plan. And we're not talking about wins and losses here, either. It's effort and willingness to play the right way, both of which the Lightning showed against the Sharks.
"It was a big win for everybody," Marty St. Louis said. "But I don't want to praise us too much. It's just one game, and we know we did some good things. We just got to stay even keel and get ready for the next game."
When we can again assess how things are going.