Lightning focus on defensive zone positioning/awareness
Lightning coach Guy Boucher tried to paint a picture of how important defensive zone positioning is during Tuesday’s high-tempo practice.
Boucher tapped his stick in two separate spots, five feet apart, asking players how big of a difference it makes.
“Five feet is everything,” he yelled.
While Tampa Bay did a lot of things better in Monday’s 6-5 shootout loss to the Capitals, including an improved compete level and offense (22 scoring chances), it continued to have issues in defensive positioning, decision-making and awareness in its own zone, leading to costly turnovers and lost one-on-one battles. The Lightning was at its best last year with their textbook application of Boucher’s system, seemingly working together in unison. But they’re having to re-learn and re-apply it again, finding a way to trust themselves – and each other – without hesitation.
“We’re not quite on the same page, whatever the reason,” defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron said. “It seems like we kind of forgot over the summer. Now we’re back at it, it needs some focus, needs some attention. Guys are realizing now that we need that, we just can’t show up at the rink and play. We have to be thinking and knowing what we’re doing.”
Despite allowing over 40 shots the past two games, Boucher doesn’t feel the team is playing poorly defensively overall. He pointed out in the Washington game, 15 of the Capitals shots came on the power play, and the Lightning didn’t give up odd-man rushes. But Boucher said they’ve lost some one-on-one battles in the zone, while giving too many defensemen shots by collapsing too low, “kind of cocooning in front of our net.”
Defenseman Eric Brewer says that if everyone is in the right position, reads become clearer, with less hesitation. “There’s no, ‘Is he supposed to be there?’
“It’s not just (trusting) your teammates, it’s trusting yourself,” Boucher said. “Like, ‘Is it me?’ Or should I go? Or, ‘Can I really go?’ Right now, there’s all kind of hesitation and when you ask them, they have all the answers for the (chalk) board. So it’s not like they’re all mixed up. They know, it’s executing in the heat of the battle with extremely high speed, which is basically what they didn’t have for months, having to react for months at high speed like that.”
Turnovers have been the team's biggest problem, Boucher believes, and how they react afterwards. Tampa Bay has been good in spurts, but needs to get better heading into Thursday's game against the Islanders.
“We’re not way off,” Bergeron said. “But we’re obviously playing in the NHL, so a little thing that we miss makes a big difference, and teams are taking advantage of that.”
Other things from today's practice: Dominic Moore didn't practice due to illness.....Boucher said the team's compete level in Monday's game was way better than Saturday's loss to the Bruins, not even a comparison.....D Mattias Ohlund underwent arthroscopic surgery on both of his knees in Tampa, performed by team medical director Dr. Ira Guttentag....Boucher acknowledged that with Ohlund out, the workload for Eric Brewer and Victor Hedman will continue to be big (Brewer played over 27 minutes Monday). "Hedman and Brewer are going to sleep on the ice," Boucher quipped.
-- JOE SMITH