Punishment skates and two hours of video
Tough day Sunday for members of the Lightning. Coach Rick Tocchet put the team through a 45-minute punishment skate at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh that was so tough, trainer Tommy Mulligan had to check on rookie Steven Stamkos, who was woozy and nauseas and needed a five-minute break on the bench before continuing.
Seriously, this was a tough skate, and included pushups for missing the net on shooting drills. Worse, though, might have been the two-hour video session that meticulously went over the first two periods of Saturday's disturbing 4-3 loss to the Thrashers. That loss upped Tampa Bay's streak of futility to 3-13-6 and came against a team that had won just three of its previous 16 games. It also prompted right wing Marty St. Louis to pop off about some of his unnamed teammates. On Sunday, he reiterated the message, though with a G-rated version.
"I'm not pointing fingers," he said. "I'm just saying we need more out of some guys. We need more desperation. We need guys who will make a difference."
Coach Rick Tocchet gave St. Louis his blessing.
"That's a winning comment," Tocchet said. "You're either on board or get lost, simple as that. I back what he said."
Which is nice. Ultimately, though, it is up to the players to show more urgency, to take care of the game's details, to be ready to play. This is not a coaching problem. It is a willingness problem by some players, and it starts with the defense, which was hideous against the Thrashers. If I recall, goalie Mike Smith stopped two or three breakaways in the first period.
Andrej Meszaros is struggling on coverages, and on Saturday gave away a puck in the defensive zone that led to a goal. Marek Malik doesn't have enough speed, and Saturday gave the puck away twice in the defensive zone on one sequence. The result: an Atlanta goal.
Paul Ranger has gotten into a bad turnover habit. Lukas Krajicek is averaging 15:20 of ice time, but Tocchet right now doesn't trust him. Krajicek has played fewer than 10 minutes in two of the past three games, and hasn't played his average since Nov. 29.
Don't expect any changes in the short term. For one, there is a roster freeze in effect through Dec. 27 for the holidays. The other is that to get a solid defenseman through trade, the Lightning would have to give up far more than it would be comfortable doing. So get used to it kids.
And I hate to keep bringing up Dan Boyle, but wouldn't he look good in a Lightning uniform? The guy leads all defensemen with 27 points, same as St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier, and his 11 goals are one fewer. Granted, Boyle has a star-studded cast around him in San Jose. But Tampa Bay's, bottom line and despite all the struggles, isn't too shabby, either. Boyle battles on defense, too, and his transition game is something the Lightning desperately needs. Ranger, while talented, is not nearly as good. Matt Carle, who was supposed to provide transition help and power play help is gone to Philly, and lugging the puck is not part of Meszaros' game.
Which brings us back to St. Louis' message. The alternate captain simply wants the players on the team to play to their capabilities. Really, they are not a bad as they are showing. But what St. Louis is saying is the preparation and focus are lacking (not just on defense, but in may parts of the organization), the commitment to being as good as one can be is not there. That's an internal problem only the players can address. St. Louis is saying get with it.