Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher says forwards are getting too much ice time
One of the more interesting aspects of Guy Boucher's coaching philosophy is his belief that top-line forwards should play fewer than 20 minutes a game. The Tampa Bay Lightning coach was pretty clear on that before the season. He wants to keep his players fresh for the long haul, but also in games as his system dictates shorter shifts with maximum effort. Hasn't worked out that way, though, as injuries to Simon Gagne (who could be back tonight against the Maple Leafs, but more likely Thursday at Boston) and Vinny Lecavalier have forced Boucher to give everyone more ice time.
It has been most acute for Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis. Stamkos is averaging 20:50 of ice time. St. Louis is at 21:38. Stamkos has played fewer than 20 minutes only once in 14 games beginning Nov. 3. St. Louis has played more than 20 minutes in 13 straight games.
But is this really a problem? Both averaged more than 20 minutes last season, though Stamkos is up by 17 seconds and St. Louis is down by 10.
"We're getting to a point where we're starting to get a little worried about it," Boucher said. "We've been wearing out our fourth line because it is our third. We're wearing out our second line because it's been our second, and our first line with Stamkos and St. Louis has been getting too much ice time."
He also is worried about minor-league call-ups being forced to play more minutes than normal.
"You can't demand American League guys come up and play on a regular basis," Boucher said. "It's unfair to them. it's unfair to the team. It's been hard to manage."
St. Louis, as you might have guessed, doesn't see a problem.
"I don't fee tired," he said. "I'm used to it. I like being on the ice. In terms of would I rather play a little less and have some of our key players back? Absolutely. But there are games you play less and games you play more depending on the score. I'm ready to play."
But suffice it to say Boucher would rather not play Stamkos a season-high 24:27 as he did Saturday against the Panthers (though it was an overtime game), and St. Louis a season-high 26:29.
"There's a limit at some point to what guys can accomplish," Boucher said. "get some relief and get some skills in there. That will give us a bit of relief."
More stuff from the morning skate: Having said all that about ice time, it appears as if Gagne, out 18 games with a strained neck and nerve inflammation, is about ready to return to action, if not tonight then Thursday at Boston. Gagne said he has felt much better since Thanksgiving when he went on medication that he said relieved the pressure he had been feeling in his head after strenuous workouts. Head athletic training Tommy Mulligan said the medication is to relief nerve inflammation. "The last five days have been really good," Gagne said. "It's a good sign. I'm looking forward to coming back. There's still a lot of hockey left in the season, and I'm looking forward to coming back and playing my way back to where I can be." Said Boucher: "I just want him to feel he's coming back to where he makes the decision, not us." ... Interestingly, Gagne again said his problems began with a preseason hit in Calgary by Flames defenseman Mark Giordano. Still, he said, looking back, he would not change anything in how he handled the situation by continuing to play. He also said knowing he was being closely watched because of his previous injury history was not a factor in wanting to stay on the ice. "Not really," said Gagne, who finally sat out after an Oct. 21 hit by the Islanders' Michael Grabner. "It's easy now because you might think it might be the case. But I was okay to play. It's early in the season. You battle through a lot of things." ... Dan Ellis gets the start in net. ... Boucher said left wing Mattias Ritola is out with a flare-up of the balance issue caused by an inner-ear problem. ... Defenseman Matt Smaby, skated with the team for the first time since being put on injured reserve Nov. 20, though there is no timetable for his return from an ankle injury. ... Stamkos continued to show why he is a good guy. After spending lots of time answering media questions after the morning skate and then visiting with family and friends, he spent about five minutes signing autographs for a bunch of kids he encountered in the hallway of the Air Canada Centre. Stamkos, who grew up in nearby Unionville, Ontario, said about 30 to 40 family and friends are expected at the game. "How many people will actually come, that's a different number," he said. ... In a nice mini-ceremony, an NHL official, in the Lightning locker room, presented forward Dana Tyrell with a framed copy of the score sheet from his first NHL game. "Pretty awesome," Tyrell said. Stamkos, looking on, said he also got a score sheet from the league. "But I didn't get a presentation thing." Apparently, the league is trying to make a bigger deal of handing out the framed score sheets in what it calls its Realizing the Dream program. ... Lightning prospects Carter Ashton and Brett Connolly have been invited to Team Canada's selection camp for the world junior championship that begins on Dec. 26 in Buffalo, N.Y. Boucher, who was an assistant to Pat Quinn on Canada's 2009 gold-medal team, said the experience will be invaluable. "There's a learning opportunity there that is second to none," he said. "There's no place for failure, and there's no better learning process for these guys to become hockey players in the NHL because in the NHL you have to perform and you have to make sure you're up to the task and the emotional level you need to be, and Team Canada will give you that every second you're there. It's an amazing learning opportunity for coaches and players."