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Tampa Bay Lightning finding ways to win despite not playing its best; Mike Smith stays in net



Okay, first the good news: the Tampa Bay Lightning is on a 3-0-1 road streak and is 6-1-4 in its past 11 games overall with points in 10. Now consider this: Tampa Bay has been outshot in eight straight games and in 13 of its past 14.

That points to a lot of good goaltending. But it also red flags a lack of offensive production, something that cannot last if the team is to sustain its success or get better.

"We're winning games, but we're not playing as well as we can," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "We know it. We know we can play better. We still have to fix some things, one of them is contributing offensively and getting more shots and playing more in (the opponent's) zone. We're aware of it. We're not blinded by our victories. We know we've been outshot and we have to change that."

Consider these numbers:

The Lightning has been outshot 577-491 overall, an average 32.1-27.3. It also has been outshot in every period; 191-150 in the first, 198-172 in the second, 164-151 in the third, and 24-18 in overtime.

And consider this: The Coyotes, who outshot Tampa Bay 31-19 on Monday, despite losing 4-1, has nine players with at least 30 shots. The Lightning has five. 

For coach Rick Tocchet, it comes down to puck possession.

"It's absolutely puck possession," he said. "It's position. It's attitude. You put those three things together, you're going to get shots. If you're a perimeter guy who's just waiting around for the puck, you might as well wait all day. But if you actually want the puck, retrieve the puck and get to those areas, you should be able to get quite a few shots."

Tocchet said he saw more of it against Phoenix.

"Guys were coming to the net. Guys in the slot were staying in the slot, not hanging around," Tocchet said. "I told those guys; they're going to get sick of hearing it, but the bottom line is we've got to find guys who are willing to do that consistently. You cannot win in this league being a perimeter hockey player, you cannot. The good teams are the teams willing to go to those areas."

Look at how Monday's goals were scored. Lecavalier takes a puck wide and drives to the net. Okay, so his backhand probably should have been stopped, but as Tocchet said, "So, what?" His second goal came with Marty St. Louis harassing the goalie. Alex Tanguay scored from in tight and St. Louis scored from his backside as he was knocked down going to the net.

"It's just having the mentality of getting pucks on net," center Steven Stamkos said. "We're trying sometimes to make that extra pass. We have a lot of guys in this team with good shots. I've been guilty of that the last couple of games. I have to shoot the puck more."  

So does everyone on the team.

Other stuff from practice: After his 30-save victory against Phoenix, Mike Smith will get another start in goal Thursday at Anaheim. That after sitting for five games while Antero Niittymaki proved his worth. Tocchet says starting Smith is a reward for a solid effort. "Smitty is going to play, absolutely," Tocchet said. "We're lucky as coaches to have two really good goalies going for us." Indeed, Antero Niittymaki is 3-0-2 in his past five games, and it seems more solid than ever Tocchet will continue with his two-goalie system. "Smitty is going to take the ball," Tocchet said. "But Niitty is going to play, too. " ... How about Alex Tanguay? The wing, who struggled so mightily in his first nine games, has four goals and six assists in his past nine. "Yeah, he's getting better," Tocchet said. "He's not the Alex that I like seeing yet, but he's getting there. He's a guy we're really going to need him, and he wants the pressure, and I like that." ... With goals against the Coyotes by Tanguay and Marty St. Louis and two by Lecavalier, it is hoped the team can get more balanced scoring. It entered the game with 25 of 43 goals from Stamkos and Ryan Malone. ... Defenseman Mattias Ohlund (right foot) did not practice and is still in a walking boot. He is day-to-day but said Monday he expects to play against the Ducks. ... Center Jeff Halpern skipped practice for what the team called "body maintenance." ... Stamkos, at one point in the league's top 10 in faceoff percentage, has dropped to 52nd at 50.6 percent. He won just 2 of 13 draws against the Coyotes and has won just 29 of 79 (36.7 percent) in his past six games. In three games since he hurt his left wrist sliding into the end boards during a practice in Brandon, he has won just 11 of 38 (28.9 percent). "You don't want to use the wrist as an excuse," he said. "I just have to bear down and focus and keep practicing and get back in the groove."   

[Last modified: Thursday, December 17, 2009 12:15am]


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