TAMPA — The first period of the Lightning's 3-2 loss to the Hurricanes on Sunday was so embarrassing, coach Jon Cooper delivered a strong message between periods in the locker room.
How players perform this week as the team wraps up the season will not be forgotten as he formulates his plan for next season.
"Eventually, it's going to come down to who wants to be part of this and who doesn't," Cooper said Tuesday. "We know there's an end to the season coming up and that can creep into your mind. But we just have to erase that and understand we're playing for next year as well."
End-of-season malaise is something with which every nonplayoff team must deal.
But with a new coach trying to understand the pulse of the team and the character of players with whom he is not familiar, there are even more reasons for Tampa Bay players to focus through season-ending games tonight at home against the Maple Leafs, Thursday at the Bruins and Saturday at home against the Panthers.
"Even for myself," Cooper said. "I don't want to be part of something that ends this early, so it's excellent motivation for myself to make sure we as a staff and as a team are much better. And it starts now."
It will be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out within a team already riding a six-game losing streak.
Forward Alex Killorn said for him and other young players, "It's always easy to get up and get going because we've just started and we want to make an impression on the team."
For veterans, though, handling the end of a nonplayoff season is more nuanced.
"It is hard," right wing Marty St. Louis said. "Your mind will tell you why work hard? But as a professional athlete, you have to respect the game and respect your teammates. Some guys are playing for jobs, playing for contracts. You have to respect that and work hard to the end."
For St. Louis and Steven Stamkos, there are personal goals in the mix.
St. Louis is second in the league with 55 points, just one behind Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby. Stamkos is third with 54 points and second in goals with 28, three behind Washington's Alex Ovechkin.
St. Louis stressed he and Stamkos would trade a points or goal-scoring title for the playoffs.
That said, "You're in a position to do something fun, something cool," St. Louis added. "You want to give yourself the best chance."
"If you can get some guy an individual accolade he has deserved during the year, I don't see why we don't try to make that happen," Cooper said. "Our big thing is those aren't the awards we want. We want team awards."
Until that happens, Cooper added, "It's all being evaluated."
NOTES: Goaltender Ben Bishop committed to play for the United States at next month's world championship in Sweden and Finland. … Defenseman Mathieu Roy signed a one-way contract for the rest of the season. The move seems a precursor to sending defenseman Radko Gudas and wing Richard Panik to AHL Syracuse for the playoffs. Roy, 29 had eight goals and 26 points in 51 games for Hamburg in Germany's elite league. He played four games for the Lightning in 2010-11.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]