TAMPA — It's official. Rick Tocchet is an NHL coach.
Sure, he has had the title for eight days, but it's the thought process that is the real giveaway.
Instead of reveling too much Friday night in his first career victory, 4-1 over the Predators at the St. Pete Times Forum, the Lightning's interim bench boss stopped himself in mid thought to bemoan a spate of penalties.
"We're just giving too many," Tocchet said, morphing from a discussion about playing with a lead. "We've got to cut the penalties off, because it can hurt us."
Ultimately, though, Tocchet conceded the win was "nice. It's like scoring your first NHL goal."
The victory was big on several levels for Tampa Bay (6-7-6), which snapped a 0-3-2 streak.
The team showed signs of breaking out during Tocchet's first two games, both shootout losses. The energy is there, the offense is revving with a franchise-record 52 shots Tuesday against the Panthers, and things just look organized.
"It's nice to get a win for the confidence, and knowing we can win," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "The last three games we've had a lot of energy. We were quick on the puck. We had a lot of opportunities."
Lecavalier scored twice during a three-goal first period and has a team-high nine goals. Left wing Ryan Malone had three assists, his first of the season, and rookie Steven Stamkos had two.
Mark Recchi scored, as did Vinny Prospal, who had one goal in his previous 12 games. And goaltender Mike Smith was outstanding with 34 saves.
Even special teams kicked in with a power-play goal (though it failed on two five-on-threes), and a 7-for-7 effort on the penalty kill.
The victory could not have come at a better time. General manager Brian Lawton said he is not planning any significant moves while evaluating a roster he desperately wants to jell.
Lawton said he could work "the fringes" but wants to see what the team has.
"It's a big thing," Tocchet said. "What Brian is saying, the stability part, and seeing what we got here for the next couple of weeks, it's a good thing for the guys to know that. They can go out there and relax and go out there and play."
"Guys can just play and not worry about, 'Am I going to be here in a week or two?' "Smith said. "It's hard to play when that's over your head. We have a great bunch of guys here, and we're starting to come together under Tocc. You can see it in the room and feel it on the ice."
But there still is the matter of those penalties, seven minors, either hooking or holding, which helped contribute to Nashville's 35-24 shot advantage.
"We can't do the hooking and holding," Tocchet said of his team, which has been short-handed 105 times, second in the league. "It has to stop. It's a technical thing; it's a mental thing."
It's an urgent thing for an interim coach being watched as closely as his players.
"It's an evaluation period for me, too," he said. "Obviously, you wish you had training camp; this is kind of our training camp. But you're judged by wins and losses. We have to start putting some wins together."
He's got No. 1.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 8 (Malone, Stamkos), 4:57 (pp). 2, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 9 (St. Louis), 7:05. 3, Nashville, Tootoo 3 (Zanon), 10:40. 4, Tampa Bay, Recchi 4 (Malik, Malone), 12:17. Penalties—Nichol, Nas (hooking), 2:51; Legwand, Nas (holding stick), 3:59; Stamkos, TB (holding stick), 8:32; M.Smith, TB, served by Prospal (holding stick), 14:43; Stamkos, TB (holding), 18:39.
Second Period—5, Tampa Bay, Prospal 4 (Malone, Stamkos), 6:32. Penalties—Artyukhin, TB (holding), 2:50; Erat, Nas (elbowing), 7:55; Recchi, TB (hooking), 9:57; Artyukhin, TB (holding), 18:52.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Meszaros, TB (hooking), 7:09; Peverley, Nas (hooking), 10:48; Hamhuis, Nas (delay of game), 11:00; Zanon, Nas (slashing), 13:12. Shots on Goal—Nashville 11-15-9—35. Tampa Bay 10-7-7—24. Power-play opportunities—Nashville 0 of 7; Tampa Bay 1 of 6. Goalies—Nashville, Ellis 7-9-1 (24 shots-20 saves). Tampa Bay, M.Smith 5-4-5 (35-34). A—16,444 (19,758).