SUNRISE — Lightning coach Guy Boucher held a meeting Friday morning rather than a practice because he believes the issues facing his team have little to do with X's and O's and strategy.
Rather, Boucher believes those issues are the players' state of mind. He doesn't see the same relentlessness and desperation that drove the Lightning to the Eastern Conference final last season. It's what he calls "sophomore psychology": believing in last year's results instead of the process it took to achieve them.
As a result, Tampa Bay (1-2-1) is under .500 heading into tonight's game against the Panthers, which wraps up a seasonlong five-game road trip.
"Sophomore psychology is thinking you're good; that's why you don't perform," Boucher said. "The problem is, we think we are what we were last year at the end of the year. We're not. We're not at all; we're not the same team.
"It's a different year, different situation. And we've got to grind it out every game. And even if we play at our best and play desperate hockey and give everything we've got, we might lose. Why? Because the other team is desperate and wants to make the playoffs and needs to prove something."
Last year's Lightning had a lot to prove, with a new coaching staff, a new owner, a new general manager and an organization that hadn't been to the playoffs in years. They thrived in the underdog role. Now Tampa Bay is the target.
"We've accomplished something pretty good," Boucher said. "You don't have the same frame of mind, and that's the problem."
That's why the Lightning will likely roll out a different lineup tonight, with forwards Blair Jones and Tom Pyatt expected to be in. Teddy Purcell, who was benched in Thursday's third period of a 5-1 loss to the Islanders for not having the same battle level, could be out.
"You never like to sit on the bench in the third period," Purcell said. "But I have nobody else to blame but myself."
Tampa Bay also needs to stop hurting itself with turnovers, which has plagued it this season. Boucher said the Islanders had 17 scoring chances and nine came directly off Lightning giveaways, "trying to manufacture stuff when there's nothing."
"I know for a fact that the players don't realize how much work it took last year, how many games we won by a goal in overtime and shootout, and it took everything we had to win those games," Boucher said. "We never won because of our skill or overpowering the other team — ever. And every time we … just played the game, we lost."
To get his team to play with more desperation, Boucher tried to "make them realize the big picture" Friday.
"The big picture is we're not going to make the playoffs," Boucher said. "We're far away, but it's that desperation, that's the only reason why you make the playoffs."
Goalie Dwayne Roloson said early season adversity can bring the team together. Boucher calls it a building block of success.
"If you panic and can't see the sun behind the clouds, that's where you drift off and you become worse," Boucher said. "This is a great opportunity for us to live adversity and know why we're good, and that's what we need to do and do it consistently. We aren't doing anything different than last year. We're just starting with a different frame of mind, but it all starts with the frame of mind. That's everything."