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Guy Boucher's success with Tampa Bay Lightning no secret, he says

The Lightning’s Steve Downie, right, celebrates his first-period goal with several teammates in Monday’s victory over Dallas.


The Lightning’s Steve Downie, right, celebrates his first-period goal with several teammates in Monday’s victory over Dallas.

TAMPA — Soon, the whispers will begin. The questions will spread.

In New York. In Pittsburgh. And everywhere else the NHL standings are followed.

They will wonder how it has been accomplished. They will ask for details. They will question whether it can continue.

Everyone will want to know exactly what it is coach Guy Boucher is doing.

In a season still in its infancy, a Lightning quick start is threatening to become one of the more interesting story lines in the NHL. It's not just that Tampa Bay is 4-1 for the first time since the Stanley Cup season seven years ago. It's the way the Lightning has arrived.

Boucher's brazen 1-3-1 forecheck system was already a topic of conversation when he was hired in June, and now that it has found a week's worth of victories, the talk is bound to grow louder.

"I like their system. I think it's really innovative," Dallas coach Marc Crawford said before the Lightning's 5-4 victory Monday night. "If nothing else, it has gotten our players' attention. It was probably a little easier for us to prepare for them because of the fact they've had some early success. It's grabbing everybody's attention.

"Why are they being so successful with this?"

Boucher will tell you it has very little to do with him. Yes, the system is different. No, it is not the reason the Lightning is winning.

"It's the attitude," Boucher said. "It's not the system. It's not the coaching. It's the attitude of the players that makes the difference."

So is Boucher just directing credit away from himself and toward the players? Sure he is. Still, there is some validity to what he is saying.

The system is a departure from what other teams are doing, so it has undoubtedly had an impact. But, on its own, the system is not so radically different that opponents are taken by surprise. For the system to work, the players have to buy in.

And so far, they have.

"The way we play, all five guys have to be on the same page in every shift. If one guy is out of position, then our system won't work," defenseman Pavel Kubina said. "We can win with this style. I think we proved that (Monday night)."

So what is the Lightning doing?

Basically, it is dictating the pace of a game. It is forcing opponents to react. It is taking the first punch in a fight and trying to keep the other guy on his heels the rest of the night.

It is aggression. Or maybe it is mayhem. Whatever the term, it is fast, crowded and relentless.

It's also entertaining as heck.

When played properly, the Lightning will attack so hard and so furiously it will force the other team to race around just to keep pace. And when it's not played properly?

You get something like the 6-0 loss to Florida the other night.

"We can't have any letdowns. We're not a powerhouse," Boucher said. "We've got guys working hard, we've got guys who pay the price, and we won some games because we gave it our all. The minute we're not going to give it our all, we're going to have the result we got (against Florida)."

The Lightning outshot the Stars 44-19 on Monday night, and it was no fluke. Tampa Bay is third in the NHL in shots per game at 36.2. And if you're looking for a comparison, the Lightning was 23rd last season with 28.9 shots per game.

Of course, it can be risky. If your defensemen are overplaying the puck, for instance, you better be sure your forwards are willing to back them up. Because any kind of breakdown has the potential of leaving an opponent wide open in front of the net.

"It's interesting to watch them work on it," Crawford said. "I think a lot of teams have been using elements of that style. The north-south game is an element that a lot of teams try to utilize. But not to the nth degree that Tampa is using it."

There are still questions to be answered. For instance, can any team keep up this pace for 82 games plus a postseason?

Boucher already seems to be preparing for that issue. Today, the players have been given a day off. Even in the season's opening month, he is already making sure they get at least one day per week without any time on the ice.

There will also be the question of how opponents adjust when they see more video of the Lightning. And if Tampa Bay will be able to adjust to everyone else's adjustments.

Because this is nowhere close to being a finished product. The Lightning has an .800 winning percentage, but it is not rolling over anybody. Tampa Bay has won three of its games by a single goal and the other by two goals. Heck, the Lightning actually has given up more goals than it has scored on the season.

Still, there is a sense of change around this team. A feeling that things are different.

And, pretty soon, the rest of the hockey world is going to want to know what that is.

John Romano can be reached at

Guy Boucher's success with Tampa Bay Lightning no secret, he says 10/18/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 19, 2010 12:16am]
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