TAMPA — It's the defense, stupid.
Guy Boucher didn't say it quite like that, but the Lightning coach was clear the season hinges on players being better without the puck. Not just the defensemen, the entire team. He called it a "defensive transformation."
"We have the offense," he said Friday. "It's a whole team mentality and philosophy we want to progress with now. It's got to be defense first." It is not a new concept for Boucher. D Eric Brewer said, "I don't think it's tough to buy into. I think we got the hard lesson last year we were too open," with a league-worst 281 goals allowed.
This season the offense is again potent with 19 goals in four games. The defensive transformation began by adding G Anders Lindback and veteran defensemen Sami Salo and Matt Carle. But as Boucher said, "It's everybody, forwards, defense, goaltending."
For example, forwards — or defensemen, for that matter — must not get caught too deep in the offensive zone. That creates the potential for odd-man rushes, which plagued Tampa Bay during Monday's 4-3 loss to the Islanders and in the second period in Friday's 6-4 win over Ottawa.
For Boucher, the key is allowing fewer than 12 scoring chances a game. In the team's two wins entering Friday, Tampa Bay allowed 11. In its loss to the Islanders, it allowed 24.
"We're better because of the new players," Boucher said. "But it's a team mentality and philosophy we want to progress with."
SHOOTING GALLERY: The Lightning entered Friday's game allowing an average 37 shots, third-most in the league, and it allowed 36 to the Senators. But Boucher said it is not a concern if opponents are away from the net: "They can shoot from the outside as much as they want, I couldn't care less."
RISING: D Keith Aulie has gone from an unsure, tentative player to a confident, physical one. "He's hit everybody, and hard, some pancakes on boards everywhere," Boucher said.
Aulie, 23, acquired in February from the Maple Leafs for Carter Ashton, clearly benefited from playing last season with AHL Norfolk during its Calder Cup title run. He played with AHL Syracuse, the Lightning's new affiliate, during the lockout.
"It starts by being here, and once you're here, you want more," said Aulie, who has a goal, two points and a team-high eight hits. "It's up to me to work hard and show them what I can do."
VINNY HONORED: C Vinny Lecavalier, in a pregame ceremony, received the traditional silver stick to commemorate his 1,000th game, played Monday on Long Island. In front of 40 friends and family he also received a Rolex watch from the team and a Tiffany crystal from the league. Video congratulations came from former teammates Brad Richards, Ruslan Fedotenko and Dan Boyle, and former coach Jacques Demers.
ODDS AND ENDS: F Adam Hall received a 10-minute misconduct after a scrum with 10 seconds left in the game. … Salo is the seventh Lightning player to be plus-5 in a game. … Carle's goal was his first in 58 games. His last was with the Flyers against the Lightning on Dec. 10, 2011. … Forwards Dana Tyrell and P.C. Labrie, and D Brendan Mikkelson were scratched.