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Low-scoring Tampa Bay Lightning works on shooting the puck

BRANDON — Lightning practice Friday was about shooting the puck.

It wasn't about defensive coverages or battling, which is why players raced unopposed around the Ice Sports Forum rink.

"When you're struggling, you don't want to have drills that are confrontational," coach Rick Tocchet said. "That's why you drill three-on-oh. We want to make sure the guy gets a shot."

Told how funny that sounded, Tocchet said, "I'm not trying to be funny. When you're struggling, you want guys to feel good about themselves."

This is what it has come down to for Tampa Bay, a team that entered Friday tied with Ottawa with a league-worst 56 goals.

A team that Thursday outplayed the Bruins, outshot them 31-26 and lost 3-1, the 12th time it scored fewer than three goals.

"It's the way it's been going for the whole team," left wing Vinny Prospal said. "Nobody has really took off and scored. We have to snap out of it, and practices like that are going to help you."

Center Vinny Lecavalier is on a pace for 33 goals and 69 points, which would be his lowest totals since 2003-04. Right wing Marty St. Louis is on pace for 20 goals, which would be his lowest total since 2001-02, and 62 points, 21 fewer than last season.

Prospal has three goals in his past 19 games. Right wing Radim Vrbata has three goals, period.

Forget secondary scoring. Six players — Lecavalier (10), St. Louis (6), Prospal (5), Ryan Malone (7), Mark Recchi (6) and Jussi Jokinen (6) — are responsible for 40 goals.

The defense hasn't scored since Nov. 18, and its three goals are tied for last in the league with the Sabres, whom the Lightning faces tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa.

"It's frustrating," defenseman Andrej Meszaros said.

Especially considering Dan Boyle, traded last summer to the Sharks, entered Friday second in the league among defensemen with nine goals and 23 points.

"It's a learning process," Meszaros said. "We have to stay positive and do what the coaches want us to do and stick with it."

For forwards, that means getting more bodies to the net. For defensemen, that means getting more shots on goal. If done simultaneously, it means screens, tip-ins and rebound chances.

"But right now," Tocchet said, "one game we'll have guys going to the net, and we'll miss the net. One time we'll hit the net, and nobody will go to the net."

That is why Friday, everyone had a clear shot at the goal.

"We're trying to send the message, 'Keep shooting, hit the net,' " Tocchet said. Also: Remember defensive zone coverages, don't try to carry the puck through several defenders to force a play and, most important, Tocchet said, "stick with the system."

"Live for another shift," he said. "Those are the things you have to stay on top of with the guys. It's tiring to say it, but I really believe the past month we've gotten better in those areas.

"We did video (of Boston) and … we did a lot of good things. We just didn't score goals."

NOTES: Lecavalier and Malone did not practice for "body maintenance." … Tocchet said Mike Smith will be in goal tonight. … Vrbata, a scratch against Boston, is expected to play. … Lightning wives will host a toy drive on the Chrysler/Jeep Plaza. Unwrapped, new toys benefit Toys for Tots.

TONIGHT

Lightning vs. Sabres

When/where: 7:30; St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa

TV/radio: Sun Sports; 970-AM

Injuries: Tampa Bay — C Chris Gratton (knee), LW Gary Roberts (groin), LW David Koci (hand), C Jeff Halpern (knee), LW Matt Pettinger (knee) are out. Buffalo — C Tim Connolly (rib), RW Patrick Kaleta (neck) are out; LW Andrew Peters (abdomen), D Craig Rivet (lower body) are day to day.

Key stats: The Lightning is winless in six (0-4-2) and on a 2-8-5 streak. … Tampa Bay is 0-5-1 against the Sabres at home the past three seasons. … Buffalo LW Thomas Vanek entered Friday tied for the league lead with 18 goals and tied for second with eight on the power play. … The Sabres have killed 18 straight short-handed situations in their past five games.

Low-scoring Tampa Bay Lightning works on shooting the puck 12/05/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 8, 2008 11:26am]

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