BRANDON — There comes a time in every season going bad when someone — if that season is to be saved — forces those responsible to look in the mirror.
That is what happened Monday at the Ice Sports Forum when wing Marty St. Louis said Lightning players, including himself, have not worked hard enough, smart enough or consistent enough.
"Last year, there were a lot of games we just deserved," he said. "We earned it every day. This year, it hasn't been as much."
The result is Tampa Bay is 13th in the 15-team Eastern Conference, nine points out of the eighth and final playoff spot and facing a crucial 12-game stretch in which nine games are at home and a season is on the line.
That after falling one game short last season of reaching the Stanley Cup final.
"When you have the success we had last year, you feel entitled a little bit and you forget the process," St. Louis said. "You just think it's going to be there because it was there. You just think about the end result."
"It's a lot of things," St. Louis added. "It's execution. It's effort."
Bottom line, he said, "We've got to get on a long run pretty quick."
Starting one against the Canucks tonight at the Tampa Bay Times Forum is a tall order. Vancouver entered Monday leading the Western Conference and with the league's top power play. Its 29 road points (14-8-1) also lead the West.
The Lightning (17-20-3), losers of three straight, gets back home, where it is 11-5-0 with the fourth-best home power play.
But it also returns with players going through a catharsis; for the first time publicly saying an inattention to detail and inconsistent effort have been as much contributors to the team's woes as the oft-cited injuries and road-heavy schedule.
"You have those (playoff) expectations and you forget about the process and how we got in," left wing Ryan Malone said. "You have to realize the work ethic and everything we put into it and remember how hard we have to work."
"You have to respect the process to win," said goaltender Dwayne Roloson, who will face the Canucks. "What Marty is saying is to play KISS hockey — keep it simple, stupid. Do what you're asked to do. It's putting your mind to it, your desire, your determination to do whatever it takes to win hockey games."
It all was music to coach Guy Boucher's ears.
"It's like Alcoholics Anonymous," he said. "Until you say that you're an alcoholic you can't make the steps. … Players maybe felt a sense of entitlement, so it's good it's internalized. Before they were being told but it wasn't internalized. Now they realize where they are"
Where they are is in a desperate fight for a playoff spot.
"With our back against the wall we'll be a better hockey club," forward Tom Pyatt said.
When asked if there was optimism among the players, St. Louis said, "Of course there is. All the guys who had success last year are still here. We lost a few guys but we still have some key guys here who got it done."
And who finally have figured out they were not just entitled.
PYATT SIGNS: Pyatt signed a two-year contract extension through 2013-14 believed to pay $600,000 a season.
Pyatt, 24, who is making $525,000 this season and could have been a restricted free agent, has three goals, five points and is minus-6 in 35 games while averaging 13:11 of ice time.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]