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New Tampa Bay Lightning assistant finding comfort zone with Rick Tocchet

BUFFALO, N.Y. — It has been about a month since AHL Norfolk coach Jim Johnson was made a Lightning assistant by GM Brian Lawton, a personnel change that included the firing of assistant coach Wes Walz.

And though Johnson has yet to get on the ice, he said he and coach Rick Tocchet, who disagreed with the moves, have found a comfort zone.

"You've got to give Tocc credit," Johnson said Saturday. "It was a disruption for him, and he has to get comfortable with me and give it some time to see what I have to offer."

Johnson spends much of his time in the video room. "He's doing advanced scouting and has insight into our game plans," Tocchet said. "He's part of our staff."

"There's a lot to do," Johnson said. "It's another set of eyes looking at game films, breaking down chances for and against. … There's a bunch of charts and stuff I've been giving them. It's just how they want to utilize it."

As for being off the ice, Johnson said, "That's difficult. I'm not going to lie to you. It's not my mind-set to sit in a room. … I think I have a lot to offer on the ice as far as a development aspect, because that's really my background. But it's fine if they don't want me on the ice. If they feel they have enough guys, that's perfectly fine. I'll do whatever they want me to do.

"I wasn't going to come in here and change anything. I was asked to come in here and help, and that's basically what I've done in any way they've asked."

INJURY REPORT: RW Steve Downie played against the Sabres, though he said his right knee was still sore and swollen from Thursday's knee-to-knee hit from Boston's Dennis Wideman. Tocchet sat Downie for most of the third period as a precaution. … D David Hale (right ankle) and D Kurtis Foster (head), both hurt against Boston, were out. D Mattias Ohlund, out eight games with a sprained left ankle, was in.

SEVEN DEFENSEMEN: Tocchet played seven defenseman instead of six, including Matt Smaby, a scratch in four previous games, and Vladimir Mihalik, up from Norfolk despite the team previously indicating it would not make a move. "Just in case," Tocchet said. "We can't run into that Boston thing again," when injuries left Tampa Bay with four defensemen in the third period.

BIG CHANCE: This could be an important callup for the 6-foot-7, 240-pound Mihalik, drafted 30th overall in 2005 and whose entry-level contract is up.

"I'm quicker, faster and smarter, more decisive, too," Mihalik said. "I'm looking to make a big step forward."

Mihalik, 23, had two goals, 17 points in 70 games with Norfolk and led team defensemen at plus-8. He played 12:10 against Buffalo, with two giveaways, and was minus-1.

ODDS AND ENDS: G Antero Niittymaki was pulled after three goals on six shots in the first period, though he perhaps could be faulted on only one. "I was trying to shake the team out of a coma," Tocchet said. … C Vinny Lecavalier was thrown out of his second NHL game. The first: March 17, 2006, against the Flyers, when in the third he received an instigator penalty, a fighting major and a game misconduct. … LW Ryan Malone (knee), LW Todd Fedoruk and RW Brandon Bochenski were scratched.

New Tampa Bay Lightning assistant finding comfort zone with Rick Tocchet 03/27/10 [Last modified: Sunday, March 28, 2010 1:28am]

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