TAMPA — Lightning coach Guy Boucher says his team isn't paying a ton of attention to the standings with more than half the season remaining.
But players acknowledge there is a sense of urgency, considering Tampa Bay is eight points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference heading into tonight's game with the Flyers at the St. Pete Times Forum.
"Now is the time," captain Vinny Lecavalier said Monday. "It's not in a month, month and a half. We have to make a push now. We're eight points out of eighth place. We've got to get on a roll here. And with consistency, that's how you do it."
Consistency has been fleeting for one of last season's Eastern Conference finalists. Boucher insists the Lightning (14-17-3) isn't far off. He is encouraged that Tampa Bay took half of the possible points on a three-game road trip before the Christmas break and has played a league-low 13 games at home (as opposed to 21 on the road).
"Some teams, I think, look real good but played 21 at home and 13 on the road," Boucher said. "I'm pretty sure if that's what we would have had, we'd have a positive record right now. It's just we've got to keep continuing with what we've been doing and improve and hope our games at home will give us that edge."
The Lightning is a much better power-play team at home (22.2 percent) than it is on the road (9.5 percent). But it believes it needs to improve in all areas.
Defenseman Eric Brewer believes the Lightning can tighten up defensively. There's also the importance of getting more secondary scoring. Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis and Lecavalier have scored 41 of the team's 90 goals (46 percent).
"Teams like Philly, teams like Detroit, that's what they've got," Boucher said of secondary scoring. "They've got guys who can score on the third and sometimes on the fourth lines, too. And it's just a wearing-out process. They come at you, they come at you. We need to be able to do that."
That's partly why the absence of center Nate Thompson (lower body) hurts. He, along with the likes of Dominic Moore and Tom Pyatt, can help take the pressure off the top two lines.
"You can go back to the beginning of the season, there's so many things we've improved on. We're still getting better," Thompson said. "It's just right now, it's a matter of putting it together for a whole 60 minutes. We can't do it in 55 minutes. There's still a lot of hockey left, and we believe in our group."
Said defenseman Victor Hedman: "It's going to be a tough one. But we have to dig in, and we know we can do it. It starts (tonight)."
MISCELLANY: D Matt Gilroy (lower-body injury) returned to practice but is still day to day, as is Thompson, who skated in a red noncontact jersey. … Boucher said he was undecided who would start in goal tonight.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.