TAMPA — Coach Guy Boucher knows he sounded harsh Saturday — unforgiving, even — in his critique of the Lightning's preseason victory over the Panthers.
You know what? He doesn't care.
"For me, it can be very good. It can be great," Boucher said Monday at the St. Pete Times Forum. "But great is not enough."
Which is why after Tampa Bay allowed Florida just 21 shots in the game, scored three times in the second period with an 18-5 shot advantage and, generally, dominated its cross-state rival, the coach declined to give his players even a crumb of credit for the 4-1 win, instead pointing out things the team did wrong.
It seemed kind of stingy. The Lightning is trying to build a cohesive unit with a new coaching staff, new players and an entirely new system. Would it have hurt to acknowledge a 4-1-1 preseason and that players are buying into the team concept?
Would it have hurt to say a team, out of the playoffs the past three years, is making progress?
Geez, throw them a bone.
"No, no, no," Boucher said. "The minute we just sit on whatever we've done, we've stopped our process of trying to be better than other teams. You're right, we did some very good things last game, but at the same time, we can do better."
The thing is, the players agree.
"With him being upset at us, that's the way it should be," defenseman Brett Clark said. "We have to do the fine details. That's how championship teams are decided, so, as a player, you don't mind him being hard on us. You have to improve as a team, and that's what he's doing, no matter what way it is given."
Take shots on goal. Boucher wants the Lightning to get 40 a game and allow only 20. The 21 by the Panthers? Too many.
"In 11 of them, we could have had a stick on the puck to prevent those shots," Boucher said. "You say you can't really ask guys to give just 10 shots a game. Why not?"
"He wants us to be better," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "He's got high expectations for us, and we have to have high expectations for ourselves, and those are better than what we did this weekend."
Before you get the vision of Boucher with a whip on the ice waiting to flog wrong-doers, consider Monday's practice, which ended with players racing each other for pucks placed down the center of the ice.
Lose the race, five pushups.
Then there was the challenge to goalie Mike Smith to shoot a puck into the net at the other end of the ice. He did it to the whoops and hollers of his teammates.
"Have you ever seen a bunch of guys still work this hard and laugh?" Boucher said.
The coach also, by all accounts, is very positive on the bench, constructively pointing out mistakes by explaining what other players did right.
"I don't think a coach ever has to pump your tires in the media," goalie Dan Ellis said. "He'll give you a nod, and that's all it really takes. He's a guy who has earned the respect of this group immediately, and when someone like that, your leader, comes and just says good job, he doesn't have to say anything else."
So, the glass is not always half empty?
"There are times to say we're doing things right," Boucher said, but added, "It's always time to say we can do them better."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.