PHILADELPHIA — Two months and 23 games into the season, interim coach Rick Tocchet stopped far short of declaring his team's season unsalvageable, even after a confounding 4-3 loss at Colorado on Saturday — its fourth straight — dropped it to last in the Eastern Conference. But things have to change very soon, he said.
"We're starting to slip here," he said. "There's a lot of games left, but we have to roll up our sleeves and go with the guys … I don't want to question heart. I don't like questioning my team with heart, but we have to figure something out here quickly."
If there was to be a game the Lightning could circle in red ink on this trip, it was the one against the Avalanche.
The shell of the two-time Stanley Cup champion is 13th of 15 in the West because of injuries and offensive issues and Tocchet thought the Lightning matched up better personnel-wise. But Colorado got two goals from Wojtek Wolski, who entered with only two, and withstood five furious minutes of Lightning effort to end the game.
"It's going to get a little ugly around here for some guys, because we can't wait any longer," Tocchet said.
Trouble is, the upcoming schedule is full of tough matchups. After facing the Flyers (sixth in the East), Tampa Bay plays conference-leading Boston home and away and the Sabres at the St. Pete Times Forum.
CASH OUT: Executive VP of hockey operations Brian Lawton said that, to his knowledge, the financially troubled Augusta Lynx affiliate in the East Coast Hockey League had attained the finances needed to continue. Owner Robert Burch was quoted on the Web site of WJBF-TV in Augusta (Ga.) as saying he needed $300,000 immediately to stay in business.
Only prospects Chris Lawrence and Kevin Quick play for Augusta, which lessens the worry for Tampa Bay. Lawton said other leagues and teams have inquired about affiliating with the Lightning.
ODDS AND ENDS: The Lightning traded D Andrew Hutchinson to Dallas for the rights to RW Lauri Tukonen, a 22-year-old picked 11th overall by Los Angeles in the 2004 draft, but now playing in his native Finland. Hutchinson, who signed a two-year, $1.1-million contract before this season, was minus-5 in two games for the Lightning. … Riku Helenius, a 2006 first-round draft pick, was promoted from Augusta to AHL Norfolk to spend a week working with goaltending coach Cap Raeder. "We would like to see him get in some games at the A level," Lawton said. "He's played very well this year (at Augusta)."