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Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet, players say recent bad defense is team effort

VANCOUVER — Lightning defenseman Marek Malik had one job at that moment in Thursday's practice at GM Place: get the puck into the offensive zone.

Instead, the puck was fumbled at the blue line and turned over, sparking a rush in the other direction.

Malik tried to explain what happened to Rick Tocchet, but the coach didn't want to hear it.

"Never mind, 'Yeah, but,' " Tocchet scolded. "Just get the puck in."

At another time, perhaps Tocchet doesn't react as harshly. But in the midst of a startling streak in which Tampa Bay has allowed at least 40 shots in five straight games — 218 shots in all — those kinds of plays are getting deeper under his skin.

Malik got the worst of it, for sure, but Tocchet later was clear that neither he nor only the defense is to blame.

"It's the collective, the whole team," Tocchet said.

Of the 50 video clips Tocchet said he showed before practice of Tuesday's loss in which the Oilers had 45 shots, "a lot were not very good."

There were breakdowns in the offensive zone, mostly bad decisions with the puck, which lessened attack time.

There were players incorrectly positioned in the neutral zone, allowing the opposition too much room to skate; losing track of the opposition in the defensive zone; and an inability to get pucks clear.

"So, it's a team stat," captain Vinny Lecavalier said of the 218-124 shot disparity in the past five games. "You can't blame the defense.

"When we're in the offensive zone, the forwards aren't doing the right things. That's why we're in the defensive zone so much."

And that is where the Lightning has been most vulnerable. Tampa Bay has used 17 defensemen on the blue line, not great for developing chemistry.

The biggest problem has been injuries.

Paul Ranger and Andrej Meszaros are done for the season with torn shoulder labrums. Malik, slow to begin with, has been sidelined 12 of the past 17 games with an ankle injury.

Rookie Matt Smaby is playing with a painful foot injury. Lukas Krajicek returns tonight against the Canucks after missing three games with a sore right hip.

There also have been late additions.

Cory Murphy, claimed off waivers Jan. 19, is willing and has good offensive instincts, but listed at 5 feet 10, 180 pounds, he is on the small side. Josef Melichar, acquired from the Hurricanes on Feb. 10, was supposed to be in the minors.

Steve Eminger, who leads the defense with an average 22:22 of ice time, said the particulars do not matter.

"At the end of the day, you've got to play," he said. "You've got to talk and learn to play with each other. That's what we're trying to do."

"We can't live in a world of excuses," Tocchet said. "I won't coach that way. But you can overcome the shots and make up for those weaknesses with a team game."

Lecavalier said that includes "playing more in the offensive zone, keeping the puck in there. We have to do the details of the game."

Without the yeah-buts.

NOTES: Right wing Evgeny Artyukhin left practice early dragging his left leg after slamming into the end boards. … Smaby sat our practice but was expected to play. … Lecavalier (foot) skated and was expected to play.

Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet, players say recent bad defense is team effort 02/26/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 26, 2009 11:11pm]

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