TAMPA — Adam Hall is a cog. He helps the machine move. But he doesn't run it.
That's why the right wing was so appreciative of the opportunity Lightning interim coach Rick Tocchet presented Friday.
The winner of a routine contest after a practice in Pittsburgh, Hall had been singled out to not only participate in but start the Lightning's next shootout. He scored against Florida.
Evgeny Artyukhin, who earned his rare shootout chance with two strong games, did not.
But Jussi Jokinen, who'd been on waivers days earlier and won a breakaway drill that morning, did. The Lightning won the game, and cogs everywhere rejoiced.
And the ones within the Lightning locker room noticed.
Tocchet had shown that those who excel at the mundane will be rewarded. He would take a chance on them. The meritocracy appears to have everyone buying in during a three-game win streak that has provided a rare bright spot in an often dismal season.
"We can't have guys (say), 'Aw, let me get my legs,' " Tocchet said. "Whoever is (playing hard) is going to start. That's just what we have to do right now."
Hits are up, blocked shots are up and so is confidence and enthusiasm entering a game tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum against Montreal.
"I think for a player," said Hall, who averages 11 minutes, 32 seconds a game and has four points, "when you see your hard work doesn't go unnoticed, if you show up at practice and the effort is there and you're doing the things the coaches and the team need you to do day in and day out, that they're going to notice it and reward you for it, it's just incentive for every player on the team to work harder every day you show up at the rink."
The move was perhaps easier for Tocchet with so many facets of the Lightning game struggling. But it has proved worthwhile with a roster that has changed much and is still establishing a group trust.
"It doesn't hurt to try something different," right wing Mark Recchi said. "Now guys know in shootout practice that it's serious. 'Hey, maybe if I do well, I get a sniff here.' Now the other guys want that opportunity. To give Arty a great opportunity, I think that's huge for a coach to do that for a guy like him. He's been out of the lineup, they're trying to teach him, help him, and Arty goes out and plays a great game like that after a great game in Pittsburgh and he gets rewarded for it. Tocc's showing he will reward those guys because Tocc's showing he's building a team."
The energy created by hungry bit players appears to have perpetuated the win streak, and the stars have rushed in behind — with the top line of Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Ryan Malone combining for 11 points in a 6-4 win over Florida on Saturday — perhaps, Tocchet suggested, because seeing others contribute could have reduced pressure on them. But even in a merit-based system, players paid to be stars will be expected to play like stars.
"You're still looking for your big guys to be up to bat all the time," Tocchet said. "Don't get me wrong, these guys are going to be out there again when the money's on the line."
So the grinders better keep grinding.