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Tampa Bay Lightning getting back up to speed on defense

WASHINGTON — Lightning coach Guy Boucher tried to paint a picture of how important defensive zone positioning is during Tuesday's high-tempo practice.

Boucher tapped his stick in two spots, 5 feet apart, asking players how big of a difference it makes.

"Five feet is everything," he yelled.

Though Tampa Bay did a lot of things better in Monday's 6-5 shootout loss to the Capitals, including getting 22 scoring chances, it continued to have issues in defensive positioning, decision-making and awareness in its zone, which led to costly turnovers and lost one-on-one battles.

The Lightning was at its best last season with its textbook application of Boucher's system, seemingly working in unison. But players are having to relearn it, reapply it and find a way to trust themselves — and each other — without hesitation.

"We're not quite on the same page, whatever the reason," defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron said. "It seems like we kind of forgot over the summer. Now we're back at it. It needs some focus, needs some attention. Guys are realizing now that … we just can't show up at the rink and play. We have to be thinking and knowing what we're doing."

Despite allowing more than 40 shots in each of the past two games, Boucher doesn't believe the team is playing poorly defensively overall. He pointed out that in the Washington game, 15 of the Capitals' 43 shots came on the power play and the Lightning didn't give up odd-man rushes. But, Boucher said, the Lightning has lost one-on-one battles in the zone and given too many defensemen shots by collapsing too low, "kind of cocooning in front of our net."

Defenseman Eric Brewer said that if everyone is in the right position, reads become clearer, with less hesitation. "There's no, 'Is he supposed to be there?' "

"It's not just (trusting) your teammates, it's trusting yourself," Boucher said. "Like, 'Is it me?' Or, 'Should I go? Or, 'Can I really go?'

"Right now there's all kind of hesitation, and when you ask them, they have all the answers for the (chalk) board (sessions). So it's not like they're all mixed up. They know it's executing in the heat of the battle with extremely high speed, which is basically what they didn't have for months, having to react for months at high speed like that."

But the biggest issue in the defensive zone has been turnovers. A giveaway led to the Capitals' tying goal late in Monday's game.

"We're trying these plays that are complicated plays to break out (when) we've got the simple play," Boucher said. "Or we're on breakout mode (when) we don't even have the puck and we're supposed to be in d-zone mode.

"If we get rid of the turnovers like we can, right there 90 percent of our defensive zone problems are taken care of."

Center Nate Thompson said the Lightning has played well in its zone through stretches, just not consistently. "It's a game of inches," he said.

"We're not way off," Bergeron said. "But we're obviously playing in the NHL, so a little thing that we miss makes a big difference, and teams are taking advantage of that."

notes: C Dominic Moore did not practice due to illness. … D Mattias Ohlund had arthroscopic surgery on both knees in Tampa, performed by team medical director Dr. Ira Guttentag.

Tampa Bay Lightning getting back up to speed on defense 10/11/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 11, 2011 9:33pm]
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