TAMPA — On paper, the Lightning's 12-game homestand that begins today against the Thrashers appears to be a huge advantage.
Southeast-leading Tampa Bay is 14-4-2 at the St. Pete Times Forum, and considering a heated playoff race, a little home cookin' should be welcome, right?
But coach Guy Boucher called the schedule a "red flag," and general manager Steve Yzerman said, "The general perception is, 'Ooh, that is not a good thing.' "
So what gives?
"For players, generally, … it becomes a little bit of Groundhog Day with your practices and morning skates," Yzerman said. "Guy is not afraid to shake things up. And I suspect over the course of the month, he'll try to do different things to make sure the guys don't get in a rut."
"We've got to find a way to keep it fresh," wing Marty St. Louis said. "We can't have monotony set in."
The homestand, which comes after a league-high 29 road games, matches the longest in league history and is another twist in a bizarre schedule that had Tampa Bay on the road for 22 of its first 36 games and 15 of 21 from Oct. 30 to Dec. 11. How it came together is not exactly clear.
But last spring, when the league asked teams to address concerns, Tampa Bay's front office was in turmoil, and things invariably fell through the cracks. And after Brian Lawton was fired April 11, the team was without a general manager for six weeks until Yzerman was hired May 25. By then, the schedule, released in July, was pretty much finalized.
"This is a bit of an extreme," Yzerman said. "Hopefully we'll never see it this way again."
The Lightning will make the best of it, shaking up the routine by scheduling team-building activities outside the rink. And Boucher didn't rule out a road trip to practice in another part of the state.
"It's too much fun to be in Tampa," he said. "We've got to get them out ... (of their) comfort zone. That is not what we need for an entire month. What I like is we're playing tough teams; keeps them focused."
Highlights of the homestand, which ends Feb. 25 against the Devils, are two matchups with the East-leading Flyers and games against the Red Wings, Capitals and Blues.
"I don't want anyone to take for granted that because we're at home we're set up nicely here," Yzerman said, "that this is going to be an easy month just because we're playing at home."
Even so, right wing Adam Hall said it's not all bad: "We always enjoy playing in front of our fans. It gives you some extra time to spend with your family, more time to practice. I'm trying to think of something negative."
He should talk to his coach and general manager.