Tampa Bay Lightning, loser of 11 of 15, sticking together

TAMPA — The players yelled as their teammates competed for pucks. They cheered when on the winning side.

The Lightning during Wednesday's practice looked more like a bunch of kids at recess than a team that has lost seven of eight games and 11 of 15.

Coach Guy Boucher set the tone, turning drills aimed at specific deficiencies into mini competitions, but the players buying in really made it work.

"With the team we have, we look forward coming to the rink and seeing each other every day," defenseman Brett Clark said. "We're sticking together, and we know we're going to get out of this together."

Say this for Tampa Bay's players: During a time when it would be easy to point fingers, they have remained loyal. During a time in which the edges of camaraderie could fray, they seem as tight-knit as ever.

"We're in it as a team," Clark said. "Since the coaching staff and management came in (before last season), that's their big thing. You don't point fingers. It's never the same guy. It could be anyone any night. We're a team, and that's how we're going to get out of this funk."

The funk has been deep.

Goaltending, especially from No. 1 Dwayne Roloson, has been unreliable. The defense has been turning over pucks at an alarming rate, the power play is benign, and the team has scored more than two goals only four times in its past 16 games.

Those are pretty ripe conditions for dissension to fester and cliques to form.

Captain Vinny Lecavalier, in his 11th season with Tampa Bay, said he has seen it with other Lightning teams, and it is an uncomfortable situation.

"When fingers start to be pointed in the room, that's when everything starts to crumble," he said. "But we're not pointing fingers. We have a good bunch of guys. Everybody is on the same page and together as a team."

Boucher cultivates that attitude. That is why he set up three "games" at Wednesday's practice with rewards for the winners.

The winner of the puck-pursuit drill — a drill to remind of Boucher's edict to "be relentless" — got to take a breakaway at the goaltender.

Regardless of winners and losers, the goal, Boucher said, is to reinforce a team bond and that players must work together:

"You're with a group of individuals, and if your vision and your goal is clear and you don't move away from it and you don't lose your spirit through tough times, you're going to get it. When are you going to get it? I don't know, but you're going to get it."

Against the Flames tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum would be just fine for a team three points from the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

"We don't have a choice. We have to stick together," left wing Ryan Malone said. "It's like any stretch of losing. You know you're going to go through it at some point during the year. We're going through a bad one right now. But if everyone sticks together, you're going to come out on the other side, and you're going to be a closer team for it."

Notes: AHL Norfolk signed Jean-Philippe Cote to a minor-league contract. … Rookie wing Brett Connolly, released by the team to attend the selection camp for Canada's world junior championship team, made the final 22-player roster. The tournament is Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Calgary and Edmonton.

Tampa Bay Lightning, loser of 11 of 15, sticking together 12/14/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 9:36pm]

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