The Lightning's practice Thursday at the Ice Sports Forum was no time to be lazy. • When players lagged during a backchecking drill, coach Guy Boucher loudly reminded them their victory Tuesday over the Stanley Cup champion Bruins was their first in eight games. • Before a puck-battle drill, Boucher yelled, "If it's not intense enough, we'll do this for the next half-hour." • He also bellowed: "We're not going to start cheating because we won one game. We want more games. We want more work." • General manager Steve Yzerman watched Boucher on Monday prepare for Boston with similar intensity. • "The coach's message is the farthest thing from the problem here," Yzerman said. "There's no point in anybody discussing the coach. We've got a great coach. He's the same coach as last year. His message is work hard, be structured." • Boucher's job security, Yzerman added, "is a nonissue."
You would never know it by reading the Internet. While Tampa Bay was in a free fall — losing seven straight before beating the Bruins — there was speculation in the national media Boucher was on a short leash.
But Yzerman repeated, "We have a great coach," and added, "We play hard. We're structured. Our guys are competing. He'll learn from this experience and be an even better coach."
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Boucher is what left wing Ryan Malone called an "open ears" coach; that is willing to listen to players' concerns or suggestions.
But Boucher is not a friend, and there is no fraternizing.
"He knows his proper distance," Malone said. "He's not buddy-buddy with anybody."
Compare that to the way Raheem Morris handled some of his Bucs players. Morris was so close to some, he socialized with them. On Jan. 2, he was fired after his team lost its final 10 games.
Boucher said he would be uncomfortable with such familiarity.
"You're a coach, and you know that one day you might be nice with them, but the next day you might have to be tough with them," he said. "You don't want to be buddies because then you don't act the way you should; and the same with them."
"It's a tough environment here. Some things are said that are tough to say and tough to receive. But values shouldn't change, and respect shouldn't change."
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That said, the buck stops with Boucher.
Tampa Bay is 14th in the East and 12 points out of the playoffs. The power play, Boucher's baby, has been bad, especially on the road, where it entered Thursday as the league's worst.
Its 15 road points (6-16-3) are tied for fewest in the East, and first periods, home and away, generally have been atrocious.
Some also say Boucher, publicly anyway, uses Tampa Bay's injuries and a taxing early road schedule as excuses. But he is relentless, which is what he implores his players to be.
With 56 seconds left in Sunday's 6-3 loss to the Penguins, Boucher called a timeout.
"The message is to keep fighting because I am," Boucher said.
Does that kind of move really resonate? Captain Vinny Lecavalier said it showed, "We're working together to solve this. The players respect him."
"I actually feel bad for our coaches," Malone said. "Those guys work hard to make sure we have the right game plan. Coach has nothing to do with a guy going into a corner and either coming out with the puck or not coming out with the puck. That's what it usually comes down to."
For Boucher, it comes down to keeping players focused on the task at hand.
That means not wasting the victory over the Bruins by playing poorly against the Stars tonight in Dallas.
Which brings us back to Thursday's demanding practice.
"Either we stay the same, you get worse or you get better," Boucher said. "It's a choice, and I wanted to make sure the players knew that as a coach I'm making that choice, and I felt the players were making that choice, too."
NOTES: Forward Tom Pyatt left practice with a lower-body injury that might sideline him, Boucher said. … With defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron (back) not on the trip, Evan Oberg was recalled from AHL Norfolk.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.