How the minutes played by some Lightning forwards were down in Saturday's season opener compared with last season's average time on ice:
Marty St. Louis 18:38 21:48
Steven Stamkos 19:33 20:33
Vinny Lecavalier 18:57 19:47
Simon Gagne 17:33 18:37
Dominic Moore 13:28 14:40
Ryan Malone 13:16 18:45
Steve Downie 13:02 14:42
TAMPA — For Lightning coach Guy Boucher, a hockey game passes in increments of 30 to 35 seconds, which is precisely how long, per shift, he wants his forwards to play.
Forty-five seconds? A minute? You had better come back to the bench with a good excuse.
"I strongly believe that if you're full-out out there for 30, 35 seconds, you're dead (tired)," Boucher said. "So, if you're having one-minute shifts and 45-second shifts, it's because you are not (playing) full out."
But here's the rub. Extrapolate those shorter shifts over a game and players will see reductions in ice time. In Saturday's season-opening victory over the Thrashers, no forward played 20 minutes, and if Boucher has his way, that's how it will be all season.
Even for the stars.
Marty St. Louis' 18:38 of ice time against Atlanta was 3:10 less than last season's average. Vinny Lecavalier, at 18:57, was down 50 seconds. Steven Stamkos, at 19:33, was down a full minute.
But Boucher is a less-is-more kind of guy, and Monday at the St. Pete Times Forum, he said the strategy is all about players working hard.
"We want guys to have energy to be relentless," Boucher said. "If you're relentless, rarely is a forward going to play more than 20 minutes."
Not that it will never happen. Game situations, time on special teams and filling in for injured teammates inevitably will push forwards past 20 minutes.
"It just depends how the game goes," Lecavalier said. "We had four lines playing great last game, so (Boucher) kept with it, and everybody was pretty fresh."
Wing Ryan Malone on Saturday took the biggest hit year to year. His 13:16 of ice time was 5:29 less than he averaged last season. But he played four minutes less than Lecavalier on special teams.
Take out Lecavalier's 5:56 of combined power-play and penalty-kill time, and he would have been down to 13:01.
Twenty minutes is one of those hockey benchmarks, and 29 NHL forwards last season averaged at least that much.
Lecavalier once said he believed he could not feel comfortable in a game unless he played that much. But the center is a convert.
"We move our feet like we're playing 20-something minutes," he said. "You feel like every shift you're into it."
"It's pretty intense the way we play," left wing Simon Gagne said. "You play 16, 17, 18 minutes, that's plenty."
And minutes not played will add up — in a good way, he said: "How many times do you see really good players having average playoffs because they're drained by the end of the season because they play 20, 25 minutes a night?"
It's all white noise to St. Louis, whose 21:48 average ice time last season was second in the league among wings and third among forwards.
"Ice time will vary," he said. "But I'm ready to play whatever. I'm not stuck on a fixed number I have to play. If it's 22, it's 22. If it's 18, it's 18. I just want to help this team win."
"We're after relentlessness," Boucher said. "Ooh, that's a good word."