TAMPA — The Lightning's practice Tuesday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum was one of the sharpest of the season.
Sticks banged on the ice to acknowledge good plays, puck-carriers criss-crossed so closely during a drill they had to concentrate on not crashing, and a defensive zone drill was so satisfyingly competitive, coach Guy Boucher cut the workout short.
"Guys were working hard," Boucher said, "very focused on details and getting better."
Any other time of the year, that's an easy sell for a coach. But we're at a time when it would be easy for Tampa Bay — last in the Southeast Division, two points from the bottom of the Eastern Conference and 10 games left — to give up on the season.
Monday's 7-3 loss to Buffalo, in which players bemoaned their lack of effort, was a reminder that should be unacceptable.
"We still have to take pride in our game," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "If we play loose like that these next 10 games we're going to be embarrassed."
This actually is an interesting time for the organization.
Some players, especially those who have been brought up from AHL Norfolk because of Tampa Bay's avalanche of injuries, are fighting for jobs. And Boucher said he will pick spots during games to sit some established players to get a better look at the younger guys and start making assessments for next season.
"We still want to win games and we're not going to just throw guys out there," Boucher said, "but when it's something we feel the person can handle, we'll give them opportunities."
"So, you just can't give up," forward Tom Pyatt said. "It's a tough situation, but guys are playing for jobs and their careers. Guys are getting an opportunity. You're always working for something. Everything you do matters, practice matters."
Of course it does, defenseman Eric Brewer said, "It's our job."
Somehow Tuesday there were no crashes when four players carrying pucks around cones converged at the center-ice dot (which was more like a four-way intersection), forcing skaters to keep their heads up while moving the puck.
And when defenseman Keith Aulie battled along the boards for an exhausting 20 seconds with Marty St. Louis, players banged sticks on the ice to salute Aulie's effort to get the puck and St. Louis' to keep it.
"We've got to maintain a high standard of not just play but of character and work ethic and attitude," Boucher said. "It's tough to be tough mentally right now, but that's when we have to be the toughest."
Especially with two games left on a seven-game homestand that was supposed to define the Lightning's playoff push. Instead Tampa Bay is 1-4-0.
"That's why the next two games in front of our fans have to be full out, everything we've got so it's worth their money," Boucher said. "It's not about winning right now. It's about giving every single ounce of energy we've got to be the best we can."
"If we're going to go down," defenseman Bruno Gervais said, "we're going to go kicking and punching, that's for sure."
DONE DEAL: Goalie Sebastien Caron, who on Monday signed a prorated one-year contract, cleared waivers and will back up Dwayne Roloson Thursday against the Oilers. As expected, Dustin Tokarski was reassigned to Norfolk. He was 1-3-1 in five games with a 3.44 goals-against average and .879 save percentage.
OUT: Wing Ryan Shannon is out for the season after surgery Tuesday on his right shoulder. Recovery time is expected to be four to six months. Shannon, with four goals, 12 points and minus-11 in 45 games, left Saturday's game with the Blues in the second period.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]