TAMPA — The key to surviving a punishment skate, Lightning left wing Ryan Malone said, is to convince yourself you are having fun.
It's quite an undertaking.
You are skating, generally without pucks, sprinting from point to point at the behest of the coach's whistle, with legs burning and, for some, wobbling.
"In my head, I'm just trying to laugh," Malone said. "I try to pretend I'm having fun out there when I'm not."
The Lightning went through it Sunday at the St. Pete Times Forum, about 13 hours after a 3-0 loss to the Sharks so bereft of passion and effort, coach Barry Melrose called it embarrassing.
"The message is, if you're not going to work at night, you're going to work during the day," Melrose said after the 45-minute whip-cracking. "There has to be repercussions for lack of effort. That's the one thing that can't be accepted."
"It's punishment," left wing Vinny Prospal said. "It's to tell us to wake up. To play at home and play like that is unacceptable."
Goaltenders Mike Smith and Olaf Kolzig, who have been stellar, were excused, as was wing Mark Recchi for family reasons.
Every other healthy body participated, even newly acquired wing Matt Pettinger, who has yet to play a game and is blameless for Tampa Bay's 1-3-3 start and absurd league-low 11 goals.
In one drill, players, for 10 minutes, sprinted from one end of the ice to the other, shot a puck and sprinted all the way back.
There were one-on-one "combat" drills in which players battled for pucks, and sprints in which players skated four laps, some goal line to blue line, others blue line to blue line, rested briefly and did it several times again. By the end, some players could barely lift their legs.
Even so, "guys are pushing each other and sticking together," wing Adam Hall said. "We know we're going through it as a team."
Malone said, "It's kind of us against the coaches in those situations. … 'I'm not going to let them break me.' "
General manager Brian Lawton watched from the stands and said there were no immediate plans for a personnel shakeup. But as Tampa Bay prepares for a stretch in which eight of 10 games are on the road, players are on notice.
"We're looking to see what kind of character they do or don't have," Lawton said.
"We're looking for each player to take pride in their abilities and their effort. Sometimes the game won't let you be good; we understand that. Sometimes you have to tip your hat to other teams, and we understand that. But I don't understand a player (not) giving his maximum effort. That's not acceptable."
"The frustrating thing is, we know our potential is a lot higher than the way we've played," Hall said. "We know we have all the pieces in here. It's just a matter of time before we start clicking on all cylinders."
None seemed clicking against the Sharks. So, after the skate, players watched video of them losing possession of the puck to San Jose.
"When they're losing, part of the coach's job is to make life miserable for these guys," Melrose said. "If losing isn't a motivating factor, then the results of losing have to be the motivating factor."
Are we having fun yet?