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Tampa Bay Lightning wants to improve on shootouts

TAMPA — In the hallway leading to the Lightning locker room on Thursday, goaltender Mike Smith and center Jussi Jokinen discussed the best stick angles for different shots.

Sitting in the locker room, right wing Marty St. Louis and goalie Olie Kolzig had their own technical discussion.

This is what happens when teams shoot blanks in shootouts.

There is breakaway practice. Skaters stay after practice to take more breakaways and then discuss the finer points with the guys trying to stop them.

"It's good we're practicing," Jokinen said. "You score a couple goals in practice and you get your confidence."

Tampa Bay's confidence in shootouts cannot be good.

The team is 1-4 in the game-ending gimmick, which has contributed to a 2-6 record in games that at least went to overtime.

That's six points Tampa Bay has left on the table.

"And those points are so important for who's going to make the playoffs," Jokinen said. "Those are big points.

"That's one reason we have to be better."

It is a curious deficiency given the Lightning's skill. With Vinny Lecavalier and Jokinen the usual top two shooters and players such as St. Louis, Vinny Prospal and Steven Stamkos at the ready, Tampa Bay should rock in shootouts.

But the team has converted just four of 19 shots with Jokinen and Lecavalier 1-for-5.

Smith could be better, too, having allowed eight goals on 18 shots. But after Tuesday's 1-0 loss to the Panthers, the spotlight is on the shooters.

Coach Rick Tocchet said he wants the shootout to be a more urgent matter. Shootout teams already have earned a point for a regulation tie and are in no danger of losing it.

"It's not like guys aren't trying, but I don't think there's that overtime feel, like, 'Geez, if I screw up we're going to lose two points,' " Tocchet said. "You know you're going to get that point, so there's no urgency."

Lecavalier wouldn't go that far but said practice is a good idea.

"If I go on a goalie, I try to look at where the holes are or if they're not there," he said. "It gives you a vision of what you should look for."

Tocchet, tongue in cheek, said he might start an incentive program such as having players skate if they don't score during breakaway practice.

He would have had mass participation Thursday as, out of 19 skaters, only Jokinen, St. Louis, Radim Vrbata and Andrej Meszaros converted. In fact, Tocchet said he could start using Vrbata as a designated shooter.

"You want to give the proper guys the ball," Tocchet said of the Lightning's usual shootout suspects. "But there's got to be a time when you say, 'Okay, guys, sorry, we have to get some fresh blood in there.' "

Does that happen tonight against the Predators at the St. Pete Times Forum?

"I don't know when that time is," Tocchet said. "It's a feel. Sometimes guys are having a good game, you want to throw them in there because they're hot."

It is an option for which Tocchet, coaching the league's lowest-scoring team on an 0-3-2 streak, can't wait.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Lightning wants to improve on shootouts 11/20/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 21, 2008 7:54pm]
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