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Tampa Bay Lightning working to help players stay fresh

Marty St. Louis says getting a break from practices last week rejuvenated him for games during the weekend.

Associated Press

Marty St. Louis says getting a break from practices last week rejuvenated him for games during the weekend.

TAMPA — Remarkable, isn't it, what a couple of days off will do.

Just ask Lightning wing Marty St. Louis, who did not skate Wednesday and was told by coach Guy Boucher to stay away from the St. Pete Times Forum on Thursday.

"It definitely rejuvenated me these last two games," St. Louis said of the weekend back-to-back against the Hurricanes. "Physically and mentally I felt a lot better than I have in a long time."

There has been plenty of discussion about the causes of Tampa Bay's 3-6-4 skid.

Though St. Louis on Monday was clear this was only one of several factors, he said, "At one point we kind of hit a wall."

As in players were tired? "I don't disagree with that," he said.

Perhaps it is not a coincidence, then, Boucher said that as the regular season winds down ahead of an expected playoff berth, "We're not going to be on the ice very often, that's for sure."

And when the team does practice, he added, "You kind of manage the minutes and intensity."

Quite a difference from when hourlong, game-speed practices were the norm to prepare for playing a system predicated on wearing down opponents.

The question is, did the pace also wear down the Lightning?

Boucher said he does not believe so: "If everybody was showing me the same thing, then I would say yes. But that's not the way it is. We have guys playing well and guys who are not, so it's different for everybody."

Boucher gives players at least one day off a week and, for the most part, has done away with game-day skates.

"We get a lot of rest, probably more than any team in the league," center Dominic Moore said. "We're in much better shape physically and mentally than probably a lot of other teams."

St. Louis, too, said Boucher is "good" at helping players stay fresh. And with the team four points from clinching a playoff spot, he is not advocating change.

"Why would you change anything?" he said. "Look where we are. We're a good team."

He's just saying: "We've always talked about playing playoff-style hockey from Day 1. We're trying to build the culture that we bring that. That's very demanding physically and mentally.

"This is a new (coaching) staff, a lot of new players. It's a new team, and when you go through it, especially when you're having success, you get wrapped up in it and you forget how hard it is. At one point we kind of hit a wall."

There is more to it, of course. Forwards played more minutes because of injuries to Vinny Lecavalier, Steve Downie, Simon Gagne and Ryan Malone that caused each to miss double-digit games.

Losing also feeds on itself.

"It puts you on your heels," St. Louis said.

Cutting back practices is a way to get players back on their toes.

St. Louis, whose average 21:09 of ice time is fourth among league wings, center Steven Stamkos, with three goals in 21 games, and Lecavalier had Monday off ahead of tonight's game with the Senators.

Boucher said other players will sit out practices, which will be somewhat less demanding.

It seemed to help during Saturday's 4-2 win at Carolina.

"We play harder than anybody," Boucher said. "We work harder than anybody. We wore teams down. We went back to that against Carolina, and I'm going to be the judge and the guy who is going to condemn whoever doesn't go along with that."

As general manager Steve Yzerman said, "You don't conserve energy. You go out there and try to win every game."

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

.Tonight

Lightning

vs. Senators

When/where: 7:30; St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa

TV/radio: Sun Sports; 620-AM

Key stats: Lightning LW Simon Gagne has six goals, 10 points in his past six games. … C Vinny Lecavalier has seven goals, 16 points in his past 15 games. … Tampa Bay's power play is on a 9-for-30 streak (30 percent). … The Senators are on a 7-3-1 road streak. … Ottawa has killed 72 of its past 75 penalties.

Tampa Bay Lightning working to help players stay fresh 03/28/11 [Last modified: Monday, March 28, 2011 9:28pm]
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