ATLANTA — With a 5-15-4 record, last season was a dismal one for the Lightning against the Southeast Division.
That is why coach Rick Tocchet is putting so much emphasis on tonight's season opener against the Thrashers at Philips Arena and the four games against division opponents among Tampa Bay's first five.
"These aren't just regular-season games," Tocchet said. "These are going to be nasty, playoff-style games. We're going into Atlanta ready to put up a good fight."
Tampa Bay was 2-3-1 last season against the Thrashers. It was 0-4-2 against the Hurricanes, whom it faces Tuesday in Raleigh, N.C., and Oct. 10 at home, and 3-2-1 against the Panthers, whom it faces Oct. 12 at home.
"That's big for me to create a little bit of a realization that these games in our division are four-point games," Tocchet said. "If there's any indication the way the guys approached training camp and exhibition games, I think the guys will be ready and we'll see that type of hockey."
G Mike Smith sounded sure, as well.
"If this team is going to make the playoffs like we plan, those division games are huge," he said. "We have a good bunch of guys in this locker room who can turn a lot of heads this year. No better way to do it than to get a couple of wins against division rivals right away."
"I like the swagger of some of the guys on our team right now," Tocchet said. "We're not overconfident. But I like that guys are confident we can compete in this league. It's nice."
OATES SIGNS: The Lightning signed Adam Oates to a one-year contract as an assistant coach. Oates worked with the power play during preseason as an unpaid consultant as a favor to Tocchet, his buddy and former Capitals, Bruins and Flyers teammate.
The team's power play ranked fourth in the league at 24.4 percent (10-for-41).
"But I don't want to be just a power-play guy," said Oates, 47, a first-time coach. "Whenever you see something, I just want to talk and provide information and get everybody's strengths and weaknesses and find chemistry and help the organization in all aspects of the game."
That already is happening, GM Brian Lawton said.
"He's bringing a wealth of knowledge on the power play," he said. "But in my opinion, he's doing more than that in a variety of areas. I think he's a great addition to our staff."
LOISELLE OUT: Imran Khan is a co-assistant GM after the contract of Claude Loiselle, in that position since 2005, was not renewed.
Khan, 26, who for a year was in charge of business development and strategic planning for the Lightning, is a former intern of Lawton's at the Octagon sports management agency, where Lawton ran the hockey division.
Khan will handle collective bargaining administrative issues and contract research, Lawton said.
ASHTON SIGNS: Carter Ashton, 18, drafted 29th overall in June, signed a three-year entry-level deal. He will play this season in Lethbridge of the Western Hockey League and begin his pro career in 2010-11.
ODDS AND ENDS: LW Mitch Fritz cleared waivers and was assigned to AHL Norfolk. … G Jaroslav Janus, drafted in the sixth round (162nd overall) in June, signed a tryout contract with AHL Norfolk.