TAMPA — Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said he still is working on the sheet he will use to grade players going to the front of opposing nets.
Not that he needed it to critique Sunday's 7-3 loss to the Devils.
"That game would have been a zero," Tocchet said. "We didn't need paper on that one."
Tampa Bay, which tonight faces the Rangers at the St. Pete Times Forum, needs to spark an offense last in the league with 45 goals. Tocchet hopes tracking how infrequently his players generally get to the net at least will put it in their minds to get there.
He even has a name for it: Net Presence.
"Teams are coming into our building and getting in our goalie's face, and I don't see the same desperation from us," Tocchet said. "If we're going to have the mind-set we're going to make pretty plays from the perimeter, we can't win. We have to take pucks to the net."
"It's the only way," wing Mark Recchi said. "We're not going to score pretty goals on the outside. We haven't done it all year. You've got to get ugly. You have to have a thought process that as soon as you get the puck, it's going on net and to get guys going to the net. Eventually things will open up."
Perhaps that helps a power play that entered Tuesday 24th in the league and on a 3-for-27 streak. And maybe it helps Tampa Bay's average shots grow from 29.7, 17th in the league.
Still, more shots won't do much unless screens are created and people are looking to pounce on rebounds. Goalies are too good, and defenses more than ever collapse around the crease.
Tocchet, who spent much of his 19 NHL seasons in front of opposing nets, doesn't understand why this is an issue. It's not like the old days, he said, when "you had to go through cross-checks and elbows, and it was never a penalty because it was a little bit of a war in there."
With the anti-obstruction rules, Tocchet said, "You should not be afraid to go in front of the net. The defense can't cross-check you any more. And it annoys goalies. Mike Smith is always yelling in practice we need guys in front. 'I can see shots, get in front of me.' "
Tocchet said his edict is for players "all through the lineup," even stars Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis.
"They can make some pretty plays, but they have to go to the net," he said. "If you beat a guy to the corner, don't pass it to a guy in the slot, take it to the net."
"When you're struggling for goals, it's the best place to find them," forward Ryan Craig said. "Once you figure that out, you should stay there."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.