TAMPA — Lightning LW Simon Gagne said he never before was in a situation where the preseason meant so much.
Joining a new team, learning a new system, playing for a coach who demands games be played with playoff intensity, Gagne said there was no easing into things.
All of which makes notable his three goals and six points in four games.
"That's a top-notch player," coach Guy Boucher said Saturday night at the St. Pete Times Forum after Tampa Bay ended its preseason with a 4-1 victory over the Panthers. "Since Day 1, whether it's practice or games, he just knows exactly what to do and when to do it. He's a tremendous hockey player."
Gagne, 30, obtained from the Flyers for D Matt Walker during the summer, gave the coaches confidence to use him in any situation. A mainstay on the power play, Gagne also solidified his reputation as a solid two-way player and saw significant time on the penalty kill.
"He's an amazing two-way player," Boucher said. "And you can see the offense he's got. He can do it all."
"It just takes a bit of the pressure off," Gagne said of his successful preseason. "Now I can focus on starting strong here at home (in Saturday's season opener) against the Thrashers."
ROSTER: With C Dominic Moore (groin), RW Teddy Purcell (charley horse) and D Randy Jones (finger) questionable for Saturday, final cuts might wait until their status is clearer. Teams have until 3 p.m. Wednesday to submit their 23-man rosters.
EASY AS 1, 2, 3: Boucher said there is no problem with occasionally putting centers Steven Stamkos and Vinny Lecavalier on the same line because his system does not mandate traditional roles for left wings, right wings and centers.
In fact, Boucher said he calls his forwards F1, F2 and F3.
"The thing I hate most is you're this or you're that," he said. "It limits people to certain areas or aspects of the game. I like to keep it open.
"You start with a left wing, a right wing and center man on your faceoffs. But when you backcheck, when you forecheck, you don't always end up in the perfect spot you're supposed to."
The mistake at that point, Boucher said, is trying to get to where the textbook says you should be.
"Well, all of a sudden, your game is dead because you're wasting all that energy you could be using applying pressure," he said. "By the time you get back to your side, the other team has a few shots."
In other words, "I want guys to be first on the pucks, so it doesn't really matter what position you play. We'll adjust after we're first on the puck."
NO NUMBERS, PLEASE: Boucher said he does not want players fixated on stats because they can create artificial expectations and anxiety.
"When you start talking about numbers, that's when I find the guys are just strangled," Boucher said. "That's when they suffocate, and you wonder how come they're not performing. That's something for fans. It's something for media. But when you put that in the players' minds, you lose them.
"So for the team, there are no numbers involved. We just have to get better every day."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.