TAMPA — What is the most significant contribution coach Rick Tocchet, associate coach Mike Sullivan and assistant Wes Walz have made to the Lightning's improvement?
A fairly strict on-ice structure, C Vinny Lecavalier said.
"It's black and white on the ice," he said. "This is what you have to do, and if you don't do it this way, it's wrong."
Lecavalier said the system allows for creativity, but basic breakouts and coverages are well scripted as part of Tocchet's "play as five" program that has produced a 10-7-1 record since Dec. 23.
"We play as a group; not one guy going over here and another guy going over there," Lecavalier said. "We're playing together, and it shows. Hockey is a team game, and the only way you can win is if you play as a team."
Lecavalier said the staff gets its point across with detailed video sessions, much more so than when Barry Melrose coached.
"There wasn't as much structure as there is now, and that's important," he said. "And that's what Toc and Sully and Walzy gave us; that system and structure to make the team win.
"But you can't just do it in one day or the next. You can't tell us, 'This is the system,' and start winning. We've been doing it a while now. And we're getting better every game."
KOLZIG SURGERY: Backup G Olie Kolzig will have surgery today to repair a torn distal biceps tendon in his left arm. But Kolzig, whose season is over, won't be away from the team for long.
Tocchet said he wants him around his teammates, especially G Mike Smith, for whom Kolzig, 38, has become a kind of guidance counselor. He also might be the team's eye in the sky during games.
"He's an extension of us," Tocchet said of the coaches. "A guy of that stature, I'd like him to be around."
"He wants me to be around the team," Kolzig said. "I love that."
RESPONSIBLE RESPONSE: Tocchet said he understands why Smith took the blame for Thursday's 3-2 loss to the Hurricanes: "He's a leader and putting it on himself. Leaders do that."
What the coach really liked, though, was how teammates defended Smith.
"That's having your goalie's back and your teammate's back, and that's the way I preach on the ice," Tocchet said.
OH-FER: F Jussi Jokinen does not have a goal in 30 games. His last came Nov. 13 against the Red Wings, Melrose's last game before being fired.
ODDS AND ENDS: Two goals by Jeff Carter gave the Flyers center a league-best 32. … Jokinen and F Ryan Craig were scratched.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8622.