Along with wins and losses, Lightning players have something else to worry about . . . their jobs.
"I think (general manager Rick Dudley) and myself are going to sit back and put people in positions for the rest of the year where we're going to make evaluations on these guys and whether they're going to be part of our team the next couple of years," coach Steve Ludzik said before Thursday night's 2-1 overtime loss to the Canadiens at the Ice Palace.
That's not to say Ludzik is discouraged. He said he is happy with the players' attitudes and the players don't feel sorry for themselves despite the three-win, 24-game stretch.
"We have total confidence in the guys and the young kids, and believe they can play, and that's what we're going to look at," Ludzik said. "By no means are we turning our backs on the season."
Still, Ludzik said a tough, across-the-board evaluation is necessary in the building process.
"You've got to go through some pain to get where you've got to go," he said.
Defenseman Petr Svoboda likes Ludzik's challenge.
"It's not only about playing for a job but to have pride and do it every game," he said. "As an athlete, you are never satisfied losing. You've got to be the best you can be, and that's what he's preaching."
MIND GAMES: How delicate is the Lightning's confidence?
"In some situations, it is shaken up," center Vincent Lecavalier said.
Take Tuesday's 5-3 loss to the Maple Leafs in which Tampa Bay held a 3-0 lead late in the second period.
"We had to win that game. It was a must," Lecavalier said. "But we made a couple of mistakes, and we got nervous. Everybody was on their heels. . . . For sure, that last 20 games with two victories. It can get a little bit in our heads."
FUTURE SHOCK: Defenseman Chris McAlpine, acquired from the Blues in the Stephane Richer trade, is bullish on the Lightning's future.
"I knew this was a young team with a lot of potential but in a learning stage," he said. "It's kind of exciting to see. This team, when everyone gets on the same page, is going to be pretty good. Once we put it together for 60 minutes, it's going to be great."
SCRATCHES: Left wing Steve Guolla was a healthy scratch for the second straight game. Also scratched were center Dan Kesa (healthy) and McAlpine (concussion).
SPEAKER SERIES: Bobby Bowden will speak at the Ice Palace at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. The 60-minute talk, "Building a Winning Tradition," is open to all ticket-holders for that night's game.
_ DAMIAN CRISTODERO