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Discipline, limiting penalties will be key to Lightning’s success

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

It didn’t matter who spoke up in the Lightning locker room following Thursday’s 4-1 win over the Islanders. The consensus was reached as to reasons why and how the team snapped a season-high five-game losing streak.

“We stayed disciplined,” Ryan Malone said.

“It was about discipline,” added Lightning coach Guy Boucher. “Everybody was on the same page.”

The team is well aware that in order to be successful this season, it will have to take less penalties and play a more disciplined game. Through its full-on admission, players stewed over the fact that too many infractions during the home opener in a 7-4 loss to the Panthers on Monday night stole many of the headlines that were to otherwise be reserved for the grand debut of the newly-renovated St. Pete Times Forum.

The Lightning allowed five power-play goals, a team record at home, after being called for 11 penalties totaling 33 minutes. To put it in perspective, the Bolts spent more than half of an entire regulation hockey game in the penalty box.

After eliminating each of its opponent's first 22 man-advantage chances to start the season, Tampa Bay allowed seven power play goals in the two losses to Florida prior to Thursday night’s victory.

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“One thing we can all do a better job of is sticking to our structure,” winger Teddy Purcell said. “It’s not all going to change in one shift or in one game, but we have to gradually build up to it.”

The steady improvement shouldn’t take long with Boucher at the helm considering that he has been successful in implementing drastic changes before, and doing so rather quickly.

Last season, his first with the Bolts, the Lightning finished eighth during the regular season in penalty killing of all 30 teams in the league. That was prior to the team’s lengthy postseason run, in which Tampa Bay had even more success while shorthanded, finishing second out of 16 clubs with a mark of 92.3 percent.

Only the Montreal Canadiens, at 100 percent, ranked ahead of Tampa Bay during last spring’s playoffs, but likely because they only played seven games as opposed to the Lightning’s 18 and didn’t make it out of the first round. In each of the five seasons before Boucher’s arrival, the Bolts never finished higher than 18th in the penalty kill. Instead, Tampa Bay continually found itself either in or very near the bottom third of the league standings when it came to eliminating opposing chances with the man advantage.

Thursday night saw a vast improvement, as the Lightning were called for just three penalties, including one as the game ended, and went a perfect two-for-two on the penalty kill.

“That’s the way we want to play,” captain Vincent Lecavalier said. “Last year we were successful because we played like that.”

According to Lightning defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, Monday’s defeat was especially frustrating due to the nature of the infractions, which were characterized by Boucher as “lazy.”

“Staying disciplined really should be easy to do,” he said. “We’re all professionals, we’re all in the NHL, so we know what a penalty is and we’re better than that. There are some you have to take, but the majority of the time, if you’re responsible and stay in position you won’t have to take them. That’s definitely one of the things we have to take care of and work on. We’ve got to get our heads in the right place.”

Boucher added that while he has been very pleased with the things that his team has done well, specifically praising its five-on-five play while at even strength, the club’s tendency to get into penalty trouble not only decreases the team’s chances of putting pucks in the net and thus winning games, but also swings the advantage over to the opponent to do just that.

The head coach sees it as a philosophy, that if reversed, could be the prime difference-maker moving forward.

“If we can cut out these penalties, even in half, we’ve got a whole new game,” Boucher said. “The entire dynamic changes. We’ve got to focus on the things we have to improve, but at the same time recognize what we’re doing right and what’s improving. If we don’t do that, we’re going to get lost in this process, and that’s not us. But we’re going to get through this. We’re fighters.”

Of course, though, not in the sense that yields five minutes in the penalty box.

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