Lightning buying into coach

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

MONTREAL -- The Tampa Bay Lightning are flying around the ice, two-on-ones breaking down toward opposite ends simultaneously.

Rookie coach Guy Boucher, a clenched fist of a man on the ice, doesn't like what he sees.

"Start again, start again, start again," he yells.

A few minutes later, he's altered the drill.

"Chip the puck, chip it. Skate!" he screams.

Shortly after that, the players have broken into groups. There are five coaches on the ice. The defence is working on taking pucks off the glass and setting up one-timers. A group of five players huddles around a whiteboard with a coach. Others practice faceoffs and a goalie works on his lateral movement.

And this was the Lightning's morning skate Wednesday before having to face the Canadiens at night.

Boucher and his players looked like they accomplished more than some teams do in two days of practice.

"He's demanding and intense," said Lightning for-w a rd Steven Stamkos of Boucher. "He has a plan, he sticks to it and we know what's expected of us. He's got the respect of every single player. There's a little fear there, too."

Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier has embraced Boucher's theories and structure after the gong show that was Tampa hockey the past few years.

"Last year is last year. I don't want to talk about that," Lecavalier said when somebody asked him to compare how things have changed. "Everything is very structured and it's a great way to bring the team together. Everybody has been impressed with the first three or four weeks. I think it's been great.

"You'd expect a first-year coach to come in a be a little tentative, like a player in his first game in the NHL, but you see how confident he is. Everybody is impressed with the way he talks to the players."

Everybody talks about tempo. Boucher has the Lightning living it.

Lecavalier said Boucher has Tampa playing a system no other team in the league is using.

What makes it so different?

"How aggressive it is," Lecavalier said. "We're suffocating the opposition. We want to be first on the puck, no matter what."

With one guy? Two? "Many guys," he said.

The captain also likes the way Boucher has handled the power play.

"He brings so much to it. We've never practised it so much. We used to practise it once every two weeks. Now we practise it every day and there's meetings and video."

Boucher's got a few theories. One is that 80% of all goals are scored through the involvement of the defencemen, so getting them the puck and involved in the play is important. Four of the Lightning's five goals in their season-opening win over the Atlanta Thrashers were started by defencemen.

The forwards have to be in the right spots to take advantage. Both of Stamkos' goals against Atlanta came on tip-ins in front.

"You go to those areas without even thinking about it now because we've been practising it so much," Stamkos said.

To be as aggressive as Lecavalier was talking about, Boucher doesn't want his players taking shifts longer than 35 seconds. Most coaches like their shifts around 45 seconds, but Boucher figures if a player is on the ice that long, he's either dead tired and ineffective or hasn't been going as hard as his system demands.

He doesn't think any of his forwards should be playing more than 20 minutes in a game, if possible.

It's going to be interesting to see how Boucher's approach plays out.

He's made the big first step and that's having the players buy what he's selling.

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