by Mike Chen on 11/19/08 at 02:20 PM ET
One of the biggest supposed complaints Lightning players had about Barry Melrose was that he lacked a real system. If the Bolts looked lost during games, it sounds like it was because they literally were—true defined roles and systems weren’t in place.
Whether it’s because the players didn’t gel with Melrose or because Rick Tocchet is offering some more structure, the two games that Tampa’s played has shown some statistical differences. No, not in the win column (though two shootout losses in two games isn’t exactly terrible) but more so in ice time:
Vincent Lecavalier: Lecavalier was averaging around 17 minutes a game under Melrose (side note: Melrose claimed that Lightning ownership asked him to restrict Vinnie’s minutes so he wasn’t burned out) but Tocchet has had him around the 21 minute mark for both games. It’ll help that Lecavalier’s shoulder will get stronger as the season progresses; against Florida, Lecavalier put up seven shots on goal.
Steven Stamkos: There’s easing a player into the system and then there’s limiting their ability to blossom. Most hockey pundits would have said that Stamkos should get between 13 and 17 minutes a game depending on how he’s skating that particular night. Melrose kept his numbers low, sometimes even under ten minutes a game. Stamkos is now seeing time with Lecavalier and St. Louis while getting increased ice time. In other words, young Stamkos is finally being given the opportunity to succeed rather than kept in a protective bubble.
The Tampa Defense: Melrose was riding some of his not-ready-for-prime-time blueliners at absurd levels for much of the season. When (now-departed) Matt Carle was hitting 30-minute levels, you know there’s a problem. Melrose tapered some this into a more balanced level as time went on, and so far Tocchet has distributed his defensive ice time with a more even-keeled approach.
Radim Vrbata: Despite a good season last year, the talented Vrbata has never been known as a great team player or a hard worker. For whatever reason, Vrbata looked like a scrub under Melrose, often riding the bench. Perhaps he was disgruntled from lack of ice time and opportunity or perhaps he had personality differences with Melrose; whatever the case, Vrbata has had his first point streak of the season while seeing 17+ minutes of ice time under Tocchet.
The season is far from over and the Lightning, currently just a few points behind the jam-up for eighth place. Tocchet had a first-hand view of what did and didn’t work under Melrose, and he’s got a clean slate to get things going. The most important thing for the Lightning to make sure small positives turn into big positives?
Simple. How about a little stability in the locker room?
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