As playoff hopes dwindle, Guy Boucher praises team for battling through what he says has been “a tough year”
Whether it comes from Guy Boucher himself or merely his players, there never ceases to be a varied list of reasons responsible for a loss following each and every defeat.
Take Thursday’s 3-1 setback to the Toronto Maple Leafs, for instance.
“We had a couple of little breakdowns,” forward Ryan Malone said.
“Our smarts weren’t there,” defenseman Brian Lee added.
“It didn’t feel like we had any sustained pressure,” center Tom Pyatt said.
But, for as much inconsistency that typically follows when it comes to reactive responses from players, Boucher has remained steadfast in identifying one quality in particular, this one of the positive variety, that has defined his team all season long with no regard to wins and losses.
“These guys never quit,” the Bolts head coach said.
Boucher conceded that the current 2011-12 Lightning campaign has been his most difficult year in hockey.
Injuries to several regulars throughout the year have resulted in a number of prospects from Norfolk of the American Hockey League being called up to Tampa Bay. Factor in a few trades that brought in new personnel, and Boucher has also had to frequently shuffle lines, mix and match defensive pairings and strive to find chemistry amongst a group of players who in some cases are unfamiliar with each other.
“Injuries and trades, those things are part of the game,” Boucher said. “But what we’ve gone through this year, that’s not part of the game. That’s just outrageous. It’s been one thing after another for us. Probably a set of circumstances that we’ll never see again.”
Boucher pointed to Mattias Ohlund beginning the season on Injured Reserve as being “a killer.” It also seemed to be the starting point that caused somewhat of a domino effect, as Victor Hedman also went down with not one, but two injuries, while Martin St. Louis and Ryan Malone also missed time. Captain Vincent Lecavalier has not played in the team’s past 12 games.
“It’s been a tough year,” Boucher added. “Everyone wants to make that the story of our season.”
But the Lightning have had to deal with more than just injuries this season.
At the start of the year, several new faces appeared around the locker room in what proved to be a harbinger for more moves to come leading up to the Feb. 27 trade deadline.
Taking the new personnel into consideration, Boucher said that it wasn’t fair to look at last season’s success and expect more of the same from this year’s club.
“It’s a different team,” the Lightning head coach told reporters on Thursday at the team’s morning skate. “[Simon] Gagne’s not here, [Sean] Bergenheim’s not here, and we had to elevate [Teddy] Purcell to the second line this season. Last year, Bergenheim and Purcell were making up the biggest part of our secondary scoring. Now, that third line’s not there and it’s changed the chemistry of our team.”
“There have been many circumstances that have been tough to deal with,” Boucher continued. “But I have the utmost respect in the world for our players, and their resiliency, for their commitment and for not quitting and fighting. It’s still there and it’s very impressive. Our barn is full almost every night, and it hadn’t been like that for a long time, so I think that shows how much our fans appreciate how hard these guys work.”