Alex Tanguay and Jeff Halpern benched for Tampa Bay Lightning; two D at forward
Quite a morning here in Nashville leading up to tonight's game with the Predators.
Saying it's time to get things "straightened out," Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet, whose team has won just once in nine games, benched left wing Alex Tanguay and center Jeff Halpern, and put center Vinny Lecavalier on what has to be considered a second line with Steve Downie and Paul Szczechura.
Lecavalier has played with both wings before, so the bigger story clearly is Tanguay and Halpern. With three forwards scratched, including left wing Todd Fedoruk, the Lightning will go with eight defensemen, including David Hale and Kurtis Foster, both of whom skated this morning as forwards with center Zenon Konopka.
"Maybe this will shock a lot of people, I don’t now. Honestly, I don’t care," Tocchet said. "We have to get this thing straightened out and it's on the coaches and on the players right now. We’re eight of nine. We lose because teams are better than us, you can live with that. But I think there are some games we were outplaying a team and for whatever reason we just went the other way. It's mind-boggling and it's just not going to happen anymore. If I have to play a defenseman at center because we don't have guys doing a job, we’re going to have to do it until we do other things. But right now, I can only control the guys that are here."
Tanguay's benching is clearly because of his play. He has four goals, zero in 14 games. Halpern, though, is a bit more mysterious. Tocchet said it was not because of his play but because of a "team thing between me and him." Tocchet did not divulge much more except to say Halpern did not break any team rules - "Halpy's a solid citizen" - and that it was a "one-game thing."
"Halpy knows it and we're ready to move on from it," Tocchet added.
Halpern declined to elaborate but said Tocchet's characterization was "fair."
As for Tanguay, Tocchet said his benching also is for one game, "Alex has to get in position of tracking the right way and slashing across the ice. It’s one game. He’ll get back in, but he has to take a step back here and clean up his game."
Tanguay, clearly did not agree with the decision and at first declined comment, but later said, "What is there to say? I try my hardest. ... The team is slumping. I'm a big part of it. We'll see."
Bottom line, Tocchet said, "Whether it’s a shock thing for everybody, I really don’t care what the message is other than the fact that we need results. We have to be able to play 60 minutes, not 30 minutes and because we’re down a goal everybody does their own program. Ultimately, it falls on me, so we’re going to find guys who can stick with the plan."
So, here are the lines as they ran at the morning skate. Tocchet said depending on how the game goes, other players may be scratched for Friday's game with the Red Wings:
Ryan Malone-Steven Stamkos-Marty St. Louis
Paul Szczechura-Vinny Lecavalier-Steve Downie
Stephane Veilleux-Blair Jones-James Wright
David Hale-Zenon Konopka-Kurtis Foster
Other stuff from the morning skate: Antero Niittymaki gets the start in net. ... Hale said he has never played wing before in the NHL. "You just have to be clear on what to do," he said. "It's definitely different. Just go to work." Foster, who has played several games at wing this season, had this advice: "As cliche as it is, just keep it as simple as possible. Get it out at the blue line and in at the red line. We're guys who can't afford to turn over the puck." ... Konopka said he took five stitches in his left cheek after Chicago's Ben Eager popped him as their fight ended Sunday night. Konopka said Eager, who was on his back, hit him while they were disengaging. "I should have known better than to let go," Konopka said. ... Blair Jones, who was called up for the third time since Dec. 3, said he is just happy to be back, though all the travel has limited him to one game with AHL Norfolk since he was originally sent down on Dec. 6 after playing two games with Tampa Bay. Asked if he gets to keep the frequent flier miles, he said, "I should have signed up." ... Fedoruk on his scratch: "I'm (upset). I just want to play."