Andrej Meszaros benched tonight for Tampa Bay Lightning; says, "I have to be better"
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Andrej Meszaros did not cut himself any slack after Friday's morning skate, saying, in effect, he deserved to be benched for tonight's game with the Devils. Meszaros said it is the first time in his five-year career he has been a healthy scratch.
"It's tough. It's never happened to me before," Meszaros said. "Obviously, I'm disappointed. But on the other hand I know I haven't been playing well. ... I have to be better than I was."
Meszaros, who came to the Lightning from the Senators as an offensive force, has just three goals and eight points, and he has zero points in his past nine games. But worse has been his defensive play. Meszaros is minus-13, has been bad on positioning and is minus-13, one of the league's worst ratings. Meszaros said he has lost confidence.
"Sometimes it's hard when you're on the ice and it feels like every time you're on the ice they score on you," Meszaros said. "That won't give you confidence, and you start being shaky and not making good plays. 'What if I go and they beat me?' "
Coach Rick Tocchet, who hasn't been shy about benching some of his top players -- he sat Alex Tanguay for a Dec. 15 game at Nashville -- did not sow much sympathy.
"He put himself in this position," Tocchet said. "He hasn't played well. With him, we have to take a couple of steps back to get him to take a step forward; a night off, a good skate and watching and realizing we need more competitiveness. We need better puck decisions with him and more focus."
Meszaros, 24, just named to the Slovakia Olympic team, has been disappointing since he was acquired. After scoring 26 goals in 246 games with the Senators from 2005-08, Meszaros has just five in 94 games with the Lightning. He also is a cumulative minus-17.
Add what the Lightning gave up for him -- defensemen Alex Picard and Filip Kuba and a 2009 first-round draft pick -- and what he is making --$3.25 million in the second year of a six-year, $24 million deal - and the benching is even more notable.
"I know what I can do, and I know the coaches know what I can do and what kind of a player I am," Meszaros said. "I know I can be better, and I will be better. Hopefully, after this game, I will play (Saturday against the Flyers) and show the coaching staff and my teammates what kind of player I am and that I belong here."
Other stuff from the morning skate: With Meszaros out, Matt Walker will play for the first time in eight games. Walker missed six games with a lower-body injury and the past two as a healthy scratch. ... Defenseman David Hale also is scratched. ... Mike Smith gets his eighth straight start in net. He deserves it. He was not at fault in Wednesday's 5-3 loss to the Sabres. In fact, his teammates, in a lot of ways, hung him out to dry. ... Tocchet continued to be critical of center Blair Jones, who has zero goals in 12 games and missed on a great scoring opportunity against Buffalo. "I don't like his game the last three games," Tocchet said. And he wasn't alone. "It's just frustrating frustrating when you're getting the opportunities and you're not finding the back of the net. It wears on a guy." Jones agreed with Tocchet that he needs to be more aggressive following his shots to the net. "Just stick with the puck and look for rebounds and second chances," he said. ... Center Jeff Halpern, out five games with a lower-body injury, said he believes he might be ready for Tuesday's game at home against the Capitals. Tocchet said maybe, but seemed to have his sights set on Thursday's game with the Panthers. ... Left wing Todd Fedoruk, out five games with a right-knee injury, skated for the second straight day, but had no timetable for a return. ... Good quote from Devils coach Jacques Lemaire on Lightning center Steven Stamkos: "He's a great kid who knows the game. Very intense, good shot and a great shooter. Very dangerous in the offensive zone. You have to stay close to him. This kid is going to have a great future." ... New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur will make is 40th start. New Jersey will tonight play its 43rd game. Lemaire said he has no plan to rest Brodeur much before the February Olympic break. He said part of the reason is the heat the Devils, as the East's No. 1, feel from the feel, from the Sabres and Capitals. "We want to stay where we are right now," Lemaire said. "That's why we're playing him." ... What drives Brodeur? Lemaire said he loves the game (we can buy that) and he likes practice (that we're not so sure of). Brodeur skipped the optional morning skate and could not be asked about his feelings concerning practice. ... As well as the penalty kill is playing (it has killed 17 of its past 18 chances), that is how badly the power play is doing (1 of 18 in the past six games). Tocchet said there has been a little bit too much pitch and catch between point man Kurtis Foster and Vinny Lecavalier looking for one-timers. "When you struggle, you need the good old fashioned D to the half wall, down to the goal line, take it to the net," Tocchet said. "When you're going good on the power play, the cross-ice pass one-timer, they go in. When you struggle, they don't go in. That's why we have to get more meat and potatoes."