Baby blue line debut is tonight
The last thing you would think the Lightning needs is to get any younger on defense. But with Jamie Heward out for the foreseeable future with a concussion, Tampa Bay had to make a move, bringing up Ty Wishart from AHL Norfolk. Wishart, 20, who will wear No. 3, will make his NHL debut tonight against the Hurricanes at the St. Pete Times Forum. He joins Matt Smaby, 24, who has played 19 NHL games, and Vladimir Mihalik, 21, who has played three.
"You can't change your system," coach Rick Tocchet said. "When you have younger guys come in, the thing they want to do is they get nervous and try to retreat. We don't want them to retreat. We want them to have gap control, play the same way they do (in Norfolk). We don't want them to change their games because they're up here. That's the message we gave them today."
Wishart said all he wants to do is play a smart, positional game. The Belleville, Ontario, native, acquired from the Sharks in the Dan Boyle deal, has a goal and three points in 31 games for the Admirals. He admitted he was not playing well until his past eight or nine games.
"It's improved a lot," he said. "The first part of the season, I wasn't playing too physical and playing a little more defense than I should have, a little more tentative. The last eight, nine games, I really stepped up and played a lot more physical, and jumping in the play a lot more."
Norfolk GM Mike Butters agreed.
"He's always progressed, but he really took a leap forward in his development," Butters said. "He's had five or six consistently strong games. It's good to see him rewarded with a call-up."
Whatever the configuration of the blue line and whoever plays with whom, the team has to get better efforts from vets Andrej Meszaros and Marek Malik, both of whom were terrible Thursday against the Capitals.
Said Tocchet: "We need a bounce-back game from those guys."
Other stuff from this morning: Mike Smith gets the start in goal, but Tocchet said Karri Ramo likely will play Sunday in Atlanta. ... Tocchet called the power play, on a 5-for-56 stretch, "God awful. The frustrating part as a coach is seeing the guys we have without scoring and not getting chances to contribute." He stressed how important is the reunited MVP line of Vinny Lecavalier, Vinny Prospal and Marty St. Louis, which had two goals and five assists against Washington. "If that line is not going to be good for us, we can't win," Tocchet said. "I hate to put pressure on those guys, but we need them to score every night or generate something every night." ... Wing Jason Ward sustained a leg injury at Norfolk serious enough that he was brought to Tampa for "evaluation," believed to be an MRI. Ward was in an awkward position with 20 seconds left in a game Wednesday night and took a hit that injured his right leg, according to Butters. ... Left wing Gary Roberts (elbow) still is probably two or three weeks away from playing, Tocchet said. No surgery for what Tocchet called "a pretty messed up" elbow. Just rest. ... Left wing David Koci (hand) is skating with the team.