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Lightning live chat transcript

3

October

Lite Times beat reporter Damian Cristodero took your Lightning questions for an hour this afternoon live from Prague, site of the Lightning's season-opening games this weekend against the New York Rangers. Here is a full transcript:

(Pictured above: Lightning goalie Mike Smith makes a save during a preseason game against Slovan. AP photo.)

Q: What is your opinion of the Lightning giving Meszaros an "A" Did he do something in the preseason games we did not see, are they hoping he will led the D? -- HockeyRules!

DAMIAN: Yes, he is young and just joined the team, but this guy is going to be a featured player for Tampa Bay, and coach Barry Melrose wants him to be a leader now and in the future. He has been very good, I believe, in preseason and with 248 NHL games under his belt, he clearly is the most experienced blue-liner. Melrose also said he likes the idea of having a defenseman as an alternate (it is a very important part of the team, of course), especially one who will be on the ice as much as Meszaros: 25 to 30 minutes.

Q: DC, Has there been any indication of when Paul Ranger might be ready to return? -- Don in St. Pete

DAMIAN: The defenseman, out with a shoulder injury, was made a non-roster player today because he technically did not pass his physical. I've been told he could be ready to play by the Oct. 16 game against the Islanders. While part of the designation is certainly warranted (Ranger himself said a while back, he was not where he needed to be), it also buys Tampa Bay some time in dealing with a crowded roster. So, saying he is a non-roster player serves two purposes, and probably in the long run is better for Ranger as it gives him more time to heal.

Q: The concensus of most bloggers/fans is that the Lightning still have a D problem. Is the ownership actively pursuing any "good" D men? If so, who?, and what would be the TB offer for that D-man? Have not heard too much about Niskala or Craig. How has Craig been doing since his return from the IR? -- Tackleberry

DAMIAN: Yeah, there are concerns. It no doubt wil be a rough go early with such an inexperienced group. As for pursuing another defenseman, certainly Brian Lawton is keeping his eyes open, but to bring in any defenseman worth anything, the Lightning will have to trade, and with good D men at a premium it will cost plenty to go that route. So what do you do? Do you give away some of the infrastructure you've developed (and perhaps weaken it) to get stronger somewhere else? I believe the team will stand pat for now and re-evaluate after they see the results. Until then, get used to the group you have. Niskala, after starting fast, has kind of fallen back some. He still moves the puck but he's certainly not as visible as he was at the beginning. He's another guy that we'll have to evaluate over a longer haul. Ryan Craig has been his usual self so far, nothing spectacular, sturdy, workman-like. His knee seems to be holding up well.

Newdamian_2 Q: DC, what's your best guess on which winger joins Stamkos and Malone's line tomorrow? Have you seen any more fire out of Vrbata? -- Brent

DAMIAN: Was kind of interesting today at practice. Stamkos played with Radim Vrbata and Mark Recchi. Someone there, though, told me Melrose was likely using some deception for the benefit of the Rangers' coaches. Just a guess, but I suspect Stamkos will be with Vrbata and Malone. Vrbata has been a bit of a mystery. The team says he hasn't played well, which is why they are bumping him from line to line. Vrbata says he can't gain any chemistry if he plays with different people. That said, whoever Vrbata plays with, he needs to fight harder for pucks, be more aggressive getting into shooting lanes. Someone messaged me yesterday asking if they were moving him around because they think they made a mistake. Let's wait until we at least play a game before we make those judgments. It's not like he's Andrew Hutchinson. The guy did score 27 goals last year.

Q: If both goalies stay healthy does Coach expect M.Smith to play 60(?)games with Ollie the Goalie to see the remainder in the 20 to 24 games?

DAMIAN: Good question. It is, in the end, all about the goaltending, isn't it? Smith is the No. 1. Has been since Brian Lawton declared him so in the summer. All things being equal they want Smith to play the great bulk of the games. That doesn't mean he gets a pass, though. Kolzig has said though he is cool with the mentor role, he wants to play. Smith should be careful and stay at the top of his game.

Q: DC, Is there any indication if Lundquist will start both games in net for the Rangers? -- Don in St. Pete

DAMIAN: Don, as far as I know, Lundqvist will play both games. You know, all things can change but that's the last I heard at the arena today

Q: Have you heard of any NYR injuries or healthy scratches or any notable changes in their lines? -- Tackleberry

DAMIAN: Tackleberry, nothing that made any reporters run for the locker room.

Q: According to an article on ESPN.com, Ryan Malone is a better fit at left wing on the top line then Vinny Prospal. Has Prospal not been impressive in training camp? While I know you cant explain what made them say that, have you seen anything that would explain that view? Do you think that maybe Malones toughness would be a reason to make that move? I just dont like the idea of spliting the MVP line up. -- Michael

DAMIAN: Michael asked about Vinny Prospal and Ryan Malone. Do you really think that after all the success the MVP line has had, and the effort to bring Prospal back to the team for Vinny's sake, that the team would start the year with Malone on the top line? If they do, I believe it's a mistake. Vinny 4's line can only get better if it plays together. It has done so for only two games. Prospal was fine the past two games. Malone not only has the toughness to defend Stamkos on that line, but he has the skill needed to play with him, something, say Artyukhin does not. Could Prospal be moved off the line? Sure, could happen I guess. But not out of the box. I don't see breaking up one of the league's best lines the past few years without giving it a chance to play.

Q: Any idea how the D will be paired for tomorrow's game? -- Don in St. Pete

DAMIAN: Don, the only defensive pairing I'm sure of is Meszaros and Mihalik. After that, I don't trust anything from today. As I said, with the Rangers coaches watching, and Melrose's us-against-them approach, I believe he was showing lines and combos that won't be around tomorrow.

Q: DC, How does the team look are they ready for the game tomorrow? At work so I cannot chat long.. Go Bolts!! -- Hockey Chic

DAMIAN: Hockey Chic asked how the team looks. Tough really to answer. The goaltending has been brilliant, so that solves a lot of problems. The offense has sputtered, but I have to believe as Vinny 4 gets better, that, and the power play will improve. The defense is what it is. You're going to have to live with a lot of bumps early. But you also have to keep in mind. This team is being built for the longer haul. If the contracts signed work out, this team is locked in for several years to get better, so don't go jumping off buildings if things get off to a rocky start. The evaluation process really begins in December. So, that's a roundabout way of saying it would not surprise me if Tampa Bay won both games this weekend or lost both. Either way, I wouldn't read too much into either scenario.

Q: Any hype or rumors that Koci and Orr will go at it? Any other 'smack talk' floating around? -- Tackleberry

DAMIAN: Tackleberry, nobody talks smack before the first game of the season. Koci will be in the game because Orr will be in the game. That's how it's going to work with Koci. As Melrose said, "He's a specialist." Won't play all the time but when the other team has a legitimate threat. That said, I'm sure Koci wants to give Orr another try after what happened in New York. Not a beatdown, of course, but Orr won on points.

Q: DC - any word on why with Vrbata struggling the way he is there is not even a hint of his being "on the bubble" yet guys like Oullete and Ward who are playing well are? Vrbata is clearly in the dog house yet there isn't even a hint of moving him. Are the days of truely having to earn your spot (as opposed to having it handed to you) gone? -- Geografer

DAMIAN: Perhaps because they signed him for three years and paid him $9-million. Seriously, you're not comparing Jason Ward to Vrbata, are you? You know Jason Ward's track record, good for a game, gone for a dozen. Vrbata scored 27 goals last season. Ward, if used correctly, can be an asset. Vrbata is with a new team, trying to find his way. You don't make judgments on a player like that, especially a 20-goal scorer in six preseason games. And, really, Michel Ouellet had no chance here from the start unless he pulled a Jussi Jokinen. He didn't.

Q: Personally, I thought Vrbata played well against Slovan. These guys are still building their knowledge of each other and their chemistry. DC, Any idea who'll be playing the points on the top to PP units? -- Don in St. Pete

DAMIAN: Should be interesting. Meszaros is a given. But the team really wants a right-handed shot on the point to have that one-time capability from the middle, so don't be surprised if you see Steven Stamkos have a turn up there or Vrbata. Otherwise, you might even see Mark Recchi, a smart player who is responsible enough on defense to hold the last line of defense before the goaltender.

Q: If you get a chance, would appreciate your thoughts on Jamie Heward. A little surprised Ollie is getting the start Sunday, but I suppose when they are playing so few games this month you gotta give him a start and back-to-back games after busing around Europe is as good a spot as any. Thoughts? -- NJ Bolt

DAMIAN: NJ Bolt asked about Jamie Heward. I think he was available. They needed a defenseman fast and he was around and really cheap ($475,000 on a two-way contract). I think, for now, he's just insurance against injuries, and at least has some defensive sense and a resume if he is needed. Agree with you on Kolzig. Don't think his playing says anything about Smith. What it says is, hey, you had a great camp and you deserve to play. We have few games, as you mentioned, in October. We want both guys to stay sharp.

Q: Any comments on why you think Malone was not named an Alternate Captain? I was really disappointed to see that he wasn't given this title, particularly since the entire preseason he has seemed to be an obvious leader. I just don't get that one. -- Thunderstruck

DAMIAN: You have to remember, not all leaders wear a letter. Marty St. louis with an A was a no-brainer. I think the Meszaros thing says more about wanting to instill a little pride into a player the team wants to make sure stays focused and develops his talent. And, like I said, Melrose said he likes to have a defensman as at least an alternate. Meszaros is the best of the bunch. And as an aside, I don't believe Malone probably cares one way or another. Players know who the leaders are.

Q: Damian, what do the 3rd and 4th lines look like for tomorrow and Sun? Obviously, you just said Koci is in, but who else is playing, and with whom? -- Cleo

DAMIAN: As I said before I'm not trusting anything I saw today. The guys on those lines are so close as far as who should play and who shouldn't, there are some tough calls. But figure Artyukhin, Jokinen, Gratton for sure. After that, your guess is as good as mine.

Q: I like the idea of Vrbata and Stamkos getting a crack at the point on the PP. It could get them both a little more open ice to operate in. I'd have like to have seen Ramo one more time, but Olie will be the backup after all. Nothing yet on who will dress for the Rangers?

DAMIAN: Don, I really can't comment with any authority on the Rangers other than Lundqvist. Sorry.

DAMIAN: Okay, guys, that was a good hour. Time for me to get some dinner. Enjoy the game.

[Last modified: Sunday, August 16, 2009 4:38pm]

    

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