Melichar, Brookbank clear waivers
Defenseman Josef Melichar cleared re-entry waivers at noon today, has been assigned to the Lightning from AHL Norfolk and should be available for tonight's game with the Thrashers. If he plays, Melichar will be the 43rd player used by the Lightning this season, 10 off the team record set in 1999-2000 and 12 off the NHL record of 55 set by the 1991-92 Bruins. Melichar would also be Tampa Bay's 17th defenseman.
Adding the 30-year-old, who was assigned to AHL Norfolk after being acquired from the Hurricanes in the Jussi Jokinen trade, should take some pressure off a blue line that is really banged up and without Jamie Heward (concussion), Paul Ranger (upper body) and Andrej Meszaros (arm). In addition, Matt Smaby is expected to play but was walking around the locker room after the morning skate with a boot on his right foot.
Melichar gives Tampa Bay six defenseman for tonight's game as Marek Malik will play after missing nine games with a sore right ankle. Also expected to play are Cory Murphy, Lukas Krajicek and Steve Eminger.
Left wing Wade Brookbank, also acquired with Melichar from the Hurricanes, cleared waivers as well and was assigned to Norfolk.
Other stuff from this morning: As expected, Mike McKenna gets the start in net. In three games with Tampa Bay, he is 1-0-1 with a 1.57 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage. ... Fs Adam Hall and David Koci likely will be scratched. ... Coach Rick Tocchet said goaltender Mike Smith, out with post-concussion syndrome, according to the team, kept symptoms to himself. Smith said Monday he has experienced symptoms for about six weeks but did not tell anyone until after the Jan. 30 game against the Flyers. "Mike told me after the Philly game," Tocchet said. He didn't know he had a concussion then. He just told me he wasn't feeling well. ... I didn't have a clue until after the Philly game. I didn't know what it was or what was going on. He said he didn't feel well. Hopefully, the tests and stuff he's doing can get him back on the ice." Tocchet said he did not even suspect Smith had a problem before he was told. "To me, his mood and stuff did not change. I had no idea. We won big games and he was in net. He was happy after games, so I don't know. It kind of hit me out of the blue." ... Tocchet said one of the biggest challenges for the defense tonight against the Thrashers is to get more pucks to the net, something it did not do well Saturday against the Islanders. "I'm not blaming anybody specifically," he said. "I believe we got pucks to the point a lot last game. We had a lot of shots blocked and we didn't create any offense from up there. ... The onus is on the defense. When they get the puck, they have to make a play. It's not about just throwing it back into the corner." Defenseman Cory Murphy agreed. "That's more on us to do a better job of finding the holes," he said. "It doesn't have to be hard most of the time. If (a shot) gets through it's going to create a rebound or something. We hit a lot of sticks and kind of threw it behind th net a few too many times. It's tough sometimes because you have two guys stepping up to block it. But for us, that's our job, to create offense, and if you get those through, the rebound is sitting there and we have guys going hard to the net. When you have guys going to the net, it's up to us to get it there for them." ... McKenna is not getting too high from his early success. "I've been saying to everybody, we don't know how long this is going to last," he said. "It could be the high point of my career or a starting point. It's the nature of the game and we keep trying to put it in perspective. I know the reality of it. This is great. You think you are going to be her forever, but you've got a lot to prove. It's nice to start here on the right foot." ... How much does 19-year-old rookie Steven Stamkos look up to 41-year-old Mark Recchi? "If you look at a guy like that and watching his work ethic and how he handles himself on and off the ice, it gives you hope that you could one day be playing at that age and be as successful as him," Stamkos said. "That's my plan. I want to play this game as long as possible, and to be the best player I can be. If I can be at 40 years old, and having a season like he's having this season, I'd be a pretty happy guy."