Melrose: Time for stars to step up
I wrote about this earlier in the week but you have to like a coach who at least puts his stars on notice that they aren't playing as well as they should. I don't know what he can do about it if they keep underachieving. It's not like Tampa Bay is so deep he can start benching a lot of people, right? But at least he's making the effort.
So, from today's morning skate:
"I'm going to give our skill guys a chance to get going, but it's time for them to start doing the things we hoped they would do. ... It's time for some guys in our lineup to start going. They've played four games now. If you're a goal scorer and not scoring, what else are you giving our team? They have to decide. If you're not scoring and everybody goes into a slump, you've got to help the team in other ways. It's time for some of our stars to put the puck in the net and start helping us out all over the rink."
Thing is, we saw what happens when Tampa Bay players decide they're going to really play and get to the net and work for position and the puck: three goals in a third period against the Islanders to salavage a point it appeared they wouldn't get.
"In today's game, you have to go to the traffic areas to score," Melrose said. "You have to get to near the front of the net and you have to shoot the puck and score rebounds and tip-ins. Pretty goals are tough to come by in today's NHL with everybody coming down and protecting the front of the net."
Melrose didn't name names, but it's not hard to tell to whom he was referring. Marty St. Louis with four shots on goal, Radim Vrbata with zero points and demoted for tonight's game against the Wild to Chrs Gratton's line; Ryan Malone, though he scored the other night, has seven shots on goal.
What do you think of Vrbata's response?
"It's a team game," he said. "Obviously, the goal scorers are here to score goals, and we scored some goals. But we still made some mistakes defensively, and we're taking to many penalties. I think those penalties are the worst thing, since training camp, because the goal scorers are sitting on the bench and out of the play. When you're sitting on the bench for four minutes if you take two penalties in a row, it's tough to get back into it."
So, as we discussed in the paper the other day, when things are tough, the goal scorers have to come to the rescue. They did it Thursday against the Islanders. The team needs much more of the same. It needs what Melrose said Vinny Prospal brought against New York.
"Vinny was the one guy who wouldn't quit," Melrose said. "Vinny was out there winning battles and going to the front of the net and honding the puck, and then all of a sudden another line starts doing it and another line starts doing it. I thought he was awesome."
Other stuff from this morning: Mike Smith will start in goal. ... Defenseman Marek Malik will not dress as Melrose said his conditioning is not where it needs to be. Not surprising, really. It's tough to push yourself when skating alone, as he had been doing in the Czech Republic. Tuesday against the Thrashers is still a possibility. ... Melrose called Minnesota's Mikko Koivu "one of the five best young players in the game." ... Center Ryan Craig (groin) skated with the team, and Melrose said he is "close" to being ready to play. Craig called it "a positive step forward." ... David Koci and Jason Ward are scratched again, as is defenseman Jamie Heward.