Ranger's return imminent
Forget Marek Malik, the Lightning might be getting defenseman Paul Ranger back for Thursday's game against the Islanders. We likely won't know officially until tomorrow, but Ranger on Monday flew to Birmingham, Ala., to consult with noted orthopedist James Andrews, who performed the arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn labrum in Ranger's right shoulder.
What would Ranger's return mean to a team that has struggled with the transition game?
"What would any best defenseman on the team coming back to the lineup mean?" coach Barry Melrose said. "That's what it means to us. We get another big body that skates well. He's important to us."
Rangers' confident first pass out of the defensive zone will be the biggest addition. Even Melrose has said the blue line has struggled with the transition because of a lack of composure in the defensive zone, where players are more likely to wrap the puck around the boards than hold for a second and look for a play.
Said Ranger: "I just want to get back in there and play."
As for Malik, he is not expected to show up until later in the week, perhaps Wednesday or Thursday. The thinking is the Lightning wants to see him skate first before making the signing official, but that is just me speculating.
Tomorrow's main story in the paper explores just what the heck is wrong with the Lightning so far. We know the obvious signs:
Not getting the puck and bodies to the net, a lack of production by star players, a transition game hindered, Melrose said, by the defense's lack of composure with the puck and a lack of physical play.
But Melrose and the players made the case on Monday that it comes back to play in the Lightning's defensive zone, not just by the defense but the forwards as well. Think back to Saturday's game with the Hurricanes. When Tampa Bay was aggressive and forcing the play, Carolina was on its heels and taking penalties and falling behind 3-0. But when Carolina surged, the Lightning retreated, almost conceding control of the puck in some cases. One of the goals in the Hurricanes' four-goal surge came after the team relentlessly cycled in the Lightning zone without challenge.
Said right wing Marty St. Louis: "We can't have a team cycle us to death for an extended time. You get tired when that happens, and once you get the puck, it's a dump-in and you're off the ice. You can't create like that. All five of us in the end zone, we have to find a way to break the cycles, get the puck back and get it out; not at the end of a shift when you've got to get off the ice. Break the cycles midway through shifts and you still have energy to go on offense."
Coach Barry Melrose addressed those concerns Monday at practice, pushing the players to battle in five-on-five drills and then in one-on-one puck battles.
"We're brutal at that," Melrose said of winning those battles. "If you're going to win in today's NHL, you have to win the physical battles. That's what we worked on (Monday). We'll work on them (Tuesday). We'll work on them Wednesday and continue to work on them."