Second line questions
Lots of talk today about the second line of Brad Richards and wings Michel Ouellet and Jan Hlavac. First there are the numbers, zero goals, zero points in two games. Remember, Richards' two goals came on special teams. Then there is the perspective. It has been just two games and, considering Ouellet's hamstring strain in preseason, the trio has played together just three games, including the preseason finale at Dallas. Not very much time to develop chemistry.
Still, there is much interest in the group after the organization signed Hlavac and Ouellet as free agents to give Richards the finishers he did not have last season.
Coach John Tortorella, too, kept smart perspective. "We're going to give them time to come together, as long as it's a two-way street in understanding the effort we need.''
It has been an interesting process. Hlavac played the past three seasons in Europe and Ouellet was with the Penguins last season. Both said the transition from always trapping to Tampa Bay's generally puck-pursuit system has been a challenge.
"It's so different,'' Ouellet said. "It's more aggressive. Here, you create turnovers with pressure. I had a lot of questions for the coaches.''
On the good side, Tortorella and Richards said things are definitely moving in the right direction. Tortorella said of the Thrashers game, "They played well off one another.'' He even praised Ouellet for doing a better job in puck battles.
"Dallas to New Jersey to Atlanta, we're a lot better,'' Richards said. "We were involved. We had chances. We were close. We just have to take the next step.''
Still, the questions is, is two games too early to start having concerns?
Hlavac doesn't seem to think so. He said he was "disappointed" and "frustrated" he hasn't scored after getting 20 in 41 games last season in his native Czech Republic. Then again, he joked, "Jagr hasn't scored, too.''
Also, a couple injury updates: Andreas Karlsson practiced for the first time since straining his abdomen on Oct. 1. The team said it will wait to see how he reacts on Tuesday before thinking about putting him the lineup Wednesday against the Panthers. ... Also, Dan Boyle (wrist) continues to skate, though he still can't grip his stick with his left hand.