Tampa Bay Lightning LW Ryan Malone finding niche on a checking line. Will goals be next?
Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ryan Malone is in a pretty bad scoring slump with zero goals in eight games and one assist in his past seven.
One reason for the lack of offensive production is that he is now on a line with center Nate Thompson and Jeff Halpern with a main responsibility of guarding the other teams' top lines. Still, as coach Rick Tocchet said, "He's struggled the last month, yeah. He knows it. The last couple of games he's gotten a bit better. When he's moving his feet, he's a lot more effective. He's not moving his feet like he was at the begriming of the year."
You remember the beginning of the year, right? When Malone was the team's first half MVP. But Malone has just two goals and six assists in his past 20 games. This at a time when the team is struggling, except for Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis, to light the lamp. If you read the game story from Tuesday's 3-1 victory over the Canucks, Stamkos and St. Louis have 16 of the team's 22 goals in the past nine games. Captain Vinny Lecavalier, with two, is the only other player with more than one goal in that stretch.
Tocchet said, as far as he knows, Malone is not hurt, and Malone said he is fine.
And while he is on a line more concerned with checking than scoring, Tocchet said that doesn't preclude chipping in, especially a player who can be so effective on that side of the puck.
"He's a big part of our team having that line that can, hopefully, be our shutdown line," Tocchet said. "Just because we're checking doesn't mean we're playing a one-four (defensive alignment). You just keep an eye on the other team's top lines, and you can still try to score goals."
Other stuff from the morning skate: No surprise, Antero Niittymaki with a 1.09 goals-against average and .965 save percentage while going 7-0-1 in his past eight starts, will be in net tonight. ... It appears as if Brandon Bochenski will be scratched again. ... Did you notice that on the play that ended Tuesday night against the Canucks with Lecavalier frustrated after Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo made an unbelievable glove save, Lecavalier passed off on the initial shot to Stephane Veilleux. Nothing against Veilleux but wouldn't you rather have the puck on Lecavalier's stick. Interesting, too, that Lecavalier still sounds like he's lacking confidence as he said he was thinking shot all the way until right at the end, when it didn't happen. What can Tocchet do? "I've been trying to get Vinny to play in the middle of the ice more," Tocchet said. "If he plays in the middle of the ice, there's more situations where you get bumped and you get in the game a lot quicker. For me, Vinny, being a big guy, he should be in the middle of the ice all night. That's the stuff I've been trying to get him to do all year. He gravitates to the right side all the time. If he can stay in the middle, I think he'll get more into the game a lot quicker and that stuff will flow. It's a mind-set he's trying to get better at." ... Speaking of that play, perhaps everyone who saw the replay believes the puck was over the goal line. But since it was in Luongo's glove and unseen, there was no way the replay guys in Toronto could overturn the no-goal call on the ice, which was the only call the refs could make. It illustrates again, though, how important is the initial call because the evidence has to be proof-positive to overrule. ... I loved this quote from Zenon Konopka, who leads the league with 192 penalty minutes and 22 fights. About Valentine's Day, he said, "You can say Konopka has always been known as a romantic fellow. Underneath all those stitches and armor is a romantic side. I've had a lot of different Valentine's Day ideas over the years that have worked out pretty god. When you look like this, you have to." ... Good stat: The Lightning and Red Wings are tied for fewest goals allowed at home with 59. ... At 10:30 after tonight's game on Sun Sports, "Inside the Lightning: Tools of the Trade" will give a behind-the-scene look at what the equipment guys go through. As someone who a few years ago actually worked back-to-back games with the equipment staff, it is a tough and thankless job that provides very little sleep or down time.