We will get our first look tonight at Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Mattias Ritola
All anyone has said about Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Mattias Ritola since he was claimed off waivers from the Red Wings is that his skill level is off the charts. We will get our first look Saturday night, when he plays his first game of the season against the Panthers.
Ritola, 23, has watched from the press box and watched lots of video trying to put the Lightning's system into his head. But watching and playing are two very different things, and coach Guy Boucher is not expecting Ritola to be a standout.
"Right now, as far as the collective part of things, he's going to have trouble," Boucher said. "He hasn't had one game with us. It took everybody five games to figure out what to do, so he's going to be all over the place. We know that."
To ease the transition, Boucher said he will make sure he plays Ritola with veteran guys who "know what they're doing." Conventional wisdom says that will be with center Nate Thompson and Adam Hall. But Boucher hinted that he could construct a line with center Dominic Moore and Ryan Malone. if he does that, there will be other moves as well. We'll just have to wait and see.
Either way, Ritola said, "I'm ready to go out there now. I can see how he wants us to play. It's good. We're a fast team. All over the ice it's go, go, go.I like it. I like it a lot. It's a good way to play hockey."
And Ritola can play, Boucher said. "He's got tremendous skill. Not just good skill, tremendous skill. He's got incredible vision and he's really picking up his work ethic since the first day, and you could see today he was really driving out there" during the morning skate."
Gary Roberts update: As you probably know, the Stars hired former Lightning wing Gary Roberts as a player development consultant. That question is whether Roberts, a fitness guru, will be able to continue his summer workout programs with Lightning stars Steven Stamkos and wing Steve Downie. Both players swear by Roberts' methods. In fact, Roberts gets a lot of credit for helping Stamkos become the second-season phenom he was. Stars spokesman Rob Scichili, in a tex message, wrote that because Roberts is a concultant, "this Stars deal will not affect him doing side things with other players. He can continue to do so if he likes."
Parking lot football: Players are always doing things to get loose before games, practices or skates. The Lightning, like most teams, play a lot of soccer in arena hallways. Left wing Sean Bergenheim talked about a continuous handball competition of which he is currently the team champ. But things were a bit different Saturday as most of the media parking lot was taken up with a shirts and skins game of modified football being played by the Lightning before the morning skate. Defenseman Randy Jones described the rules as Ultimate Frisbee with a football. "It's better than doing stretching," defenseman Randy Jones said. "That was fun." It also probably will be a rarity. The Bank Atlantic Center is one of the few arenas that has a parking lot that is so accessible. Also, the weather was perfect. It was somewhat of a new experience for Bergenheim, who admitted that in his native Finland American football "isn't the biggest sport." And Jones joked Bergenheim was the team's ninth-string quarterback. Bergenheim took mock offense. "I didn't make any fumbles or bad passes."
Other stuff from the morning skate: Looked as if wing Dana Tyrell and defenseman Matt Smaby will be scratched. ... Dan Ellis gets his second straight start in net. ... How short will the leasch be on defenseman Mike Vernace, who was benched for a time in consecutive games for defensive blunders? ... Defensesman Victor Hedman has been very good this season at playing his position. He has not been very good at shooting the puck on net. Consider the big Swede has seven shots on goal, but also seven shots that have missed the net and two more blocked. Hedman said he is trying to be too fine with his shots. "Obviously, I'm not shooting for rebounds and trying to find the open part of the net," Hedman said. "As a defenseman, you get those opportunities, you want to make sure you hit the net. I've got to relax a little bit." That said, Hedman has impressed Boucher that he even creates as many scoring chances as he has. "He's created tons," Boucher said. "This is a guy who has really picked it up since Day 1. I really didn't think he was going to be where he is now. He's really progressing very fast. It's important he doesn't change his game, either. He's doing all the simple stuff right and he's using his speed. He's got okay hands and he shoots good, but his mobility is everything." ... Speaking of shooting, Boucher said any player, generally, needs to shoot for the middle of the net and not try to pick corners. "The bull's-eye is this big, and around it is your margin of error. So, you aim for the middle, but you very rarely get the middle. So, if you aim for the outside of that target, then you're totally outside for three quarters of your aim and you have a bigger chance to miss the net. So, aim for something more inside." ... Finally, happy 38th birthday to equipment manager Ray Thill, who got the customary shaving cream to the face and head.