Malone, entering his 600th game, happy to play anywhere
Lightning left wing Ryan Malone plays his 600th game tonight against the Red Wings in Detroit. He will do so on the fourth line centered by Nate Thompson.
But for Malone, who started the season on the first line with center Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis, it is more important that he is simply playing rather than with whom he is playing.
"As long as our team keeps winning, and that's been the goal from Day 1," Malone said. "I'm pretty versatile and can be used in different situations. My job is to just be ready and bring what I can bring, and whatever the coach sees fit, that's where and what I'll do."
Malone has struggled offensively this season with one goal and seven points in 15 games. He has zero goals and just three assists in his past nine games.He is averaging 15:21 of ice time, but played just 9:14 Thursday against the Blues, the game in which he was dropped from the second to the fourth line.
But coach Jon Cooper said Malone has been contributing in other ways.
As a fourth-line player he can be part of a line that can wear on the opposition. He also can be an obstacle for opponents in front of the net on the power play. Malone also is great in the locker room and he is the first Lightning player to challenge opponents who try to take liberties with some of Tampa Bay's scorers.
"He keeps other teams honest and I really respect guys like that," Cooper said.
Malone, though, does wish he could contribute more offensively.
"It's definitely a little frustrating," he said of not scoring. "But it's a long season, so as long as you keep going to the net and going to the dirty areas, usually it comes in kind of clusters for me. Hopefully, there's a big cluster coming up."
Other stuff from the morning skate: After the 2010-11 season, Cooper's first with AHL Norfolk, he interviewed by phone with Red Wings coach Mike Babcock for an assistant job. Cooper said he knew he wasn't really ready to be in the NHL, and he believed Babcock was just doing his homework for perhaps something in the future. But the two hit it off and have been friends ever since. "He ended up being pretty vital for me," Cooper said. "I tapped into him the year we won the Calder Cup, just to talk to him about what his teams did, how he dealt with the media and how he dealt with different things. He was like a mentor during that time for me and was very helpful." Added Babcock: "When we got down to it, he said, 'Well, what would you do if you were me?' I said I'd stay in the American League and be a head coach in the NHL." And that's how it worked out. "We've been in touch ever since and he's been a great help," Cooper said, "but for two and a half hours tonight, we're no longer buddies." ... What is the key to beating the Red Wings? Cooper said it is trusting one's own game plan. "They're a team that doesn't beat themselves, so you really have to trust what you're doing. We're not going to break what they're doing, they've been doing it for so long." ... The Lightning has had so little success against the Red Wings, it is laughable. Tampa Bay is 5-24-1 with two ties against the Wings and is on a 0-8-2 streak. It is 1-13-0 with a tie at Detroit and is winless there in its past 11 (0-10-0 with a tie).