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As promised, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Melrose cuts stars' ice time

TAMPA — Coach Barry Melrose made good on a vow to reduce the minutes played by stars Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier, who were first and fourth in the league among forwards last season with averages of 24:17 and 22:57, respectively.

St. Louis averaged 21:22 entering Saturday, Lecavalier 19:22.

"I'm sure they don't like it," Melrose said.

Lecavalier has said he would prefer playing 20 to 21 minutes. St. Louis, too, said he wouldn't mind a few more.

"I'm not complaining," he said. "There are games when you feel you want to be out there more, especially when you feel great. … Are 25 minutes too much? A little bit; over a long period of time, absolutely. But it all depends on where we are in the game."

The main cut for Lecavalier has been in penalty-kill time, of which he has just 47 seconds in his past eight games.

"Some nights they'll play 23, 24 minutes," Melrose said. "But I'd like to keep them in the early 20s. I think that will make us better in March and April."

CRAIG RETURNS: Ryan Craig played his first game since Nov. 10, on right wing with C Chris Gratton and Gary Roberts.

Craig, 26, played seven games last season because of back and knee problems. He was a healthy scratch for two games this season before going on injured reserve with a strained groin.

"I'm very excited," Craig said before the game. "It's been a long time. This is what I want to do and what I love to do."

Craig played 8:21 with two shots and a hit.

CHANGING SIDES: Ottawa's Filip Kuba, who entered tied for the league lead among defensemen with 11 points and added an assist in the game, said he feels "more involved" in the Senators' offense than he did with Tampa Bay. "A lot of pucks go through me," he said.

D Andrej Meszaros, whom the Lightning got from Ottawa for Kuba and D Alex Picard, said of the Senators, "I have a lot of respect for that organization. I was upset to leave."

That said, "Every guy who's been traded wants to win against the other team."

FORWARD-LOOKING: As coach of OHL Sault Ste. Marie, Craig Hartsburg spent the previous two seasons watching future Lightning rookie Steven Stamkos play for Sarnia.

"Steven is a gifted player, speed and skill, and he plays the game hard," said Hartsburg, now the Senators' coach. "He's going to be a top player in this league."

ODDS AND ENDS: Referee Dave Jackson's right elbow was X-rayed between the second and third periods after it was struck by a St. Louis slap shot. Results were negative. Jackson finished the game. … Fs Jason Ward and Matt Pettinger, and D Janne Niskala were scratched.

As promised, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Melrose cuts stars' ice time 11/01/08 [Last modified: Sunday, November 2, 2008 12:30am]

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