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Defenseman Niskala impresses Melrose against Pens

TAMPA — It was difficult to tell if Janne Niskala was being modest or just hypercritical.

Asked about his work in Saturday's 5-4 shootout preseason victory over the Penguins, the defenseman said, "I think I had a good game."

He had a very good game, with a goal and an assist in 24 minutes, 7 seconds of ice time. He was plus-1, ran the power play, rushed the puck and was responsible in his own end.

"I thought he was great," coach Barry Melrose said Sunday. "I thought he showed a lot of poise. He was good defensively, and if you can play defense against that group of forwards, you can play defense against anybody in the world."

Niskala's reward is a spot in tonight's preseason game against Pittsburgh.

Forwards Jussi Jokinen, David Koci, Zenon Konopka, Jason Ward and Michel Ouellet, all fighting for roster spots, also earned a second straight game. But with defense such a priority, Niskala's breakout is most notable.

At one time buried deep in the Predators' defensive corps, Niskala in June was acquired from the Flyers for a sixth-round pick. His $600,000 contract allows him to be sent to a European club if he does not make the team.

"He came in on a mission; great shape, from Day 1, he really jumped out at you," Melrose said. "He's coming here to make the team."

CUTS: The training camp roster was reduced to 38 with six cuts, all of whom were sent to camp for AHL Norfolk: D Jamie Heward, C Blair Jones, C Chris Lawrence, D Andy Rogers, RW Sean O'Connor and RW Brandon Segal.

A MINOR ISSUE: The Lightning being called for eight minor penalties Saturday didn't bother Melrose. "It's called preseason," he said. "They're cracking down on a few things, and the NHL is looking at them also. We wanted to work on our penalty kill anyway.

HAIL, FINLAND: Niskala, G Karri Ramo and C Jussi Jokinen, all from Finland, made major contributions to Saturday's win. "I've had some good luck with Finns in coaching," Melrose said. "Finns are a very well-coached group of hockey players when they come over. There aren't many Finns who aren't good on both sides of the puck."

ODDS AND ENDS: Melrose said G Olaf Kolzig will start tonight and play the entire game. He said Kolzig, Mike Smith and Ramo likely will play two preseason games each. … The Lightning said attendance at FanFest on Sunday was 5,805.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Defenseman Niskala impresses Melrose against Pens 09/21/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 22, 2008 9:58am]
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