NEW YORK — Coach Barry Melrose said he does not expect D Paul Ranger to play in the Lightning's season-opening games Oct. 4 and 5 in Prague, Czech Republic, against the Rangers.
He is much more optimistic about C Vinny Lecavalier. "We're sort of counting on him playing," Melrose said. "The doctors are pretty optimistic, but we're always going to err on the side of caution with those two guys."
Both are rehabbing their right shoulders after arthroscopic surgeries to repair torn labrums. But though Lecavalier's injury was acute, sustained in a game, Ranger's was degenerative and more extensive, meaning a longer recovery.
The uncertainty is making it difficult to trim the 32-man roster to the required 23, though the four teams traveling to Europe — the Penguins and Senators also are going — can carry 24 if the extra player is a third goalie.
Melrose said cuts will come after tonight's game at Madison Square Garden, though 28 to 30 players could fly to Europe, including up to nine defensemen.
Though welcome, heated competition for roster spots hasn't helped. "I don't think we envisioned going to New York with (so many) guys," Melrose said. "It's a sign of how good camp has been."
Relief could come by putting injured players such as Ranger, C Jeff Halpern (knee) and C Nick Tarnasky (thumb) on injured reserve, which would remove them from the roster count for at least seven days.
If Lecavalier doesn't respond well to the exhibitions he plans to play in Germany and Slovakia on Sunday and Tuesday, he could end up on IR as well, not a bad strategy for either Lecavalier or Ranger given Tampa Bay plays only seven games in 26 days after it returns from Europe.
That's a lot of extra healing time without sacrificing much of the season. "Better to be safe and wait a week or two than forcing it and something happens and I'm out six months," Lecavalier said. "But it feels pretty good right now. I'm confident I'll play in that first game."
GAME TIME: Lecavalier's first exhibition will be Sunday in Berlin. "I want to get it out of the way," he said. "I want to get hit. I want to start using my instincts and playing like I usually do and not just think about my shoulder." Lecavalier said he has been told the shoulder will be sore the entire season.
SPUTTERING OFFENSE: Tampa Bay is 2-for-14 on the power play in three games and Tuesday was outshot 40-18 by the Rangers. Part of the problem: too many penalties. It has 22 minors in three games, seven against New York, including four in the third period when the Lightning was outshot 11-2. "That kills every chance you got," Melrose said.
And then there's this:
"Probably the biggest reason for the Rangers' shots is we were weak on the puck," Melrose said. ''I can think of 10 times right now when we had the puck and gave it up and they got shots out of it. But that's an area we can clean up very, very easily."
ODDS AND ENDS: Tonight's lineup was not announced. … The Lightning leaves after the game for Europe.