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Lightning checking out defenseman Malik

TAMPA — Marek Malik could be the next addition to the Lightning's ever-evolving defense.

The 6-foot-5, 233-pound unrestricted free agent is expected in Tampa this week, though it is unclear if he is to sign a one-year, $1-million contract or practice as a tryout.

Add the expected return, perhaps Thursday against the Islanders, of Paul Ranger (shoulder) and the addition Saturday of Lukas Krajicek, and you have an episode of Extreme Makeover.

After the team (0-2-1) allowed 126 shots, its worst three-game stretch in club history, it needs it.

"It's composure," coach Barry Melrose said. "If you have a guy like (Chris) Pronger and you have a guy like (Nicklas) Lidstrom, where they have the experience to, when they're under pressure, take an extra step and make a direct pass … right now, our D, when they're under pressure, it's around the boards."

Malik, 33, a 12-year veteran who spent the past three seasons with the Rangers, would be asked to stabilize the defense. He has scored seven goals in a season and can move the puck but is better in his own end.

He had a stormy relationship last season with Rangers coach Tom Renney. The New York Daily News reported Malik refused to shake Renney's hand after a January game, prompting some teammates to get in Malik's face.

Adding Ranger should help improve puck possession and the transition, and cut down on the average 27:32 of ice time Matt Carle is lugging.

But Melrose also wants more physical play from his defense, and that is where Malik, with 584 penalty minutes in 649 career games, can help.

"You can't just let them have the puck and follow them," Melrose said. "You have to knock them down. It comes down to, in your end, outworking the other team."

Bottom line, Melrose said, "What's happening now is unacceptable."

RANGER CONFIDENT: The defenseman said he should know today or Tuesday if he will play against the Islanders.

"I'm getting a ton of strength back," he said of his surgically repaired right shoulder and added, "I want to play. It's getting tough to sit in the stands."

PENALTY WOES: The Lightning has been short-handed 20 times, most in the league entering Sunday.

That is what happens when you are not consistently first on the puck. But it also is part of another crackdown on obstruction and stick penalties.

"They announced it," Melrose said of the league. "They sent a video around to all the teams, and we watched it. They're calling it close. They're really being sticklers for everything.

"They're touchy-feely penalties. If that's what they're calling, then we have to know it."

Tampa Bay's biggest offender is LW Ryan Malone, who had three minor penalties Saturday against the Hurricanes and whose 17 penalty minutes entered Sunday tied for fourth in the league.

"I try telling the guys, usually I'm not in the box all the time like that," Malone said.

Of Saturday, he said, "I don't think any of mine were penalties. But no excuses. You have to make sure your stick is on the ice. If it was or wasn't a call, you can't put yourself in that position. If we're on the puck first, it's the other team putting their sticks in a vulnerable position."

HALPERN ON SCHEDULE: C Jeff Halpern (knee) said he is skating for an hour five times a week and is expecting a mid or late December return.

"Frustrating," Halpern said of being out. "A better word, it (stinks). It (stinks) not playing, not being part of the team."

ODDS AND ENDS: The season is three games old, but Melrose joked, "It seems like 30." … D Jamie Heward's two assists Saturday tied a career high.

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

Lightning checking out defenseman Malik 10/12/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 15, 2008 6:42pm]
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