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Lightning goes back to basics of offense

Lightning coach Barry Melrose, never shy about instructing his players, wants his skill players to start hitting and taking hits. “(Opponents) got to know that they’re going to be hit,” he says.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Lightning coach Barry Melrose, never shy about instructing his players, wants his skill players to start hitting and taking hits. “(Opponents) got to know that they’re going to be hit,” he says.

TAMPA — Ryan Malone raced to the corner boards on a hunt for another puck.

Lightning coach Barry Melrose promptly blew his whistle to stop the pursuit. Then his voice ricocheted off the walls of the St. Pete Times Forum. To paraphrase, Melrose asked the wing to knock the defenseman on his rear end the next time.

This was a lecture in Forechecking 101, one of the many lessons for the remodeled Lightning to absorb before Saturday's home opener against the Hurricanes.

Melrose questioned Tampa Bay's commitment after it dropped its first two games overseas to the Rangers. He sifted through those game films, wincing at every missed offensive opportunity.

For their first two days back on Forum ice, Melrose and his coaching staff implemented drills to help the Lightning generate more offense.

"We obviously have to do something to generate offense," rookie Steven Stamkos said. "Our goaltending has been outstanding keeping us in the games. We have to generate more offense and more shots. Coach is telling us to get more pucks to the net. Hopefully when you get pucks to the net, good things can happen and we can start creating chances offensively."

Melrose gave the Rangers plenty of praise for their effort, singling out Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and Wade Redden. Among them they had five points and 22 shots in those wins.

"Those guys pay a price when they play," Melrose said. "They hit, and they get hit, and they go into traffic areas. Our skill guys got to do the same thing."

The Lightning was outshot by 20 shots in each game, with no more than 21 attempts of its own.

Melrose easily rattled off the missed opportunities, including breakaways by Vinny Lecavalier, Vinny Prospal and Stamkos, and mentioned again the second-period breakdown in Game 2.

"The second period was terrible because we quit competing," Melrose said. "I'll tell you, the Rangers make you work. They hunt the puck well, and it just seemed every loose puck battle the Rangers won."

There are plenty of ways to generate offense: in transition, off rebounds, on power plays, off turnovers and by being physical.

What Melrose was illustrating Thursday with Malone could become a cornerstone of his new club. He wants his players to slam into opponents like wrecking balls. Otherwise, he suggests just sticking five players in the neutral zone.

"What you got to do is, people got to know that they're going to be hit," Melrose said. "All of a sudden the puck is jumping on their stick, they're hurrying their pass, they hear footsteps and they're not as pretty (with their play)."

Tampa Bay had some bright spots in its first two games.

Melrose said the play of Chris Gratton and Evgeny Artyukhin are examples of what he expects.

For example, Gratton's line was able to disrupt a shift late in Game 2.

"They were throwing the puck around because they knew they were going to get hit," Melrose said. "When (Artyukhin is) out there, (opponents) know they're going to get hit, the defense aren't comfortable. That's what I mean."

Melrose has juggled lines in hope of finding some "magical" combination. But the players need time to develop line chemistry.

"The more you play, the better you get at it," Lecavalier said. "We've only played two games; that's the positive. I know we'll get better."

And despite the notion that most of the players are still learning each other's tendencies, coasting on a shift won't fly in this locker room.

"There's no excuse for the effort," Melrose said. "You can always be the hardest-working guy on the ice. That's just commitment."

Izzy Gould can be reached at izzygould@me.com or (727) 580-5315.

It's offensive

The Lightning has been outshot by at least 15 in all but one of its preseason and regular-season games against NHL opponents. It's 3-3 in those games.

Opponent Lightning shots Opponent shots Result
Preseason
Penguins 30 30 W 5-4 (SO)
Penguins 24 39 L 3-2 (SO)
Rangers 18 40 W 3-2
Rangers 25 47 W 4-2
Regular season
Rangers 21 41 L 2-1
Rangers 19 39 L 2-1

Lightning goes back to basics of offense 10/09/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 13, 2008 1:49pm]

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