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Lightning's Melrose wants to free up Lecavalier, St. Louis

TAMPA — Lightning coach Barry Melrose wants Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis to take things easier this season.

Not much, just enough to keep the star forwards fresh.

St. Louis led all forwards last season with a withering 24 minutes, 17 seconds of average ice time. Lecavalier was fourth at 22:57.

"We would like to get their minutes down to a reasonable number," Melrose said. "They probably played three, four, five minutes too much most games.

The tweak is one of several to a system morphing from former coach John Tortorella's puck-pursuit model, sparked by the forecheck, to Melrose's model of puck possession, which is more like a game of keep-away.

As Melrose said, "If we have the puck, they can't score."

It is a training camp project, but glimpses will be on display tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum in an exhibition game against the Penguins.

Puck possession means carrying the puck across the blue line instead of dumping it in, protecting it when challenged instead of getting rid of it and trying to track it down. The plan is tailored to the Lightning's deep offensive skill, Melrose said.

"When our talented guys try and beat (defenders), they're either going to beat them or draw a penalty," he said. "I'm not a guy who wants our guys to get to center ice and dump it in. We've got all that skill and all that speed. I don't want to turn it into a slow team by guys getting rid of it every time they touch it."

Besides, Lecavalier said, "Chasing just gets you tired."

The protocol extends to the defense. "I want to see our D in our end not just shoot it away," Melrose said. "Get your head up and look behind you, see where the pressure is and make a play."

Defensemen still can pinch and join the rush. But after Tampa Bay last season allowed 267 goals, second most in the league, taking care of the defensive zone is the priority.

"I'm not going to accept bad pinches," Melrose said. "I'm not going to accept two-on-ones against. I'm not going to accept bad judgment on defense."

Said defenseman Paul Ranger: "I think of last year and how much the defense jumped up into the play, at times we got a little careless. You have to pick your spots."

Such as with Lecavalier and St. Louis, both of whom Melrose said will be used much less as penalty killers.

"We are going to play a very high-tempo, speed game," he said. "It's hard to do that in the third period when you're tired."

"Twenty-five minutes was a little too much," St. Louis said. "We have enough depth here to cut the ice time. I'm sure there will be nights when we'll be counted on more than others. When I get the call, I'll go."

Same for Lecavalier. Still, he said, "When you play 20, 21 minutes, those are good minutes. When I played 24, 25, those two or three extra minutes, sometimes they weren't good. You get it between 20 and 22, it's fine."

Lightning's Melrose wants to free up Lecavalier, St. Louis 09/21/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 24, 2008 3:18pm]
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