TAMPA — There is lots of fight in Karri Ramo, so it's no surprise he said he doesn't intend to let fellow Lightning goaltender Mike Smith walk off with the No. 1 job.
"I have to be strong," Ramo said Tuesday, "and show that he can't just take it."
Ramo is supposed to say such things, of course. He knows Smith, the key piece of the trade that sent Brad Richards to the Stars, was acquired to be "the guy."
But Ramo, 21, has been fairly sturdy, going 1-1-1 in his previous three starts, with a .939 save percentage and a 1.63 goals-against average, before allowing four goals on 24 shots against the Islanders.
And while Smith has shown flashes and, for the most part, has been good handling the puck, he is 1-5-0 for Tampa Bay with a 3.02 goals-against average and an .885 save percentage. And he has been just inconsistent enough stopping pucks to give the coaches pause.
"We're trying to figure out Smitty and we're trying to figure out where Ramo is in his progression," coach John Tortorella said. "There's no question we want to win. But in that situation, we have to figure out what we have with those two guys as we move forward here."
Tortorella said the goalies might split the final 12 games.
"It's my job to challenge him every night and every day in practice," Ramo said of Smith. "And when I get a chance to play, I get a chance to show my skills. I'm battling for a spot. I'm not just going to hand it over."
Ramo said his biggest improvement has been positioning: "I'm not getting beaten as much by my own mistakes. ... It's always fun to do things when something is on the line. Every day in this league you have to challenge yourself, and every day you're playing for something."
VINNY/MARTY: Center Vinny Lecavalier and right wing Marty St. Louis had two goals in a combined 24 games entering Tuesday, and the timing couldn't have been worse.
"They're two great players in this league," Tortorella said. "They have gone through a major funk at a time we've defended very well. … If we could have gotten just a little, just a goal or two from that line, I think we win probably half the games we lost here."
ODDS AND ENDS: The Lightning's 2-8-2 streak is its worst since a 1-8-2-1 stretch, March 22-April 12, 2002. … Defenseman Doug Janik was scratched. … Former Lightning Ruslan Fedotenko sustained a sprained knee in an accidental knee-to-knee hit with Tampa Bay's Jeff Halpern.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.