Times Staff Writer
TAMPA — Ultimately, it all comes down to goal scoring with the Lightning, doesn't it?
Talk all you want about problems in the defensive zone and a faltering transition game. In the end, owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie spent most of their money last summer bolstering Tampa Bay's top two lines.
• An 11-year, $85-million contract extension for captain Vinny Lecavalier.
• Signing Ryan Malone for seven years, $31.5-million, Vinny Prospal for four years, $14-million, Radim Vrbata for three years, $9-million.
• Add Steven Stamkos' three-year rookie contract that will pay, if all incentives are met, $11.175-million and the $13-million owed Marty St. Louis in the last three years of his deal and, well, you get the idea.
Lecavalier and St. Louis have a goal and assist each. Prospal has an assist.
Not exactly cost effective, so far.
"We need our offensive players to start scoring goals. That's black and white," coach Barry Melrose said. "You're paid to score goals. You're paid to play hard offensively. You're paid to put the puck in the net. That's what we have to get our skill guys to do."
It is a bit of a tricky topic.
So much offensive flow comes from the transition out of the defensive zone. Tampa Bay has struggled there, not only gaining possession of the puck, but with the transition because, as Melrose has said, the defense's lack of composure with the puck.
And it has been only three games; three games after a hectic and shortened training camp that made integrating new players, new coaches and a new system much more difficult.
"It's a big factor in what we're trying to do," Prospal said. "We changed everything, really. It's like we started from scratch."
Even so, Melrose said, "I'd like to see them compete a little harder. I use the saying all the time, 'Will beats skill.' We have to get a little more will. If your skill guys work as hard as the other team's players, the skill guys are going to win because they can put the puck in the net. We just have to compete a little harder."
Malone, who had 27 goals last season for the Penguins, agreed.
"I really haven't had many scoring chances," he said. "When you're not getting many scoring chances, you have to figure out what's going on. For myself, it starts with moving my feet and throwing the puck on the net."
Not a bad idea.
Malone, St. Louis and Stamkos enter tonight's game with the Islanders at the St. Pete Times Forum with just three shots on goal.
Prospal has five, Vrbata six and Lecavalier, who, to be fair, is coming off right shoulder surgery, has 13.
It also is worth noting that with five total goals, no one on the team is lighting it up. But that is exactly when the top lines must come to the rescue.
"All the guys here, they want to score goals. Sure, you feel that," Prospal said. "Everybody wants to score as soon as possible."
"We never played a full 60-minute game," he added. "We play well in some parts, but we didn't put it together. That's what it's going to take."
That's what it comes down to.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.