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Long breaks not helping Lightning jell

TAMPA — If the Lightning had its choice, it would play more often than seven times in 26 days.

Not that players don't appreciate rest after a 10-day trip to Europe. But for a team trying to remake itself with 14 new players, a new coaching staff and a new system, a few more games probably would help.

"It's not an excuse," D Paul Ranger said after Saturday's 1-0 shootout loss to the Wild at the St. Pete Times Forum dropped Tampa Bay to 0-2-3 with five one-goal decisions. "I don't think it has anything to do with the outcomes of games."

A better reason for the outcomes: an offense that has produced just eight goals.

Even so, coach Barry Melrose said, "It's better to play. We've had long breaks now. The guys know what they're supposed to do, where they're supposed to be. It's just a matter of executing. … We want to be playing every couple of days. We don't want to be going five days without a game."

Tampa Bay was off five days after playing consecutive season-opening games in Prague. After an Oct. 11 game with Carolina, it was off another four days.

That's one game in 10 days. Tampa Bay plays just four games in the months' final 13 days.

"If you want to simulate game situations or things that happen in games, you can't," C Ryan Craig said. "Whether it be someone sticking up for a teammate or making a huge play to lift the team, things like that can only happen in games."

Beyond that, "with our situation right now, if you lose a game, we wouldn't have to think about it for a whole week or five days," RW Radim Vrbata said. "You go and play the next day, and you win, and you're fine. And if you're winning, you want to keep going."

HEWARD REASSIGNED: In what is a step toward signing D Marek Malik, D Jamie Heward was reassigned to AHL Norfolk. The move reduces the roster to 22, one below the limit, with Craig (groin) on injured reserve. Melrose has said he is eyeing Tuesday's game with the Thrashers for Malik's debut. The 12-year veteran is expected to sign a one-year deal worth between $1-million and $1.2-million.

CHANGE OF HEART: What was strange about Vrbata being a healthy scratch against the Wild was Melrose's assertion after the morning skate that he was not changing the lineup. But Melrose said he decided during the day it was time players understood there will be consequences for ineffectual play. "Radim is a great kid," Melrose said. "If he watches this game and sees how hard the rest of the guys played, hopefully that will rub off on him."

LAST MEN SITTING: With David Koci's debut against the Wild, the last roster players not to see action are the injured Craig and W Jason Ward, out for two games with a groin injury and the past three as a scratch.

"I'm ready to go in," Ward said. "I want to be in. It's just a mater of waiting to be called.

"It's frustrating," he added. "You want to be in there. I know what I bring to the team. I bring energy and the forecheck, and I know what I can do and feel confident in what I can do. I need to prove it to myself on the ice and not just in practice."

ODDS AND ENDS: The Tampa Honda Land Shootout on Nov. 7 at Tampa Palms Golf & Country Club benefits the Brad Richards Foundation. Individual entries are $125. A foursome is $400. Call toll-free 1--888-919-8273 or e-mail [email protected] for information. … The Lightning and Walgreens will offer flu shots at Saturday's game with the Sharks at the Times Forum. Go before the game to the Chrysler/Jeep Plaza and during the game behind section 104.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]

>>up next

Lightning vs. Thrashers, 7:30 Tuesday, St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa. Radio: 620-AM.

Long breaks not helping Lightning jell 10/19/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 22, 2008 4:18pm]
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