TAMPA — We're still not sure about the nature of Ryan Malone's lower-body injury, but we do know it is worse than first indicated — he might be out three to four weeks, coach Guy Boucher said — and it was caused, as the Lightning left wing described, "trying to kick a soccer ball."
That happened before Sunday's game with the Rangers at Madison Square Garden as players went through their usual pregame kick-around and Malone apparently aggravated an existing injury sustained earlier in the season.
"It was just kind of a weird instance," he said Tuesday. "It's disappointing. Obviously, you'd rather be hurt when you're out there playing."
"It's going to be tough missing him, and other guys have to step up," Boucher said. "We've got a young kid that we've been meaning to bring up, and we got an opportunity to do so."
That would be F Richard Panik (pronounced PAH-nik), who had 21 goals, 35 points and 79 penalty minutes in 43 games for AHL Syracuse.
"A huge opportunity for me," he said.
The more immediate concern is Malone, 33, who has four goals, five points in 10 games. Because of injuries Malone never has played a full year with Tampa Bay, playing 70, 69, 54 and 68 games, respectively, in four previous seasons.
"I feel bad for him. Every year he gets injured," Boucher said. "In a short season like now, one month, that's a lot. Can't wait to get him back, and when we do we'll be a better team."
While Boucher's timetable for Malone's recovery is extended — Malone could miss up to 14 games — the player said the injury won't need surgery and he might be back in 10 days.
"Hope for the best," he said.
CHANGING: The knock on Panik, drafted 52nd overall in 2009, always has been inconsistent play. As Boucher described, "He sometimes had flashes of brilliance but sometimes just wasn't there."
Panik, 6 feet 1, 208 pounds, who turned 22 on Thursday, said it was a mind-set issue.
"I talked to Coop," Panik said of Syracuse coach Jon Cooper. "He told me I have to work harder every game. I tried to do that. It's just mental. Just be prepared for every game."
"He's got unbelievable hands and skill," Boucher said, "a big guy, tremendous speed, puck protection; a solid hockey player."
LEARNING: After a sizzling start in which he had five goals and 12 points in seven games, LW Cory Conacher entered Tuesday without a point in four straight.
He still led all rookies in points and with seven assists, but that was no consolation.
"I have to understand the goals are going to be harder to come by," he said. "It's starting to become playoff hockey. … You have to continue to go to those dirty areas. It's important for me to keep driving to the net."
ODDS AND ENDS: Panik said his parents and girlfriend made a 17-hour flight from Slovakia to be at the Tampa Bay Times Forum for his NHL debut. … Former Lightning D Pavel Kubina signed with Switzerland's Geneve-Servette. … Defensemen Brendan Mikkelson and Marc-Andre Bergeron and RW Pierre-Cedric Labrie were scratched.