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Melrose: Time for much-penalized Lightning to obey the rules

Penalties could be especially hurtful for the Lightning tonight against the Wild, whose Antti Miettinen, back right scoring against the Panthers, led the league in goals going into Friday.

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Penalties could be especially hurtful for the Lightning tonight against the Wild, whose Antti Miettinen, back right scoring against the Panthers, led the league in goals going into Friday.

TAMPA — Coach Barry Melrose said "every day" he addresses the Lightning's momentum-killing penalties.

The next step is to show the players video of the nine minors taken Thursday against the Islanders. There actually were 10, but one, a slash on Vinny Prospal, was coincidental.

"Some guys think they're not penalties. They're penalties," Melrose said. "The referees and the NHL have made it clear, this is what's going to be called. I looked at all nine of them, and they're penalties by the book.

"It's got to be a commitment," Melrose added. "They have to decide winning is more important than a lazy hook or hold."

They better decide quick because Tampa Bay tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum faces a Wild squad that entered Friday with the league's second-best power play at 42.9 percent.

The Lightning (0-2-2) has been short-handed 29 times in four games, tops in the league entering Friday.

And while its penalty killing has been staunch, succeeding eight of nine times against New York, spending so much time short-handed disrupts the offensive flow, tires players and, in Tampa Bay's case, keeps No. 1 draft choice Steven Stamkos, who does not kill penalties, on the bench.

Defenseman Paul Ranger said it also saps a game's energy.

"Having the whole game special teams, that's a little bit different than just being able to play," he said. "The games are much more intense and more fun to play when we're playing five on five. It's true hockey."

There is a sense the NHL was cracking down on obstruction and stick fouls because the league believed the standard of enforcement had slipped at the end of last season.

Director of officiating Stephen Walkom said Friday that is not the case, and the numbers back him up.

According to the league, 366 obstruction penalties (hooking holding, interference, tripping) were called in this season's first 55 games, compared with 379 last season. There were 55 slashing calls to 46.

Walkom said his officials are serious about maintaining the strict enforcement standard set after the 2004-05 lockout, when the league was desperate to add offense to the game.

"That is our ongoing message to the league, that our team of officials work to the same standard every night," he said. "We realize we'll never be perfect, but the commitment of the guys is to work to it every night."

Walkom said he understands the sentiment to "let the guys play." In the past that meant rules weren't enforced.

"So I think when we hear 'Let them play' now, it's, 'Let them play within the parameters of the rules,' " he said.

That means no sticks on bodies and no open hands on a opponent, no matter how trivial.

Ranger, called for two minors against the Islanders, said, "It's not really the way I would choose to call a game."

Still, he added, "It's something we're going to have to suck up and start obeying the rules and find ways to defend and battle and get those pucks without taking penalties. Those penalties are putting us down."

Sounds like they don't need Melrose to remind them.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Melrose: Time for much-penalized Lightning to obey the rules 10/17/08 [Last modified: Saturday, October 18, 2008 6:12pm]
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