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Meszaros' new start with Lightning

Andrej Meszaros talks with reporters in his home country, Slovakia, where the Lightning plays a preseason game today.

SCOTT AUDETTE | Special to the Times

Andrej Meszaros talks with reporters in his home country, Slovakia, where the Lightning plays a preseason game today.

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Television lights shined in Andrej Meszaros' eyes, and questions were asked in Slovak and English by reporters in close quarters and limited locker room space.

But if Meszaros felt crowded, he did not show it, and the Lightning defenseman's easy manner and smile seemed an invitation to gather 'round.

"This is really something huge," he said. "I'm really happy to be here."

Though unintended, the response held two meanings.

Meszaros is happy to be in his native country, where about 20 friends and family will watch him play today in Tampa Bay's preseason finale against HC Slovan at Samsung Arena.

But he is also happy for a new beginning with a team that gave him a six-year, $24-million contract after somewhat sour negotiations with the Senators forced them to trade his rights.

Not even bringing up his zero points in five previous games, or that the power play he helps run has been pretty much a flop, shifted his mood.

"I don't have a point, it doesn't matter," he said. "I don't have to have a point, just play good every game. I don't have to score. I don't have to have any assists. I'm a team player, and as long as we win the game, I'm happy."

Safe to say vice president of hockey operations Brian Lawton probably isn't on board with the no-points thing, especially after giving up a ton to get him: defensemen Filip Kuba and Alex Picard, and a 2009 first-round draft choice.

But Lawton said Meszaros has been everything expected. He moves the puck, Lawton said; at 6 feet 2, 218 pounds, he can hit hard; and he plays the penalty kill and power play.

"He is," Lawton said, "a warrior out there."

Meszaros, who turns 23 on Oct. 13, led Senators defense­men last season with nine goals and was second with 36 points. His 246 regular-season games are the most of any 2004 draft choice, and his 110 career points trail only Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

So, how does Meszaros explain his lack of preseason numbers and the failure of the power play that has just two goals in more than 20 chances?

He doesn't.

"I feel comfortable in the system," he said. "It's not a problem for me. It's going to be great. The power play? It's still preseason. I'm sure when the season starts, it's going to be better."

Rookie defenseman, and fellow Slovak, Vladimir Mihalik said Meszaros will get better, too.

"He's a great player all over the ice," Mihalik said. "He's good defensively and offensively and with a hard shot. He'll be a big thing for this team."

Bigger for Meszaros this day was his country's love affair with hockey and how the game, whatever the outcome, will be great for the community.

"The long-term effect is the little kids and the guys playing hockey, they can see NHL action and say, 'I want to be there and play in the NHL,' " he said. "They might go there and practice harder than ever."

A message that resonates in English and Slovak.

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

Meszaros' new start with Lightning 09/29/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 1, 2008 9:43am]

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