TAMPA — The first thing coach Barry Melrose said he noticed about Marek Malik is, "He's big, and he's got a good reach."
The remark brought a chuckle because it was so obvious. Malik is 6 feet 6, 235 pounds. The defenseman on Thursday skated for the first time with Tampa Bay on a timetable Melrose said could have him in a game by Tuesday against the Thrashers.
"That's my goal right now," Melrose said.
Malik, 33, a free agent, will sign a contract when he is ready to play, vice president of hockey operations Brian Lawton said.
Malik said he has been skating "five or six times a week" in his native Czech Republic and believes he needs five to seven days to be ready.
He said he chose Tampa Bay over three or four other teams.
"Tampa Bay seemed like the best choice for me," Malik said. "I really liked what they did with the team in the summer."
"With my age and the situation what it was, I didn't want to choose something just to get signed," he added. "I wanted something that was good for me and where I could help the team; plus, also, if the team is going to have a good chance to make the playoffs."
Melrose just hopes Malik helps stabilizes what has been a helter-skelter blue line.
"He's a big body, good defensively, takes up a lot of room," Melrose said. "He takes away time and space and is a good penalty-killer."
HEWARD SITS: He has been one of the team's most consistent, if not spectacular, defensemen, but Jamie Heward was scratched against the Islanders to make room for Paul Ranger.
Melrose said it came down to Janne Niskala being a better skater.
"If Jamie was a better skater, Jamie would have played 15, 20 years in the NHL, playing 20 minutes a night. That's how solid a defenseman he is," Melrose said. "Jamie has been great. I told him be prepared every night, and we'll handle it from there."
HI, MOM: Niskala called his first goal, which came Saturday against the Hurricanes in his third NHL game, "a big thing."
Niskala said he doesn't yet have a special place picked out for the puck. On second thought, he said, "I'll send it to my mom."
ODDS AND ENDS: The only other time Tampa Bay began a season with four one-goal games was 2006-07 (1-3). … Steven Stamkos, again a victim of so much penalty-kill time, played just 9:22. Melrose said of the rookie, who has zero points, "I hope people will cut him some slack." … D Lukas Krajicek got his first Lightning point. … D Andrej Meszaros had two assists. ... Forwards Jason Ward, David Koci and Ryan Craig (groin) were scratched.