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Puck-handling work in progress for Lightning goalie Smith

Lightning goalie Mike Smith, making a save against HC Slovan in Tuesday’s exhibition, says he’s developing better communication with his defensemen when he goes to play the puck.

Associated Press

Lightning goalie Mike Smith, making a save against HC Slovan in Tuesday’s exhibition, says he’s developing better communication with his defensemen when he goes to play the puck.

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — Goaltenders coach Cap Raeder said he does not limit how much Mike Smith handles the puck.

"Absolutely not," Raeder said. "He's unbelievable."

Even so, Smith said he will "tone it down" in today's season opener against the Rangers at O2 Arena. That comes after his last preseason start, Tuesday against HC Slovan, in which Smith admitted he tried to do too much, partly because of long stretches without facing a shot.

"I was a little bored. I was getting cold," said Smith, who also took an interference penalty. "I had to get into it, keep my mind sharp."

Smith has been superb, winning his two preseason starts and allowing perhaps one bad goal among the four he gave up. He also said he is developing better communication with his defense­men about when he will play the puck and how they should be positioned for outlet passes.

It is a work in progress. Tuesday, Smith went behind the net and turned the puck over after his defense backed off.

"That was a read by the D man," he said. "It was a delayed offside call. There's no point in me handling the puck if I don't have to.

"It's going to happen throughout the year. There's going to be miscommunication. Hopefully, it doesn't end up in the back of the net. Trying to nip that in the bud early in the year is important. I'd rather have it happen during the exhibition season."

Raeder said Smith can help by moving the puck with "a purpose."

"In that second period (against HC Slovan), he went behind the net and cocked like he was going to pass, and the defenseman backed off, and it ended up being a turnover. He's got to either leave it or make a play. But as the defensemen get used to him, they'll read."

"He's going to make mistakes," Raeder added. "He's going to cough it up. He's going to get caught behind the net."

But you live with it, he said, "because it changes how (opponents) dump it in. It changes how they forecheck. And it's in their mind, 'This guy handles the puck.' It's another thing they have to worry about."

ROSTER MOVES: The Lightning reduced its roster to the required 24, including extra G Karri Ramo, by putting W Jason Ward on injured reserve with a strained left groin that coach Barry Melrose said was sustained Thursday on "choppy" ice. Ward must sit out at least seven days. D Paul Ranger (shoulder) was classified as a nonroster player because he failed a physical. He could play Oct. 16 at home against the Islanders. C Jeff Halpern (knee) was put on long-term disability.

CAP RELIEF: By demoting RW Michel Ouellet and D Andrew Hutchinson to the minors, Tampa Bay saved a combined $1.75-million in salary cap space. If you also remove the $658,000 cap hit of Ramo, who is expected to be sent to AHL Norfolk after the team returns from Europe, Tampa Bay is at $54.8-million, almost $2-million below the limit.

MESZAROS IS THE MAN: Melrose said that 22-year-old alternate captain Andrej Meszaros is "an emerging star."

"He's our guy," Melrose said. "He's our stud on defense. He's going to play 25 to 30 minutes every night, so we need him to be great."

ODDS AND ENDS: D Jamie Heward signed a one-year, two-way deal that pays $475,000 in the NHL. … Olaf Kolzig is expected to start Sunday against the Rangers. … Melrose said enforcer David Koci will play today. … Melrose called 40-year-old W Mark Recchi the second-biggest surprise of camp, after rookie D Valdimir Mihalik. "He came into the season thinking he'd be an extra guy, a fill-in guy," Melrose said. "He came in in such great shape, and he can still skate. That's what the NHL is all about."

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

>>TONIGHT

Lightning

vs. Rangers

When/where: Noon EDT; O2 Arena, Prague, Czech Republic

TV/radio: Sun Sports; 620-AM

Injuries: Tampa Bay — C Jeff Halpern (knee), D Paul Ranger (shoulder), W Jason Ward (groin) are out; New York — None

Key stats: The Lightning power play was 3-for-33 during six preseason games. … G Mike Smith is 2-1 in three games against New York, with a 2.02 goals-against average. … Tampa Bay is 9-4-0 with two ties in season openers.

Puck-handling work in progress for Lightning goalie Smith 10/03/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 3, 2008 10:05pm]

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