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Slumping Lightning seeks an edge — any edge

Lightning rookie Steven Stamkos, who has zero points, plans to change his helmet — but not for superstitious reasons.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Lightning rookie Steven Stamkos, who has zero points, plans to change his helmet — but not for superstitious reasons.

TAMPA — Lightning right wing Ryan Malone said he once put a Tylenol tablet on his stick.

Center Steven Stamkos said he got a haircut, and coach Barry Melrose said he knows someone who stopped washing his underwear.

"Which is a terrible thing," Melrose added.

All to break out of a scoring slump.

The Lightning is going through a team-wide slump; its league-worst eight goals a main reason it began the season with a club-record five one-goal games without a victory (0-2-3).

The problem is not confined to the forwards. Tampa Bay has just one goal from the blue line.

How can a team with so much talent not put the puck in the net? And how can it break out?

"Basically," Melrose said, "it comes down to the luckier I am, the harder I work."

That is not just a cute turn of phrase. The Lightning has gotten closer to victory as its forwards improved controlling the puck and getting it, and themselves, to the net.

That has been easier because the defense has a better handle on its own zone, and with Paul Ranger as catalyst, is looking to make plays there and spark the transition rather than just dump the puck.

As Malone said of Saturday's game with the Wild, "We played our best game where you really new if you turned the puck over in the neutral zone, the Wild wouldn't have the puck all night.

"We also did a good job getting the puck deep and getting after it and playing simple hockey and outworking the other team."

Had Tampa Bay finished some of its chances, a 1-0 shootout loss might have turned out better.

"We had some chances we should have buried," Malone said. "It's a matter of taking a deep breath almost and making sure you put the puck in the back of the net."

"The goals will come," Melrose said. "They just have to believe in what we're doing away from the puck. … The frustration has to be channeled the right way. It can't be channeled into cheating or shortcuts. It has to be channeled into doing things better and realizing that the way I'm playing, things will start coming my way."

Any edge is fair game.

Stamkos, who has zero points, said he once went six games without scoring for his junior team in Sarnia, Ontario, and does not want to match that personal low. So, he's changing his helmet for tonight's game with the Thrashers at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Okay, so the helmet thing isn't really related to the scoring slump; the No. 1 overall draft choice said he just doesn't like the way his helmet feels.

Still, he said, "If I score, we can say it's because of the helmet."

Other examples of desperate slump-busting behavior:

Melrose said there was the player who stopped washing — himself, and the player who changed the routes he drove to work.

Defenseman Andrej Meszaros, who said he always keeps the same routine, shook his head.

"I'm a little superstitious, but I'm not crazy," he said.

And he hadn't even been told about Malone's Tylenol tablet.

"It's always the fault of the stick," Malone said, "isn't it?"

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

>>TONIGHT

Lightning vs. Thrashers

When/where: 7:30;
St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa

Radio: 620-AM

Injuries: Tampa Bay — C Ryan Craig (groin) is out. Atlanta — RW Mike Hoffman (hand) is out.

Key stats: Lightning C Chris Gratton entered Monday with a league-best 73.5 percent winning percentage on faceoffs. … G Mike Smith, who was third in the league with a .944 save percentage, will start for Tampa Bay. … Thrashers RW Ilya Kovalchuk had eight goals, four assists and was plus-4 last season in eight games against the Lightning. In 38 career games against Tampa Bay, he has 23 goals (five on the power play and three winners), 41 points and 135 shots. … The Lightning is 16-7-1 with a tie at home against Atlanta.

Slumping Lightning seeks an edge — any edge 10/20/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 21, 2008 2:42pm]
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