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Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Paul Ranger, on leave of absence, staying in touch

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The last thing Lightning D Kurtis Foster heard from teammate Paul Ranger was positive.

"From everything I get from him, he will be back," Foster said. "We're all waiting for the day he will be back. It's not that we deserve an explanation or anything, you just hope he can take care of what he needs to."

Ranger, 25, has been on an indefinite leave of absence since Oct. 26 to deal with a personal matter, his circumstances one of the bigger mysteries around the league.

The defenseman, through the team, has declined interviews. The team, his family and agent also have been mum. Coach Rick Tocchet said he is in the dark, and even Foster, who roomed with Ranger on the road, said he has no clue what is troubling his teammate.

"I didn't see anything coming," Foster said.

But he is heartened by their occasional texts.

"He just said he had to deal with some stuff and he's doing okay," Foster said. "When your friend tells you he's doing okay, you just have to trust that and go from there. You hope for the best, and if he does need anything, you're there for him."

Foster said he can understand how some could see Ranger's absence as leaving the team shorthanded but added:

"In the long run, we're hockey players, but we're human beings. As cliche as that sounds, we want the best for each other whether it is on the ice or off. If you need to deal with stuff off the ice, we're there with him and behind him. Hopefully, he comes back sooner rather than later because he can really help our team."

HURTING: D Mattias Ohlund (right foot) missed Tuesday's practice at Jobing.com Arena and still is wearing a walking boot, though he said he expects to play Thursday at Anaheim. … C Jeff Halpern sat for what the team called "body maintenance."

SMITH IN NET: G Mike Smith will start against the Ducks; a reward, Tocchet said, for his dazzling 30-save effort in Monday's 4-1 win over the Coyotes. That after Antero Niittymaki went 3-0-2 in five straight starts.

"We're lucky as coaches to have two really good goalies going for us," Tocchet said, indicating he will continue the two-goalie system. "Smitty is going to take the ball, but Niitty is going to play, too."

TRENDS: Keep your eye on:

• W Alex Tanguay has four goals and 10 points in his past nine games after getting just two assists in his first nine.

"Yeah, he's doing better," Tocchet said. "He's not the Alex yet that I like seeing, but he's getting there. He's a guy we're really going to need, and he wants the pressure, and I like that."

• C Steven Stamkos, once in the league's top 10 in faceoffs, dropped to 52nd entering Tuesday at 50.6 percent. Stamkos won just 2 of 13 draws against the Coyotes and just 29 of 79 (36.7 percent) in his past six games. In three games since he jammed his left wrist sliding into the end boards during practice, he has won 11 of 38 (28.9 percent).

"You don't want to use the wrist as an excuse," Stamkos said. "I just have to bear down and focus and keep practicing and get back in the groove."

• Though on a 3-0-1 road streak and with points in 10 of 11 games (6-1-4), the Lightning has been outshot in eight straight and 13 of 14.

For the season it has been outshot 577-491, an average of 32.1-27.3, and outshot in every period: 191-150 in the first, 198-172 in the second, 164-151 in the third and 24-18 in OT.

"We're winning games, but we're not playing as well as we can," C Vinny Lecavalier said. "We know we can play better. We're not blinded by our victories. We know we've been outshot and have to change that."

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

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Paul Ranger, on leave of absence, staying in touch 11/17/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 18, 2009 8:34am]

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