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Tampa Bay Lightning dogged by penalty problems

ANAHEIM, Calif. — It was not difficult to hear exasperation in Steven Stamkos' voice after Thursday night's 4-3 overtime loss to the Ducks at the Honda Center.

It wasn't so much getting beaten that bugged the Lightning center — after all, the team had overcome a three-goal, second-period deficit to earn a point for a regulation tie — it was that Tampa Bay had given Anaheim so many chances to win.

"Penalties, obviously, were killing us," Stamkos said. "It is not acceptable."

The Ducks scored on three of seven power plays, including Scott Niedermayer's winner 52 seconds into the extra period.

As a practical matter, though, Anaheim had four power-play goals; one tally came three seconds after goalie Mike Smith's interference penalty had expired and before Alex Tanguay, who served the two minutes, had gotten into the play.

It would be easy to blame a faulty penalty kill, and Anaheim twice scored on backdoor setups. But players and coach Rick Tocchet were more concerned with the lack of discipline that led to the penalties in the first place.

"How many power plays did they have?" left wing Ryan Malone asked.

Told seven, he said, "Well, see, that's too many. If you keep it to three or four, that's the number you want to be at."

It is a problem with which Tampa Bay has struggled all season. Entering Friday, the team's 17.2 minutes of average penalty time was second-most in the league, and only six teams had more penalties than Tampa Bay's 119, an average 6.3 per game.

"The aggressive penalties you don't mind," Tocchet said. "What I have a tough time with is the stupid stick penalties. That's just carelessness. It's the new rules. You can't have your sticks in certain areas. It's a mental thing. You have to be mentally tough."

In other words, Tocchet probably wasn't happy with defenseman Kurtis Foster's tripping penalty, or the high sticking calls on defensemen David Hale and Andrej Meszaros. And whether you believe Malone's cross-checking penalty in overtime was legitimate, he gave the ref a chance to think about making a call.

"I thought he had the puck," Malone said of Anaheim's Ryan Whitney, "so I gave him a little shot, and maybe since he was a little off-balance since the puck was in the air, he went down kind of easy. Obviously, I wasn't intending to take a penalty. I was thinking (about) the fastest way I could get the puck. It's a tough situation."

Perhaps, but as right wing Marty St. Louis said, "There are always going to be questionable calls, but when you put yourself in that situation, you're vulnerable. We have to stay out of the box."

Tocchet's hands are somewhat tied in trying to battle the trend. He can threaten to take away playing time for repeat offenders, but, as he said, "I don't think it's consistently one guy."

Bottom line, players said of tonight's game with the Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C.: Don't be lazy.

"It's your mental approach coming into the game," Stamkos said. "If you're moving your feet, you're not hooking, holding and grabbing and tripping. It's the way you body position yourself. Just be aware of where the puck is on the ice, where the players are. We have to find a way.

"We can't afford to keep taking penalties and expect to win."

SCORING CHANGE: Malone got belated credit Friday for the Lightning's third goal against Anaheim, 1:38 into the third period, which sent the game into overtime. His 13th of the season originally was credited to St. Louis.

Tampa Bay Lightning dogged by penalty problems 11/20/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 20, 2009 11:27pm]
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