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Tampa Bay Lightning: Gary Roberts focused on return

Gary Roberts has missed 20 games with a left elbow injury, and coach Rick Tocchet said the Lightning left wing could be out another two to three weeks.

Roberts, 42, said he is committed to returning to the lineup and to finishing what likely is his final NHL season by helping Tampa Bay's rebuilding process.

"I believe in what our coaching staff is doing," he said recently. "I really do believe this organization is getting things turned around and we're heading in the right direction with the people we have running our team.

"My goal is still to help this organization."

Roberts has two goals and one assist in 19 games with, generally, limited minutes under former coach Barry Melrose.

The elbow injury, which has been checked with an MRI exam and Tocchet said does not require surgery, has been particularly annoying to a player who works so hard to stay in shape.

"I still try to be physical. But for me to play my game and play that way, I have to be healthy," said Roberts, a muscular 6 feet 2, 202 pounds and in his 21st season. "If I get this elbow taken care of, I feel I'm still in good shape, I'm skating good and still can be a factor for the team.

"I still try to hang around practice and talk to guys in the morning and try to give guys feedback. I really do care about the organization. I didn't come down here just to retire."

Melrose quiet: Since a spate of interviews in which Melrose took players and ownership to task, he has steered clear of further antagonism. Perhaps that is why general manager Brian Lawton said Tampa Bay, for now, is not pursuing a breach of contract consideration.

"Nothing new has come of that, and we haven't done anything with it," Lawton said.

The Lightning is fulfilling Melrose's three-year, $2.25-million contract, which, presumably, has a code of conduct clause prohibiting actions detrimental to a team.

Preserving smiles: Trainer Tommy Mulligan said wearing a mouth guard probably protected Andrej Meszaros' teeth when he was hit in the face by a puck during Saturday's game with Carolina. It could have prevented a concussion as well.

Meszaros needed 64 stitches to close wounds in his lips, gum and roof of his mouth after being hit by Anton Babchuk's slap shot.

"I'm a big believer in mouth guards," Mulligan said, adding about 50 percent of Lightning players wear them. "It's their personal preference. Some players try them and never get used to the feeling."

Some players listen when Mulligan speaks.

"Especially," he said, "when they see something like (Saturday) night."

Bench sores: These are tough times for rookie Steven Stamkos. Last summer's No. 1 overall pick has one goal, three points in his past 15 games with 26 shots.

Stamkos has had problems with puck possession, and his ice time reflects his struggles; it has been 11 games since he played 15 minutes.

"We're starting to pick up our own game here, and we're starting to get some wins. That's the positive," he said. "When things are going well, you can't really say anything except to stay positive and keep working hard."

Quote to note: After Sunday's 4-1 victory over the Thrashers, Atlanta coach John Anderson channeled his inner John Tortorella. "Our give-a-crap level is at zero," he said. "I got to question whether anybody cares in that locker room right now."

Odds and ends: Defensemen Ty Wishart and Vladimir Mihalik were sent back to AHL Norfolk. … Because the BCS title game will be on 620-AM, Thursday's game against the Coyotes will be on 970-AM.

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

Tampa Bay Lightning: Gary Roberts focused on return 01/05/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 1:15pm]
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