TAMPA — Karri Ramo is caught between the need for patient development and the want of instant gratification.
The Lightning goaltender, so talented but so inconsistent, clearly is a work in progress.
But the 22-year-old Finn is being called upon, starting tonight against the Blackhawks at the St. Pete Times Forum, to prove he has what it takes to be in the big time, or at least make the case that his past two seasons have not knocked his development too far off schedule.
"Of course it's important," Ramo said. "Every game is a big game."
"Hopefully," coach Rick Tocchet said, "we can give Karri the ball here and he can play two, three games in a row."
Ramo, who gets the call after Mike McKenna's inspiring run hit a few bumps, needs to grasp the opportunity.
In the final season of a three-year, $1.975 million contract, he needs a new deal. He also needs to restore equilibrium to a career that lost some momentum the past two seasons due to injuries and callups to Tampa Bay that limited him to 59 games.
The stats tell the story.
Ramo is 9-18-4 with a 3.70 goals-against average and .887 save percentage in 32 games with AHL Norfolk. He is 8-13-3 with a 3.27 goals-against average and .893 save percentage in 27 games with the Lightning.
"It's nice to get the experience," Tampa Bay goaltenders coach Cap Raeder said of playing in the NHL. "But I also think it's better when young goalies are in one environment focusing on one place, the development part."
Raeder pointed out it took San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov three AHL seasons before the "light goes on."
"That's why they go down there, because they know they're going to have ups and downs," Raeder said. "You have to get that foundation. Am I surprised (Ramo's) been inconsistent? No."
Ramo also blames himself for not handling properly his demotion to Norfolk after the season-opening trip to Prague.
"I tried to do too much, to show them that I didn't deserve to be there. I lost focus," Ramo said. "There's nobody else to blame. I made a mistake. It was a huge disappointment, but now I have the chance to play here."
And play a lot, as it seems Tampa Bay will stick with Ramo and McKenna as long as Mike Smith (concussion) is sidelined.
That would be a nice switch for Ramo, who has played just twice since his fifth callup, on Feb. 3, allowing five goals on 36 shots.
"He's overplaying pucks," Tocchet said. "He has to have a calmness to his game. He's one of the best athletic goalies in the league. He's got the tools. He's just got to harness it. With age, maturity, playing some games, pressure games, maybe that will help.
As Raeder said, "Situations come up where we don't have time to say, 'Get your game in order. You have time to develop.' You get thrown into the fire."
NOTES: Smith (concussion) skated Monday for the first time since Jan. 30, about 15 minutes, a portion of which he spent shooting pucks with a forward's stick. "He's very disappointed," Raeder said. "He's down because he can't play." … Tocchet said he was unhappy with the first practice since Saturday's loss to the Capitals. "We didn't have a lot of enthusiasm," he said. "I can understand when you lose, there's nothing to smile about. But you've got to come to work, and you have to play for people, the young guys, your buddies, whatever. That's what you have to play for right now." … Center Chris Gratton, in Norfolk, was put on waivers Friday, presumably because it was believed he would be claimed. He was not. … Defensemen Paul Ranger (upper body), Marek Malik (lower body) and Matt Smaby (foot) did not practice. … Blackhawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (groin) will not make the trip, it was reported in Chicago.