RALEIGH, N.C. — Lightning general manager Brian Lawton has a decision to make concerning a backup goaltender.
Is it better to stick with Karri Ramo once he serves a six-game AHL suspension for leaving the bench during an altercation, sign Norfolk's Mike McKenna to an NHL contract or, perhaps, acquire a backup through trade or waivers?
"It's a tough call," Lawton said Thursday. "I'm not trying to be vague. I'm just trying to get all the information. Once we have it, then I make a decision."
A decision is necessary because Olie Kolzig's season is over because of a torn biceps tendon.
The most appealing option would be getting a seasoned player off re-entry waivers as it would halve the Lightning's salary responsibility. So rarely does that happen with goalies, Lawton called it "a pipe dream," though the Canucks recently sent Curtis Sanford to AHL Manitoba.
Lawton said it all should be sorted out by early next week. In the interim, Riku Helenius, 20, who never has played an NHL game, will back up Mike Smith.
Why not keep Ramo, 22, who has played 27 NHL games and will be available after Feb. 8? Because Lawton said he wants him to play regularly, something he would not do with Tampa Bay.
Between call-ups and injuries, Ramo has played just 57 games over the past year and a half. Lawton said the goal this season is for Ramo to play 50.
"If we can get him 50 games, he starts to build a foundation," Lawton said. "We'd like to see him prove that he's really elite down in the American League. … We'd like to see him take that step and use it as a foundation to be a backup here and use that foundation to move on to be a starter. I still think Karri Ramo has the make-up to be a starter. We're just looking at him as a baby now."
LUCKY BREAK: Helenius, the 41st player to suit up for Tampa Bay, a league high, knows he was called up only because of Ramo's suspension. Still, he said, "It's a good thing for me. I can see the guys practice and see their game and see how good they are."
Helenius began the season with ECHL Augusta, which shut down because of financial problems, and also played with ECHL Mississippi and Norfolk.
"It's been, by far, the strangest year of my career," he said. "It kind of helps you grow up. You learn to handle those types of situations."
GAME ON: Coach Rick Tocchet praised D Lukas Krajicek, who is plus-5 in his past 19 games, for elevating his game while injuries forced all blue-liners to play extra minutes.
"It's somebody's opportunity to take over, and Luke's done that," Tocchet said. "He's done a good job for us. He's penalty killing, doing five-on-five. He's really showed me a lot."
SHIELDED: D Andrej Meszaros said it will be another three weeks before he plays without the face cage worn since Jan. 3, when he received 64 stitches after being hit by a slap shot from Carolina's Anton Babchuk.
"I've gotten used to it, but I don't like it," Meszaros said.
The problem? "I can't wipe my face off after every shift."
ODDS AND ENDS: D Matt Smaby played after missing six of seven games with a lower-body injury. … Rookie Steven Stamkos and David Koci were scratched.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.