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Tampa Bay Lightning rookie James Wright gets a chance on Vinny Lecavalier-Marty St. Louis line

As lines are retooled, James Wright’s straight-ahead style 
is seen as help for Vinny Lecavalier, who seeks his first goal.

Getty Images

As lines are retooled, James Wright’s straight-ahead style is seen as help for Vinny Lecavalier, who seeks his first goal.

TAMPA — James Wright knows he has to treat Thursday's game with the Sharks like any other, even if, really, it is not.

The Lightning rookie, 19, who has played just seven NHL games, is expected to play on a line with C Vinny Lecavalier and RW Marty St. Louis, two of the league's biggest stars.

"Wearing the same jersey as them is pretty special," Wright said Monday at the St. Pete Times Forum. "To be on the same line as them is awesome."

The move was part of a major retooling of lines by coach Rick Tocchet, who is trying to shake the team out of a two-game slump in which it has been outscored 11-2 and revitalize a goalless Lecavalier by pairing him with St. Louis.

James' straight-ahead style can be a complement, Tocchet said:

"I just don't want him to change his game. Obviously, he's on that line to forecheck. … He's not going to try to stick-handle through five guys. He knows he's going to be chipping the puck and trying to get the puck to those guys going to the net."

"They're the skill guys," said Wright, who has zero points with 13:09 average ice time. "We want them to have the puck. I'll just be looking for them most of the time, trying to get pucks deep, getting in on their D man, trying to get pucks back to them and going hard to the net."

The Lightning has two more games to decide whether to send Wright back to juniors. And though Tocchet has said he sees no reason Wright will not stick with the team, Wright said, "I think a lot depends on how I play these next two games. I hope to prove to them with my play I deserve to be here."

Payment plan: Wright, a Canadian citizen, said he has yet to cash his first NHL paycheck because he does not have a U.S. Social Security number.

He said he should have one in about two weeks. Until then he is getting by with a loan from his parents.

"A zero percent interest rate," Wright said.

Out of whack: That is how Tocchet described LW Alex Tanguay, who has zero goals and just six shots in seven games and was demoted from Lecavalier's line to a third line with C Jeff Halpern and Drew Miller.

"He's a little out of whack, and it's affected his defensive hockey, too," Tocchet said.

"For me, it's get the puck in deep. Use your speed. I really want him to take guys one-on-one because he's really good at that. … And shoot the puck. Good things happen when shooting the puck, and sometimes he over-handles it. He's just a little out of sorts. Getting him on a line when he can worry about playing straight up-and-down hockey, all that other stuff will come into play later."

Smaby returns: D Matt Smaby is back from AHL Norfolk after sustaining an upper-body injury Wednesday from what Admirals coach Darren Rumble called "a total bush-league dirty hit" by Albany's Nicolas Blanchard.

"It was pretty dirty," Smaby said. "I didn't have the puck."

Smaby, 25, was halfway through a two-week conditioning stint when he was drilled into the boards by Blanchard, who was suspended one game for the hit.

"He's a little dinged up," Tocchet said of Smaby. "I don't know if he's ready to go on the ice yet, but he's closer."

For Sabres fans: The Sabres, who face the Lightning on Saturday, will host a party on Friday at Latitudes (formerly Andreychuk's), 490 Channelside Drive, Tampa, featuring coach Lindy Ruff and GM Darcy Regier.

The event is from 6 to 10 p.m. The $10 entrance fee goes to the Sabres' charitable foundation.

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

Tampa Bay Lightning rookie James Wright gets a chance on Vinny Lecavalier-Marty St. Louis line 10/19/09 [Last modified: Monday, October 19, 2009 9:05pm]
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