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Tampa Bay Lightning's Melrose lets assistants run practice after tongue-lashing

SUNRISE — Lightning coach Barry Melrose skipped Tuesday's practice.

In fact, about 20 minutes before it was to begin, he was smoking a cigar on a corner of Sunrise Boulevard, waiting to cross and get back to the team hotel.

"The boys and I had a talk and decided it would be good if I went away for a day," Melrose said before continuing his walk from the nearby BankAtlantic Center, where tonight Tampa Bay faces the Panthers.

Melrose apparently called a team meeting to discus poor first-period efforts in consecutive games, but especially Monday, when Tampa Bay fell behind 3-0 in a dispiriting 4-2 loss to the Capitals.

Goaltender Olie Kolzig said the players got "a pretty good scolding," and associate coach Rick Tocchet said Melrose asked him to run practice.

"Sometimes guys get tired of hearing him and he gets tired of hearing them," Tocchet said. "Every coach does that. You need a break. You have to get away from the team for a second. I honestly don't think it's that big of a deal."

Not in the sense Melrose was trying to motivate.

Even so, goalie Mike Smith said, "I don't know if many people liked him (Tuesday). … Some things were said in the room that probably was the best for him not to be out there. That came from him. That's what he said.

"He didn't want to see us today and we probably didn't want to see him."

Melrose took Monday's loss hard, especially after a first period in which Tampa Bay gave the Capitals a free skate. Just as bad, the way Melrose saw it, was the way Kolzig was hung out to dry in his first game against his former team.

That followed Saturday's game in which the Lightning fell behind the Flyers 1-0 in the first period but recovered to win 2-1 behind Smith's exceptional play.

"Smitty has masked a lot of our problems in the starts of games," Kolzig said, and added, "It really comes down to everyone looking at themselves in the mirror and motivating themselves to get ready for the drop of the puck. Maybe (Monday) night is what it took for us to wake up and smell the coffee."

"You have to have that light bulb as a player," Tocchet said. " 'Geez, I'm not ready to start the game. So, how do I start the game?' For me, personally, it was to make a good hit, get to the net on the first shift. We're looking for guys to put the puck in the right areas, go to the net a little harder, backpressure the puck a little harder; if that means taking 10 seconds off your shift to play an up-tempo game, that's what it means."

What did it mean that Melrose missed practice?

"It's his job to motivate the players," general manager Brian Lawton said.

By being both in, and out, of their faces. With Tampa Bay tonight finishing a five game trip, on which it is 1-2-1, and facing the Red Wings Thursday at home, the timing seemed to be right.

"He said a few things," captain Vinny Lecavalier said of Melrose. "Those meetings happen in a year, and there was one of them (Tuesday)."

"Hopefully, the boys will respond to it and get a big win," Smith said. "A win (tonight) and it's not a bad road trip."

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

>>FAST FACTS

Stumbling starts

Since its Oct. 30 win against Buffalo, the Lightning has allowed five goals and scored just one during the first period:

Date, Opp.GAGSRes.

Nov. 1, Ott.00W, 3-2*

Nov. 5, N.J.01L, 4-3*

Nov. 6, NYR10L, 5-2

Sat., Phi.10W, 2-1

Mon., Was.30L, 4-2

*Overtime or shootout

>>TONIGHT

Lightning at Panthers

When/where: 7:30; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise

Radio: 620-AM

Injuries: Tampa Bay — RW Evgeny Artyukhin (groin) and LW Ryan Malone (lower body) are day to day. Florida — D Bryan Allen (knee) and LW Cory Stillman (concussion) are out.

Key stats: The Panthers entered Tuesday with the league's worst power play at 11.1 percent. … The Lightning is 3-10-2 at Florida since 2003-04. … Florida C Nathan Horton has 16 goals, 25 points and is plus-15 in 27 games against Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay Lightning's Melrose lets assistants run practice after tongue-lashing 11/11/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 12, 2008 1:30pm]

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