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Tampa Bay Lightning's Radim Vrbata benched

PHILADELPHIA — Interim coach Rick Tocchet said accountability would be demanded and changes made after the Lightning lumbered to a fourth straight loss Saturday in Colorado.

One of the team's main offseason acquisitions became the object of that first change on Tuesday, as LW Radim Vrbata was scratched.

C Paul Szczechura and LW Radek Smolenak were recalled from Norfolk of the American Hockey League and inserted into the lineup.

After amassing a career-high 56 points (27 goals) at Phoenix last season, Vrbata, 27, signed a three-year, $9-million deal with the Lightning. He has six points and three goals in 17 games and was described by Tocchet as "caught in between everywhere" in a meticulous study of the 4-3 loss to the Avalanche.

"He is not getting the loose pucks and we need production," Tocchet said. "We just can't have Vinny Lecavalier (team-high 10 goals), Martin St. Louis (five) and Ryan Malone (seven) always supplying us the goals and the last three-four games that's what we're getting from those guys, and nobody else.

"So the way I look at it, if you're not coming up with loose pucks right now, then you're not going to play."

Vrbata, who skated long after the rest of the team had finished, seemed upset but not surprised.

"I know I can play better and the coaches feel the same," he said.

Vrbata's ice time increased after Tocchet replaced Barry Melrose and Vrbata felt his relationship with Tocchet — who coached him in Phoenix and Colorado — was to his advantage. Tocchet, perhaps sensing this, said Saturday that Vrbata still needed to capitalize on the opportunity with hard work.

ASPIRIN PLEASE: Vinny Pros-pal clobbered Mike Smith in the head with his shin as the goaltender sprawled to his right to defend a Glen Metropolit rush in the second period, but Smith remained in the game without apparent problems and totaled 28 saves.

ODDS AND ENDS: Szczechura, who led Norfolk with 11 goals and 27 points, impressed Tocchet immediately, and was rewarded with 15:16 of ice time on Tuesday, two minutes of it on penalty kill. Smolenak, a physical player with some offensive potential who had eight goals, 18 points and 93 penalty minutes in the AHL, engaged in his first NHL brawl with Arron Asham in the first period — with spotty results — and fired in the shot off goaltender Martin Biron that Steve Downie scored on to tie it late in the third period. … The Lightning scratched Vrbata and Ryan Craig (lower body). The Flyers scratched former Lightning D Matt Carle, Derian Hatcher (knee) and Randy Jones (hip), Ryan Parent (shoulder) and Jonathon Kalinski.

Brant James can be reached at brant@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8804.

Tampa Bay Lightning's Radim Vrbata benched 12/02/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 3, 2008 2:04pm]
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