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Tampa Bay Lightning's Vrbata's return could force move

NEWARK, N.J. — Lightning GM Brian Lawton has said the five-game road trip that begins tonight against the Devils will help sort out some personnel decisions.

W Jason Ward, who has played one of 10 games, hopes so.

"I definitely would like to see some decisions made," he said. "I definitely don't enjoy watching games."

Tampa Bay's roster is at the 23-player limit. When RW Radim Vrbata (groin) comes off injured reserve, it will be at 24 and a move will be necessary.

Vrbata could be ready soon. He said Tuesday his groin has not bothered him in two days. He has zero goals in five games, and also missed five games, two as a healthy scratch.

"Before the injury I didn't know exactly what my role was," said Vrbata, who had 27 goals last season for the Coyotes and signed a three-year, $9-million free-agent contract. "That's the reason I was signed here, to have the same season I had last year. So, we'll see what this road trip brings."

The Lightning has won three straight. If it keeps playing well, there might not be many changes as coach Barry Melrose has said he does not like adjusting a winning lineup, and said this road trip is "all about winning.

"We've been together two months. We know who plays hard. We know who we would like to play harder. We know who is dependable; you know who's a competitor, who's not a competitor. … What I'm looking at in the five games is, where are we in our emergence as a team?"

BRODEUR OUT: You'd think the absence of New Jersey G Martin Brodeur (elbow) would be an advantage for Tampa Bay. Melrose had a different take.

"From a coach's point of view, it actually causes problems," he said. "You have a team that's mentally preparing to play against the best goaltender in the game, and all of a sudden he's not there. It's human nature. They'll say, 'Wow, it's a great break for us and we don't have to work as hard.'

"That's how a coach thinks. You find a black cloud in everything. Kevin Weekes is an experienced NHL goaltender. Marty Brodeur being hurt only helps us if we work as hard as we did before."

MASKED MAN: G Mike Smith has his third new mask of the season, and said he might wear a new one every month. He said he wore a Christmas mask last year and likely will do so again.

"I think it's a great idea for goalies around the league," he said. "The artists are willing to do it and goaltenders have fun with different masks."

The current mask commemorates Veterans' Day and Canada's Remembrance Day. Both are celebrated Tuesday. The United States flag and army boots are on one side. The Canadian flag is on the other. All 30 NHL logos adorn the brow.

Smith said he is unsure if he will give the mask to charity as he did the Saw V mask he wore the past few weeks.

ALL-STAR BALLOTS: C Vinny Lecavalier and RW Marty St. Louis are listed. Smith, who entered Tuesday third in the league with a .941 save percentage and fourth with a 2.07 goals-against average, is not.

>>TONIGHT

Lightning at Devils

When/where: 7; Prudential Arena, Newark, N.J.

TV/radio: Sun Sports; 620-AM

Injuries: Tampa Bay — RW Radim Vrbata (groin) is day to day. New Jersey — G Martin Brodeur (elbow), D Andy Greene (hand), C Bobby Holik (finger), C Brian Rolston (ankle) and RW Barry Tallackson (heart surgery) are out. RW Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (nasal surgery) and D Paul Martin (upper body soreness) are day to day.

Key stats: Mike Smith starts in goal. … Devils G Kevin Weekes is 3-3 with two ties in 10 games against his former team with a 2.35 goals-against average, a .918 save percentage and two shutouts. … Tampa Bay is 4-1-3 since two season-opening losses to the Rangers. … Devils LW Zach Parise entered Tuesday tied for second in the league with nine goals.

Tampa Bay Lightning's Vrbata's return could force move 11/04/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 10, 2008 1:18pm]
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