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Team bonds but not with puck

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — Right wing Marty St. Louis figures the negative reviews of the Lightning's season-opening 2-1 loss to the Rangers will work in the team's favor.

"Adversity from the get-go," he said. "Everybody is going to judge our character. It brings the team closer together."

Really, though, team bonding, a major theme of Tampa Bay's 10-day European tour, had nothing to do with Saturday's defeat in front of 17,085 at sold-out, but strangely subdued, O2 Arena.

In the end, it was a numbers game.

Tampa Bay was outshot 41-21, including 16-3 in the second period. It also continued a troublesome preseason trend with seven minor penalties, the last of which, Gary Roberts' high stick, led to Brandon Dubinsky's goal that snapped a 1-1 tie with 5:44 left.

Give the Lightning credit, especially feisty goaltender Mike Smith and his 39 saves, for killing the first six power plays. But as coach Barry Melrose said, "You give the Rangers seven power plays, you're going to get a goal."

Penalty killing is not done in a vacuum, either. The energy and time it takes to do that has to come from somewhere.

"Seven penalties," Melrose said.

"You don't have to be a math major to figure out that's 14 minutes out of 60 you're short-handed, and 14 minutes some of your best players aren't on the ice, and 14 minutes of extra hard work for our defensemen. It's something we have to change."

So, too, does the team's effort when it comes to acquiring the puck, holding it and shooting. Melrose pointed fingers at his best players.

He did not name names, but consider that after Vinny Lecavalier's game-high six shots, no other Tampa Bay player had more than two.

And consider that St. Louis' tying goal on a wicked, sharp-angle backhander 3:57 into the third period was the Lightning's first shot in 13 minutes, 28 seconds.

"We have to hit the net more, and we have to get the puck to the net more five-on-five," Melrose said. "That's sort of an internal battle with our skill players. They don't like to shoot it, and they don't like to get it. That's something we have to change."

"They didn't really forecheck that hard," Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "They were more waiting for our mistakes, and we didn't make many."

It wasn't all dreary.

Smith, screened on the winning goal, was superb and played most of the third period with a bruised left forearm. The defense generally was okay, though Shane O'Brien struggled and was out of position on Markus Naslund's second-period goal.

And rookie Steven Stamkos looked comfortable, though Lund­qvist stopped him cold with a glove save on a breakaway at 9:57 of the third to preserve the 1-1 tie.

But defenseman Andrej Meszaros, a blue-line leader, took two penalties. Left wing Ryan Malone also had two. Roberts' was one too many. Oh, and the power play, 3-for-33 in preseason, was 0-for-4.

Forget the character issues.

"We have to take more shots," St. Louis said. "We can't get outshot like that."

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

Rangers 0 1 1 2
Lightning 0 0 1 1
Rangers 0 1 1 2
Lightning 0 0 1 1

First PeriodNone. Penalties — Dubinski, NYR (hooking), 5:59; Meszaros, TB (cross-checking) 12:39; Kalinin, NYR (hooking) 16:50; Meszaros, TB (hooking), 19:15).

Second Period1, N.Y. Rangers, Naslund 1 (Gomez), 18:08. Penalties — Artyukhin, TB (interference), 3:04; Girardi, NYR (hooking), 4:52; Malone, TB (hooking), 9:15; Heward, TB (interference), 14:30.

Third Period2, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 1 (Lecavalier), 3:57. 3, N.Y. Rangers, Dubinsky 1 (Girardi, Mara), 14:16 (pp). Penalties — Malone, TB (cross-checking), 5:25; Roberts, TB (high-sticking), 12:37; Drury, NYR (hooking), 16:25. Shots on GoalN.Y. Rangers 14-16-11—41. Tampa Bay 8-3-10—21. GoaliesN.Y. Rangers, Lundqvist. Tampa Bay, M.Smith. A17,085 (18,000). T2:26.

Rangers 2

Lightning 1

Team bonds but not with puck 10/04/08 [Last modified: Sunday, October 5, 2008 10:58am]

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