LETNANY, Czech Republic — Nobody is ready to call it a trend, but vice president of hockey operations Brian Lawton said he wants to reverse consecutive preseason games in which the Lightning was outshot and outplayed.
Tampa Bay won both despite being outshot 87-43, thanks to superb goaltending by Mike Smith and Karri Ramo. But as Lawton pointed out Friday while watching the team's first practice in Europe, "We're not going to win a lot of games that way."
Coach Barry Melrose said his players have been weak on the puck and not winning battles. And Lawton said of Thursday's 4-2 victory against the Rangers in which Tampa Bay was outshot 47-25: "I just saw guys back on their heels. We need to be an aggressive puck-handling club. I didn't see that."
"We're in the right spots," Melrose said. "We're just not winning the battles and doing the job. Those things are correctable.''
Video might be the answer, Melrose said. "Sometimes it takes the guys to see it themselves," he said. "Sometimes when a coach says, 'You're losing battles' or 'You're not strong on the puck,' they say, 'It wasn't me. It was someone else.' Sometimes you need to watch a little TV and say, 'Wow, that was me.' ''
But W Mark Recchi said no one should get too worked up over two preseason games.
"It will definitely get better," he said. "We'll structure the forecheck well, and once you do that, everything will fall into place. If you're 10 games into the season and you're doing the same things, then worry about it."
RAMO IMPRESSES AGAIN: Ramo's 45 saves Thursday made him 2-0 in the preseason with a 1.94 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.
"Karri has been terrific," Lawton said. "He is further ahead than I thought."
That may not help Ramo make the team. He still is third behind Smith and Olaf Kolzig and likely will not play in Europe.
Kolzig is scheduled to play Sunday in an exhibition game in Germany. Smith should play the preseason finale, Tuesday in Slovakia. Ramo is expected to be sent to AHL Norfolk when Tampa Bay returns to North America.
"You're just pushing forward day by day," Ramo said.
ROSTER TRIMMING: The roster is 29 and must be down to 24, including Ramo as a temporary third goaltender while the team is in Europe, by the Oct. 4 season opener against the Rangers in Prague, Czech Republic.
It will be down to 26 if, as expected, C Jeff Halpern (knee), W Nick Tarnasky (thumb) and D Paul Ranger (shoulder) are put on injured reserve, which will keep them off the roster count for at least seven days. That means two cuts to go.
ROCK STARS: When the Lightning bus pulled up to the practice rink, a swarm of about 100 fans, especially the kids in the group, began crowding around asking for autographs. TV cameras rolled. Photographers walked backward in front of Czech natives Vinny Prospal, Radim Vrbata and David Koci and snapped pictures. They did the same to star and captain Vinny Lecavalier.
"Now I know what Vinny has to do every day of his life," Pros- pal said.
NOTHING TO SEE HERE: Before bussing to the practice rink, the players got into their gear in a locker room at the O2 Arena in Prague, where the Oct. 4 and 5 games against the Rangers will be held.
When Melrose tried to walk down a hall to see the ice, a stern man with a yellow security jacket blocked the way.
"Can I see the ice?" Melrose asked.
The stern man said nothing and slowly shook his head.
"Tough country," Melrose said. "I hope they let us out there (Saturday) to skate."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.