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EARLY HOME ATTENDANCE DOWN

Victories are not the only thing the Lightning has lacked. Crowds generally have been thin as well.

Tampa Bay averaged 15,521 in its first four games at the St. Pete Times Forum, including a high of 18,552 on opening night and a low of 13,922 Tuesday against the Thrashers.

Officially, the average is down 3,171 from last season's 18,692, but the numbers reflect tickets distributed. Fans in the stands have been less.

"You'd always like to see more people in the building for your team's games, so, yes, there is room for improvement," team spokesman Bill Wickett said.

Tampa Bay is battling several fronts, including the Rays' success. Three of those home games conflicted with Rays playoff games. The Thrashers game did not, though as Wickett noted, "History shows us that weeknight games in the fall aren't always the most highly attended games on our schedule."

The 5-2 Bucs have stolen some focus. The Lightning's slow start hasn't helped, and the season-ticket campaign did not have a playoff season as a hook.

"We will continue to closely monitor the crowds and make sure we are offering our fans affordable options for attending Lightning games this season," Wickett said.

NOT TWO OF A KIND: Coach Barry Melrose said there is no sense comparing Sharks D Dan Boyle, 32, with Matt Carle, 24, who came to the Lightning in the Boyle trade.

"Totally different players, totally different points in their careers," he said. "Dan Boyle is a great offensive defenseman." He sees Carle as "an all-around, solid NHL defenseman."

Said Carle of the trade: "I never saw it me for him. I'm not trying to come in here and replace Dan Boyle. He's a great hockey player, and that's why the Sharks went after him. I think our D has elevated its game, and that's what I was hoping for when I came here, that all of us would step up and ... work together to replace what Dan Boyle brought to the table."

SCORELESS STAMKOS: Rookie Steven Stamkos entered Saturday without a goal in six games, tied, he said, with his longest streak - ever.

"And Canada is in an uproar," Melrose said. "Steven will be fine. People have to relax. He's 18 years old. Once the first one comes in, he'll score consistently, I have no doubt about it. He's going to be a great player in the NHL for a lot of years to come."

ODDS AND ENDS: W Jason Ward played his first game of the season. ... F Ryan Craig (groin) skated with the team; RW Radim Vrbata (groin) did not. ... D Janne Niskala was scratched.

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