It didn't take long for Barry Melrose to grow frustrated with his first NHL coaching gig in 12 years. He hopes nearly a week off has given his Tampa Bay Lightning enough time to respond to his first public challenge.
Less than a week after he called out his club for a lack of effort in losing its first two games of the season overseas, Melrose tries again for his first win as a head coach since 1995 as the Lightning host the Southeast Division rival Carolina Hurricanes in their home opener Saturday night.
Tampa Bay tied with Los Angeles for an NHL-low 71 points last season, missing the playoffs for the first time in five years and leading to the offseason firing of coach John Tortorella.
Melrose was hired to turn the team around, but he hasn't gotten the early results he hoped for. The Lightning opened the season last weekend in the Czech Republic, where they suffered back-to-back 2-1 losses to the New York Rangers on Saturday and Sunday.
"We don't compete," said Melrose, who spent the last 12 years as an analyst for ESPN following a three-year stint as coach of the Kings. "We're too easy to play against. Until that changes we're going to have trouble. We have a lot of skill on our team, but skill means nothing if you don't work hard."
Melrose was particularly critical of his star players, including captain Vincent Lecavalier, who just returned from a major shoulder injury. Meanwhile, he praised the line centered by Chris Gratton that includes veteran wingers Adam Hall and 42-year-old Gary Roberts.
"The best line tonight was again Gratton's line," Melrose said. "My biggest problem was I can't play Gratton's line every shift. It's probably the lowest paid line we've got on the ice but by far the best line in the last two games.
"I hope our guys are embarrassed. We've just got to get our great players playing as hard as our lesser players and we'll be fine."
The Lightning, in danger of their first 0-3-0 start since 2001, have dropped six straight in regulation dating to last season, their longest streak without a point since a six-game run from Nov. 1-11, 2005.
They'll try to snap the skid against a Carolina team that rallied from a two-goal first-period deficit to beat Florida 6-4 in its season opener Friday night, avenging a loss in last season's finale that helped keep the Hurricanes out of the postseason.
Six different Hurricanes players scored Friday, including Joni Pitkanen and Dan LaCouture in their debuts with the team. Pitkanen, acquired from Edmonton in July, snapped a 3-all tie late in the second period, and LaCouture scored the game-winner at the 3:32 mark in the third.
"I'm just happy I was able to contribute - it ended up being the game-winning goal," said LaCouture, a 31-year-old veteran who played in Switzerland last year and made the team as an unsigned free agent. "The biggest thing is, we won the game and I'm happy I was able to contribute in some way."
Carolina went 4-4-0 against Tampa Bay in 2007-08, and Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward was 4-3-0 with a 2.30 goals-against average in the series.
Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith gave up 11 total goals in two losses to Carolina last season. He could give way Saturday to Olaf Kolzig, who was 2-3-0 with a 3.65 GAA in five games against the Hurricanes in 2007-08 while with Washington.
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