has languished at the bottom of the standings before. He’s also come this close to the National Hockey League’s summit. Maybe that’s why the left winger could be primed as one of Tampa Bay’s leaders despite being with the team less than half a season.
At least that’s what Interim Head Coach Rick Tocchet believes.
“He’s definitely at a point in his career now where he can take off as a leader,” Tocchet said. “He’s been a force for us and even though he doesn’t have a letter on his sweater, we’re looking for him to lead us.”
Malone, who was acquired from Pittsburgh this past summer, wasn’t one of the Penguins’ household names like Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, but was a key contributor nonetheless. Career highs in goals (27), assists (24) and points (51) during the regular season led to a solid 20-game postseason, which ended against Detroit just two wins shy of a Stanley Cup.
Now, with the Lightning attempting to overcome a difficult start and get back into playoff contention, Malone’s unique experience could pay big dividends to some of Tampa Bay’s younger players - especially during some of its most difficult times.
“We have a good group of guys here and we’re not that far off,” Malone said. “The first year in Pittsburgh we were the bottom of the barrel. We got lucky with some of the guys we brought in and then we all got to go from the bottom to the top and see the talent it takes to do that. That’s when we realized we were a damn good hockey team.
“We have the ability to be just like that.”
Malone acknowledged that Tampa Bay’s struggles have been difficult to take at times following an ultra-successful season with the Penguins, but he’s never second-guessed the move south. Teammate Mark Recchi, who’s won a pair of Stanley Cups - including one with Pittsburgh - has shared the same sting of defeat this season. He admitted, with age certainly comes no relief from that.
He’s been a force for us and even though he doesn’t have a letter on his sweater, we’re looking for him to lead us. - Rick Tocchet
“It’s no easier for me than it is for him,” Recchi said. “Even though he didn’t win a Cup, he knows what it feels like to have success. “Ryan takes things hard, but that’s also good, because when you get to the point where it doesn’t matter much anymore, you’re playing for the wrong reasons.”
Playing in 30 of the Lightning’s 39 games this season, Malone has posted 21 points on 10 goals and 11 assists and is one of the few Tampa Bay players with a positive plus/minus rating. He’s even made his presence felt defensively, including a stop of a Sergei Samsonov shot at an open net during a 3-2 home loss to Carolina Saturday. Malone said it’s plays like that and the ability of Lightning players to stick to Tocchet’s nightly game plan that will help turn the season around. He should know. That’s exactly what the Penguins did just a season ago.
“I didn’t think about the trade too much when it happened, but I’ve stepped back and realized how lucky I was to play in Pittsburgh, have success there and wear that sweater, just as is the case here,” Malone said. “Just to be able to play in this league is a big deal for me, but it’s always better winning than losing. We can still get this thing turned around.”