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The Lightning had a good workout at Mellon Arena this morning in preparation for tonight's preseason opener against the Penguins. The Lightning have traveled a young line up and they will have a tough task at hand tonight as Pittsburgh will dress the majority of its regulars, including Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Petr Sykora, Sergei Gonchar and Marc-Andre Fleury to name a few. Karri Ramo will get the start in net for the Lightning and is expected to play the entire game.
Head coach Barry Melrose welcomed the challenge of taking on Pittsburgh's best players, "We've got to find out about our guys," he said. Melrose will start with Michel Ouellet, Steven Stamkos
and Ryan Craig serving as the top offensive unit. Watching Ryan Craig this morning reminded me of how effective he can be in front of the net with tips and screens. That is something the Lightning has lacked in recent history. The second line will consist of Radek Smolenak, Brandon Bochenski and Jussi Jokinen. Jokinen will center the line, a position he has not played since his time in Dallas, and Melrose would like to see him show a little bit of his play-making ability.
The Penguins will have Pascal Dupuis, Crosby and Miroslav Satan as their top line and Jordan Staal, Malkin and Sykora on the second line. Former Tampa Bay defenseman Darryl Sydor will also be in the line up.
Stamkos, who will make his NHL debut tonight, was spared by the media this morning but couldn't avoid the group of autograph-seekers in front of the hotel as the bus returned from Mellon Arena. Melrose will be coaching his first preseason game since 1994 and is confident and ready to go, "This is what I've been waiting for. Its been a great time and I can't wait to get behind the bench," he said. Melrose also said that he plans on being behind the bench for all exhibition games.
Its always great to see former Lightning equipment assistant Dana Heinze. He is now the head equipment manager for the Pens. Lightning locker room assistant Dick Sloggett is making his first road trip while Ray Thill and Clay Roffer stayed in Tampa with the non-game players. The Lightning were not the only team staying at the hotel in Pittsburgh as the Pitt football team was also being hosted by the hotel prior to their game against Iowa today. It also seems like the entire state of Iowa is staying at the hotel for the game since it is so close to Heinz Field. I have a great view of stadium from my room as the game is going on this afternoon.
Don't forget Ice Fest tomorrow. See everyone there!