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Melrose expects more out of his stars

by Dan Rosen
PRAGUE, Czech Republic – The Tampa Bay Lightning left Prague on Sunday night taking the glass-half-full approach despite losing both games of the Bridgestone NHL Premiere Prague.

“The one bright side is it was 2-1 both games and we definitely weren’t playing our best and they threw all they had at us,” rookie center Steven Stamkos told “That shows the potential we have here. There are no excuses for that kind of effort, but once we get back to Tampa and get settled a bit, I think we’ll be good to go.”

While Lightning coach Barry Melrose was furious with his star players, he praised his entire defense.

Mike Lundin came in and was great. Vladimir Mihalik played another strong game,” Melrose said.

Jamie Heward, the first cut in camp. We bring him back and he’s playing 20 minutes and he’s better than some guys that are making millions of dollars because he competes and he keeps it simple. We just have to get our great players playing as hard as our lesser players and we’ll be fine.”

Melrose also said his best line throughout the weekend was actually his grinding line of Chris Gratton, Adam Hall and Gary Roberts. They produced Tampa’s goal Sunday and registered five shots in the two games.

“I went in between periods and said my biggest problem is I can’t play Gratton’s line every shift,” Melrose said. “They’re probably the lowest-paid line we got on the ice, but by far our best line on the ice the last two nights … by far.”

As for the goaltending pair of Mike Smith and Olaf Kolzig, well, you can’t pass any blame on them for the two losses. Kolzig stopped 37 of 39 shots Sunday, and Smith turned aside 39 of 41 shots on Saturday.

Smith and Kolzig didn’t make Melrose’s decision of finding a No. 1 and sticking with him any easier.
“(Smith) is the real deal and I felt that last year was kind of an aberration,” said Kolzig, who lost his job in Washington to Cristobal Huet in early March. “I want to prove that that’s not the goalie I am. I want to come back and prove I can still play this game at a high level. I had a good camp and a good outing tonight, but we fell a little short. I felt I gave the guys an opportunity to win and at the end of the night as a goalie that’s all you can really hang your hat on.”

It’s not the shoulder – Vinny Lecavalier insists his surgically repaired right shoulder feels fine and it’s not the reason the Lightning captain appeared limited this weekend.

“I liked my first game better than my second, but the shoulder itself feels pretty decent,” Lecavalier
said. “It’s still a little bit sore, but that’s something I’m going to have to go through the whole season. We have a few days off here and we’ll come back hard.”

Lecavalier, who was a minus-1 with three shots Sunday, admitted he did feel winded at times, but only because he’s just now getting into game shape. Lecavalier didn’t play a preseason game until the Lightning arrived in Europe.

“You know what, it feels good, it really does,” he said. “If you had asked me the same question two, three weeks ago, I didn’t think I was going to start the season, but I felt really good (Saturday) night. I felt like I was skating well.”

Praising the Rangers – The Lightning think they know part of the reason why they struggled to get shots on Henrik Lundqvist.

“Give the Rangers credit,” Kolzig said. “They play a suffocating system.”

Stamkos said the Rangers were hard to play against because not only do they send shots to the net, their defensemen clog the middle well and take away the scoring areas.

“They have three guys back in the neutral zone every time,” he said. “It’s very tough to play against and once you get into their end their forwards are so skilled and their defense is aware on the ice. They get shots and pucks to the net and we can look at them as an example to use for upcoming games.”

Solid effortAaron Voros stirred things up in the first period by dropping the gloves and fighting Ryan Malone. In the second period, the Rangers grinding forward found himself in slot, deflecting Wade Redden’s point shot off of Kolzig. The rebound came to Scott Gomez at the right post and he slammed it back in for the game-winning goal.

“I feel good every night,” Voros said. “I just have to do my job, go to the net, work hard and bang out there.”

As for the fight with Malone 7:08 into the first period, which definitely charged up the O2 Arena crowd, Voros said, “both of us wanted to get our teams going. We play similar games, and that’s good.”
Baby blue-line shuffle – Melrose has already expressed concern about playing with such a young defensive corps, which is why he had to laugh at his lineup change for Sunday’s game.
Melrose took out 25-year-old Shane O’Brien and inserted the 24-year-old Lundin.
“Our ‘D’ just got younger,” Melrose said before the game, “but Mike will compete and that’s what we want.”
Melrose suggested it would be good for O’Brien to watch a game. He was out of position when Markus Naslund scored the first goal of Saturday’s game, although Melrose suggested it was a shot that goalie Mike Smith should have handled.

“We’d like him to be more physical and not run around as much,” Melrose said. “Hopefully watching a game will be good for him. Lundin played well the last game he played. He deserves to come into the lineup.”

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