Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet considers forward Ryan Malone old school.
That's quite a compliment considering Malone hasn't even reached his 30th birthday and is in the midst of just his fifth NHL season. Then again, Malone is second on the team with 62 hits. The 6-foot-4, 224-pound wing was also a glutton for punishment during the 2008 Stanley Cup Final as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
If you'll recall, in Game 1 of the Final against the Detroit Red Wings last spring, Malone was the recipient of a Niklas Kronwall check that broke his nose. Still, Malone returned to the lineup. In Game 5, he took a Hal Gill slap shot off the face, opening a gash on his cheek and reshaping that nose yet again. Still, he returned.
"Gary Roberts told us that he won the Stanley Cup in the late 1980s with Calgary and that it took almost 20 years to get another crack at it (with Pittsburgh last season), so you just never know when you might get that opportunity again," Malone told NHL.com. "That's why it didn't matter to me. I just wanted to get back in there and help the team anyway I could."
Yeah, Malone is definitely an old school player in a young man's body.
"He's old school because he just empties the tank every shift," Tocchet said. "After practice and games, he's the guy sitting in the back of the bus always tired and worn out. He's not a player who still has a little bit remaining; he empties it and that's what we're looking for."
After spending four seasons with Pittsburgh, the town in which he was born and raised, the Lightning acquired Malone and Roberts from the Penguins during the summer for a third-round draft pick in 2009. Malone would sign a seven-year contract with the Lightning on June 29.
On Tuesday, Malone returns to Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh for the first time since Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final when he'll take a seat in the visitors' dressing room as a member of the Lightning.
"I'm not going to lie, I grew up around the rink there and grew up in the area so to go back and go in the other locker room is going to be a little weird," Malone said. "It'll be a little emotional, but it'll be fun and I'm excited."
In his last regular-season stint with Pittsburgh in 2007-08, Malone would record career highs in goals (27), assists (24), points (51), power-play goals (11), penalty minutes (103) and plus-minus rating (plus-14) while leading the team with 6 game-winning goals. He was also second on the club with 127 hits. In his playoff debut last season, he posted 6 goals and 16 points in 20 games.
"It was just a great group of guys (in Pittsburgh)," Malone said. "It's tough now with the way the game is today; you kind of wish you had the same group of guys and were able to get another crack at it because I really thought we deserved it."
Now, he's just hoping for a crack at making the playoff with the Lightning -- a team that sits last in the Eastern Conference with seven wins and 23 points. He's produced 7 goals and 13 points in 23 games for the Lightning.
"When we have our video sessions, he's the one in front of the net 90 percent of the time," Tocchet said. "He's one of our leaders and he's won before. Ryan had that Stanley Cup run last year and what I like about him, he's not happy right now. He doesn't like what's going on and I like guys who, when things aren't going good or the team is not playing well, are angry. He's an angry player and that's why he's playing so well for us."
Even Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby
thinks it might be a little strange seeing his former linemate on the opposite side.
"I think it will be (strange) at the outset, but now that we're in the swing of things, we've probably moved on and he's moved on," Crosby said. "But, you know, when you go through a run like we had (in 2007-08) and spend a few years playing with a guy, it's always a little bit different the first time you see them in a different jersey.
"Ryan brought a lot to our team. He brought scoring and was a gritty guy, a character player. It must have been nice for him to play in his hometown and I think it was pretty obvious he offered a lot for us and was a big part of us getting to where we got last year."
Malone knows hard work will eventually pay dividends in Tampa.
"I look back to my rookie year in Pittsburgh when we finished in last place and it's at those times when you realize all those little things on the ice, be it a faceoff or just dumping the puck into the corner, could win or lose you the game," Malone said. "It's about being consistent and some guys are still learning, but it's our job as the older guys to kind of enforce that and make sure we turn this thing around in Tampa."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.