It has been more than 12 years since Barry Melrose’s last victory as an NHL head coach. A slow start to his tenure with the Tampa Bay Lightning probably hasn’t made that wait any easier.
Although he hadn’t been an NHL coach since 1995 with Los Angeles, the Lighting hired Melrose to turn around a team that finished with a league-low 31 wins and 71 points last season. There is no shortage of talent on Tampa Bay (0-2-1) with star forwards Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos, the top overall pick in this year’s draft.
Despite that skill, Tampa Bay was limited to one goal in each of its two losses to the New York Rangers in a season-opening series in the Czech Republic. The Lightning then built a 3-0 lead in their home opener against Carolina on Saturday, but were outshot 20-2 in the third period and lost 4-3 in overtime.
“That wasn’t a game,” Melrose said. “We have a two-goal lead in the third period and we go out and we just stop working. We stopped doing the things we were doing in the first two periods. That’s the gist of it.”
Settling on a No. 1 goaltender figures to be one of Melrose’s top priorities, and both Mike Smith and Olaf Kolzig are stating their case. Smith is 0-1-1 despite a .931 save percentage while Kolzig stopped 37 of 39 shots in his only appearance.
Kolzig, 38, is expected to get the start on Thursday. He is 26-10-2 with two ties and a 2.31 goals-against average lifetime against the Islanders (1-2-0).
Melrose hasn’t been shy about calling out his best players, saying he expects his skill players to work harder for goals.
“They need to go to the net and win more physical battles,” Melrose said on the team’s official Web site.
Lecavalier has 18 goals and 34 points in 35 career games against New York, including a hat trick in the teams’ most recent meeting, an 8-4 Tampa Bay win on March 11.
Melrose would also like to see more from Stamkos, who has yet to record a point in his first three games.
The Lighting should get a huge boost Thursday with return of defenseman Paul Ranger, who sat out the season’s first three games following offseason shoulder surgery. Ranger tied for the team lead among defensemen last season with 31 points.
After evening their record with a 5-2 victory over St. Louis on Saturday, the Islanders allowed 11 power plays and were outclassed 7-1 by Buffalo on Monday.
“We were looking for the easy way,” captain Bill Guerin said. “That’s why we took penalties. We can’t take shortcuts.”
Joey MacDonald allowed all seven goals on 35 shots in his third straight start in place of DiPietro, who is working his way back from offseason hip surgery. DiPietro practiced Wednesday, but the Islanders haven’t said when he would make his season debut.
New York is 1-3-2 in its last six visits to Tampa Bay.