Tampa Bay Lightning
Bolts' Malone starting to get rewarded for hard work
TORONTO - The presence of league-leading goal scorer Steven Stamkos in his hometown tonight will grab plenty of attention when the Lightning hit the Air Canada Centre ice. The presence of Ryan Malone around the net, meanwhile, is starting to garner the attention of the opposing team as the 6-foot-4 power forward recently has started to chip in offensively. He started with one goal and seven assists in the first 14 games, continuing a scoring drought from the second half of last season, when the five-time 20-goal scorer went without a goal for the final 19 games and had only seven assists during that time. That's one goal during a 33-game span between the end of last year and the start of this season. Perhaps his recent play is starting to snap him out of his offensive slumber.In the past 10 games, Malone has four goals and eight points, including a pair of multi-point games the past three outings. His two-goal effort against the Rangers on Wednesday night was his first two-goal game since Dec. 21 last season against the Islanders. "Ryan Malone has been working extremely hard since the beginning of the year,'' Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "The last 10 games have been great. When you see a guy getting all those scoring chances and not putting them in, you know it's real close. He kept on battling.'' Both of Malone's goals against the Rangers came in front of the net off rebounds on the power play while parked in the crease. Malone has begun to establish his presence in the absence of Simon Gagne, who started the season on the top power-play unit. On Saturday in a shootout loss to Florida, Malone picked up a pair of assists, one on a power play and the other on Sean Bergenheim's tying goal late in the third. Both came from areas around the net. "One of my strengths, I feel, is my play around the net, especially on the power play, to release pressure, win the battles in the corner and help slow down their rims so guys can keep the pucks in,'' Malone said. "I've been getting chances, and I think the biggest thing is I've been trying to move my feet, trying to create some offense by bringing pucks to the net. And by being at the net, sometimes you get those dirty empty-net rebounds. I've been waiting for them.'' Scoring woes are no fun for a player used to scoring goals. So it's vital to continue to do the little things, do things the right way and not let the lack of offense take away other parts of the game. "You definitely can't start cheating offensively if things are not going well. You have to make sure you're playing smart defensively, and it's not going to last forever. I think any hockey player knows that,'' Malone said. "You want to contribute and help out, but when the team is winning you still want to make sure you are playing the right way defensively and the offense will come. Those big goals may happen down the road, so it's not something you focus on as long as you are creating chances.'' Lately, he has been getting those chances from his main spot in front of the net, where his presence has been noticed. "He's fighting in front of the net more with players in order to stay there instead of trying to score,'' Boucher said. "So he's taken that to heart over the past 10 games and it's showing. "It's nice to see that paying off for a guy like Malone because it's been a while and he deserves it.''