Early in the season this correspondent was very critical of Ryan Malone and his value to the Tampa Bay Lightning and with his ability to play in Guy Boucher’s up tempo, high energy system.
With the season winding down and the Lightning facing some adversity, Malone’s value is becoming increasingly more evident with every passing game. Frankly it is not a stretch to say that the Lightning will have a very tough time hoisting the Stanley Cup this year unless Malone is able to return to top form this season.
Before his injury, Malone was among the leaders on the team in power play goals with nine and had a total of 11 goals and 34 points this season. He provided the number one power play unit a force in front of the net, where he parked his rear end in front of the opposition goalie and made it real tough for them to see the puck coming from the points. Malone is also a guy who 5-on-5 played on any of the top three lines and is just as successful. That versatility has been tough for Boucher to replace.
The big power forward’s biggest contribution was his toughness and willingness to be that physical presence that this team is lacking. Malone will sacrifice his body by going into the corners, something not many of his teammates seem to be willing to do.
It could be said that since Malone’s absence the team is getting worn down from the consistent punishment from the opposition. In particular, the Boston Bruins with Shawn Thornton and company have beat on the Bolts the last couple of times the teams have faced off. Without Malone’s physical presence on the ice the team’s stars have been the brunt of the punishment from the more physical teams in the league.
Finally trying to replace his leadership in the room as been real tough his calming influence is evident when talking to his teammates. The other players on the team know that “Bugsy,” as his teammates refer to him, has their backs on the ice, as Malone is not a guy that is necessarily a “tough guy or enforcer” but he is not afraid to drop the gloves to stick up for his teammates.
Malone has been out since February 8th with what is been called a mid-body injury. Most people feel that he has a torn stomach muscle which most doctors feel that he should be back by the playoffs, but the team has to hope that Malone is back at the beginning of April. This way he has a chance to knock off some the rust in his game before the playoffs start.