Coach sits Ben Clymer and Zdeno Ciger, says more could follow if Lightning continues to sputter.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 4, 2002
CHICAGO -- John Tortorella has preached accountability all season.
A couple of accounts came due Thursday as the Lightning coach benched right wing Ben Clymer and left wing Zdeno Ciger for tonight's game against the Blackhawks. "They haven't produced, and you have to produce," Tortorella said.
Clymer has eight goals but has just two and is minus-8 in his past 20 games. Ciger has one assist in eight games since being acquired from the Rangers, is minus-7 overall and minus-5 in his past four games.
Tortorella also sounded a warning:
"It might happen to some others." Ciger, whose ice time has decreased from 18:08 in his first game with Tampa Bay to a low of 11:18 Monday against the Maple Leafs, is not happy.
He said a meeting with Tortorella was "pretty good," but believes more ice time, not less, is better. "I know how to play the game," he said. "I need to be trusted and just play. I need to play a lot. If I play, I think I'm going to be better.
"If you don't get the ice time, you're only half a player. That's the way it is. Every good player needs ice time. Then you help the team."
While Ciger, 32, said he wants to be part of the Lightning, he also said he would consider retiring at the end of the season if his situation doesn't improve.
"If things are not going my way, I'm going to leave," he said. "I'm not going to stay if I'm not going to play good. I hope the second half is going to turn around and I'll get something better.
"I like Tampa and the nice people. I want to be part of the team. I'll do my best."
The benchings are part of Tortorella's attempt to stem a negative tide before it turns into a tidal wave. Tampa Bay has lost four consecutive games, and the past two -- 4-1 to the Maple Leafs and 2-0 to the Wild -- were ugly.
The Lightning was six points out of a playoff spot entering Thursday's games, but Tortorella said he knows the gap can widen quickly.
"January is setup month," he said. "Are you going to be in the hunt in February and March?"
Clymer and Ciger are expected to be part of that hunt.
Clymer, a converted defenseman, has a booming shot and the grit and energy to get to the net. He has played every game, and his 18:22 average ice time is third on the team among forwards.
Ciger was acquired in large part to help Vinny Lecavalier break a seasonlong scoring slump. But Lecavalier continues to struggle, and Ciger, who had six goals and seven assists in 29 games with New York, has yet to find the net.
"I think for us to be a better team and be in the hunt, it's very important he be a part of that," Tortorella said. "He's a very skilled guy and a willing guy."
Benchings have been rare in recent Lightning seasons. Tortorella said that probably was because some past teams lacked the depth to make moves.
While the depth is better, it's still not the Grand Canyon. Still, Tortorella said, "I think we'll get them to create a push. We'll see."
Part of that push is to get players driving to the net without the puck and setting screens in front of the goaltender. That creates more options for the offense and chances for tip-ins and rebounds. The Lightning failed to do that against the Maple Leafs and Wild, and it is something the team worked on diligently for most of Thursday's practice.
"It's been told to us, and we still aren't doing it," left wing Dave Andreychuk said. "We have to sacrifice ourselves to get goals."
And, as Tortorella is trying to make clear, to be accountable.
WHEN/WHERE: 8:30; United Center, Chicago.
TV/RADIO: Sunshine; WDAE-AM 620. THE LOWDOWN: The Lightning reassigned D Josef Boumedienne to AHL Springfield and recalled D Kristian Kudroc. The Blackhawks, one of the league's hottest teams, are 11-3-1 in their past 15 and have won four in a row. Chicago is 14-3-4 at home and, entering Thursday, was tied with the Coyotes for fewest home losses. The Lightning has lost four in a row but has won three of its past five on the road. Chicago likely will be without D Boris Mironov, who has pulled muscles in his back and midsection. G Jocelyn Thibault has lost just two of his past 11 and has a league-high 22 victories. Chicago had the league's worst penalty kill at 77.5 percent (145-for-187). C Steve Sullivan was tied for the league lead with six game-winning goals. Tampa Bay is 6-13-2-1 on the road. The Lightning is 8-4-1 against the West. Chicago is 6-2-1-1 against the East. This is the first of two meetings. Chicago leads the series 9-7-4 and is 6-3-2 at home.