© St. Petersburg Times, published January 20, 2002
TAMPA -- Requests to be excused from practice are serious business. But when Zdeno Ciger asked to skip two days of workouts, his was granted immediately.
The right wing flew to his native Slovakia Jan. 9 to pick up his 14-year-old daughter, Michaela, who was visiting her mother, Ciger's ex-wife, for Christmas.
"She wanted to stay there," said Ciger, who returned for the Jan. 12 game against the Senators. "She doesn't know what's good for her."
Ciger dismissed the idea that worrying about Michaela contributed to some sketchy play. But he was much better in the four games after his return leading to Saturday night's matchup against the Canadiens at the Ice Palace.
In his first 10 games after being acquired from the Rangers Dec. 12 for Matthew Barnaby, Ciger, 32, had a goal and an assist and was minus-6. In the next four, he had three goals and an assist (all Tuesday against the Devils), an even plus/minus and played 22 minutes, 16 seconds Friday against Chicago.
General manager Rick Dudley said granting the leave of absence was a no-brainer.
"From my perspective, any time you can accommodate someone to make their situation better, you do it," he said. "We felt this would get him in the right frame of mind."
A conversation with coach John Tortorella also helped. The two met after Ciger was benched Jan. 4 against the Blackhawks and was disappointed enough to speak of retirement after the season.
"We had a great conversation," Tortorella said.
"I spoke with the coach and realized I'm much better with the team," Ciger said. "I feel like the team needs me."
SPARK PLUG: He did not score in his first five games with the Lightning, but defenseman Dan Boyle has had a profound affect on the offense.
Before Boyle was acquired Jan. 7 from the Panthers for a draft choice, Tampa Bay averaged 25 shots on goal. After Boyle, the average was 31.4 going into Saturday's game, including four games in the 30s.
Boyle skates and moves the puck well and, with the passing of defenseman Mathieu Biron, has given the transition game a boost.
"Big time," Tortorella said of Boyle's influence. "He goes right up the gut (of the ice) and we enter (the offensive zone)."
ODDS AND ENDS: Center Tim Taylor, the team's top faceoff man who has missed six of seven games with a groin strain, said he hopes to play Monday against the Devils. ... Left wing Dave Andreychuk played his 1,408th game to pass Dale Hunter for 15th all-time. Paul Coffey is at 1,409, Norm Ullman at 1,410 and Harry Howell at 1,411.