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St. Louis' injury hurts Lightning O

The team's best scorer will have surgery today to repair his broken leg, leaving Tampa Bay to fill another offensive hole.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 25, 2002

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Rick Dudley was scouting the Hurricanes-Predators game in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday night, when he heard right wing Martin St. Louis broke his right fibula and might be lost for the season.

The Lightning general manager said he was so shaken up it was difficult to concentrate. But then he said he recognized, "This is what I'm supposed to do, find guys to fill holes."

Dudley has been fishing around for a deal that would give Tampa Bay more scoring punch. It doesn't take a genius to figure out the loss of the team's leader in points, goals and power-play goals has, for all you Emeril Lagasse fans, kicked that up a notch.

"Yes, we were looking before this happened," Dudley said. "It doesn't take on any more urgency in that you don't make a trade because a guy got hurt. But you try to fill holes, and that's what we're going to try to do."

Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett said St. Louis is scheduled for surgery today to repair the break and an unstable ankle joint discovered when the player was examined by team doctor Richard Lehman.

Lehman will perform the procedure in which a metal plate will be used to stabilize the injury that is expected to take 8-10 weeks to heal.

It is the latest in a series of injuries that includes center Tim Taylor (groin), defenseman Nolan Pratt (broken leg), forward Brian Holzinger (rotator cuff) and Sheldon Keefe (sprained knee).

That means coach John Tortorella must again reconfigure his lines for tonight's game against the Sabres at HSBC Arena.

He shifted Brad Richards from center to St. Louis' position during Thursday's practice, and moved Vinny Lecavalier to center on that line, which also includes Fredrik Modin.

Taylor also is expected back. The center missed eight of nine games but said the situation dictates he return even if he is not 100 percent.

Tortorella declined to talk about line combinations. But until a trade is made -- and that is not guaranteed -- the team with 97 goals, fewest in the league, must deal with the situation internally.

"When you lose your top scorer coupled with a season in which you struggled offensively, that is a big deal," Tortorella said. "But again, you have to move right by that and create an opportunity for other people to step up."

Said Dudley: "Someone has to assume the mantel. If you are a good team and a good organization, somebody does."

That means players like Lecavalier, Modin, Vinny Prospal, Brad Richards and Zdeno Ciger, all of whom have had ups and downs. Tortorella also wouldn't mind a spurt from talented rookie Nikita Alexeev.

"Marty has been our top player, but he shouldn't be our top player," Tortorella said of St. Louis. "Can you imagine, with what Marty has done, if our top players had done half of what he's done for this hockey team, where you would be."

Much of the focus will be on Lecavalier, not only because he is a marquee player but because he may be lining up with Richards, his childhood friend.

"I felt real comfortable out there," Lecavalier said after practice. "He knows where I am on the ice and I know where he is."

Tortorella said not to judge the Lightning and what toll St. Louis' injury has taken, until at least the All-Star break.

"I'm really anxious to see who is going to step up," Tortorella said. "Who's going to take those minutes and who's going to step up and take that offense? Who's going to step up and take that penalty kill? Who's going to step up and do the things he's done for this team?"

"Not that we're not going to miss him, but we have to move on," left wing Dave Andreychuk said. "We have to win games without him."

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