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Grit, goals on agenda

By FRANK PASTOR

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2002


BRANDON -- Since John Tortorella took over as coach a little more than a year ago, the Lightning has upgraded its goaltending, solidified its defense and learned to play as a team.

BRANDON -- Since John Tortorella took over as coach a little more than a year ago, the Lightning has upgraded its goaltending, solidified its defense and learned to play as a team.

Now, general manager Jay Feaster says, it's time for the club to take the next step.

Scoring goals and showing grit are the Lightning's top priorities as it begins the season's final 24-game stretch Tuesday against Detroit.

Feaster said Tampa Bay, 13 points out of the final playoff spot in the East, needs to find ways to score, by getting more production from key players or by acquiring a proven goal-scorer before the March19 trading deadline.

The Lightning's 113 goals are fewest in the league.

"We'll look at it very hard this summer," he said. "We'll also start looking at it now.

"That's something that if the right deal's out there before the deadline, if there's something we could do, we'd obviously take a look at doing it now. But it's really something that has to be addressed."

Injuries kept the Lightning's top three goal-scorers from practicing Saturday at the Ice Forum.

Leading scorer Martin St. Louis (broken leg) watched from a balcony while leaning on crutches. Fredrik Modin (wrist injury) stood next to him with a cast on his right arm.

Vinny Lecavalier (chipped bone in left ankle) was running in a pool.

But even when healthy, Modin and Lecavalier have had difficulty putting the puck in the net, as have the team's other top offensive players, Vinny Prospal and Brad Richards.

"To get offense consistently, your most creative people have to be your best players, and for most of this year, plain and simply, they haven't been," Tortorella said.

Feaster also would like to add grit on the forward lines, a la Colorado or Philadelphia.

"We have to be a miserable, rotten, nasty hockey team to play against," he said. "You may come into our building and you may take two points out, but you will know on the trip home that you paid a heck of a price to come in and do it."

RUSSIAN IMPORT: Alexander Svitov, the Lightning's top pick in the June draft, remains involved in a hearing in Russia regarding the method of his induction into the military.

But Feaster expects the rugged power forward to be in Tampa Bay by the middle of next year, when his two-year military commitment ends, if not sooner.

Once Svitov's legal situation is over, Feaster said he will talk with Russian authorities to try to persuade them to allow Svitov to attend training camp. "Jan. 1 of 2003, one way or the other, he's going to be in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization." PUCKS STOP HERE: Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin struggled in the two weeks before the Olympics but obviously was back on top of his game in Salt Lake City.

He made 46 saves in Russia's 3-2 loss to the United States on Friday, two days after stopping 41 shots in a 1-0 win over the Czech Republic.

Two of Khabibulin's saves in the Czech Republic game came against Lightning teammate Pavel Kubina, who spoke with Tortorella on Saturday morning. Tortorella told Kubina he thought the Czech Republic had a better team than Russia.

"Kubie said, "The (expletive) stopped everything,' " Tortorella said, laughing.

NOT YET: Lecavalier said he hopes to test his ankle on the ice today and hopes to play Tuesday.

"It feels better than yesterday," he said.

Around the league

KINGS: The team could resume its season Tuesday without coach Andy Murray, who was readmitted to a Minnesota hospital late Friday with lingering symptoms of post-concussion syndrome. Murray was involved in a car accident Feb. 15 in Wisconsin. He is expected to see a neurologist over the weekend, the team said. The 50-year-old also broke four ribs and injured a shoulder when his truck slid off an icy highway.

PENGUINS: Martin Straka is scheduled to rejoin the team Wednesday, two months earlier than planned. Doctors said Straka likely would miss six months when he broke his right leg against Florida Oct. 28. But Straka said an X-ray confirmed his tibia is healed enough for him to play against Los Angeles.

-- Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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