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Lack of hustle baffles coach

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published September 25, 2003

BRANDON - John Tortorella sometimes just has to shake his head.

With jobs available on each of the Lightning's four lines, the coach said he cannot understand why some players fighting for those jobs have not stepped up.

"I just don't think some people have grabbed an opportunity," he said Wednesday. "Now we're going to shuffle the deck and see what else goes on and where it goes."

Tortorella declined to single out players, but it is not a stretch to believe right wing Nikita Alexeev and center Alexander Svitov are on the hot seat.

Alexeev, who has zero points and three shots in two games, was taken off Vinny Lecavalier's line during practice. Svitov, who has played in one game with zero points and one shot, did not have a set line and has been skating extra conditioning drills.

Both will play tonight against the Hurricanes, and considering neither needs to clear waivers before going to the minors, their efforts will be watched closely. Tortorella said he expects to cut three from the 32-player roster after the game or on Friday. The team must be down to 23 by Oct. 7.

"This exhibition game is really important for some guys to find out where they do fit," Tortorella said. "Are they being sent out right away or are they going to go until the last couple of guys?"

Trouble for Alexeev and Svitov will enhance opportunities for players such as right wings Sheldon Keefe, Shane Willis and Eero Somervuori, and centers Eric Perrin and Martin Cibak, each of whom is in tonight's lineup.

"I'll play hard and I'll play my best," Alexeev said. "My job is to fight in the corners and don't give up the puck and make a difference. That's what I'm going to do for the rest of the games."

LECAVALIER RETURNS: Lecavalier practiced after missing four days because of a right ankle infection and is expected to play against Carolina. The center said his foot still is slightly swollen but taking antibiotic pills four times daily and icing the ankle up to five times a day lessened the pain.

Lecavalier did upper body work at the Ice Sports Forum, but spent most of his time on the couch in his apartment, ankle elevated and watching television. He said the ankle "felt good" during practice.

"It's going to take a week to get back to where I was before," he said of his conditioning.

CLYMER REWARDED: After scoring two goals Sunday against the Hurricanes, right wing Ben Clymer was rewarded in practice with a spot on the first line with Lecavalier and Cory Stillman.

"It's fun to play with those guys," Clymer said. "You get excited when you play with the top line and players. It adds a little motivation to things."

LINEUP: The rest of tonight's roster includes Stillman, Dmitry Afanasenkov, Chris Dingman and Andre Roy, defensemen Jassen Cullimore, Cory Sarich, Brad Lukowich, Dan Boyle, Janne Laukkanen and Nolan Pratt and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin.

FREE LUNCH: Burgers, hot dogs, soda and beer from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at Shots restaurant at the St. Pete Times Forum. Captain Dave Andreychuk, left wing Ruslan Fedotenko and center Tim Taylor will sign autographs from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.

ODDS AND ENDS: Defenseman Darren Rumble missed practice and likely will sit out today because of back spasms. ... Goalie Brian Eklund said he was sore from being hit Tuesday with a slap shot and sustaining a collarbone contusion. His recovery should be quicker than the five to seven days predicted.

[Last modified September 25, 2003, 01:34:29]

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