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Lightning losing luster

PANTHERS 4, LIGHTNING 0: In its second shutout in a week, Tampa Bay barely resembles the aggressive team that started the season.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published November 12, 2003

SUNRISE - When Dave Andreychuk addresses teammates in the next day or two, the meeting will take place behind closed doors. So it was decent of the Lightning captain to give a public preview. The catalyst was Tuesday night's uninspired 4-0 loss to the Panthers at the Office Depot Center.

It was the Lightning's second shutout loss in its past four games, and it dropped Tampa Bay's record in its past five to 1-2-1-1. In the four games other than Saturday's 9-0 victory over the Penguins, the Lightning has scored two goals - two - and looked nothing like the team that blasted off to a 7-0-1 start.

"We can't expect to just put our skates on and win games," Andreychuk said. "We need a lot more intensity. We have to stop looking in the paper and seeing where we are and start playing better."

Andreychuk may be just the warmup act for coach John Tortorella.

"We're a nice hockey team right now, meaning no jam, absolutely no jam," he said. "Nice, little cute plays coming across the blue lines, people getting out of the way.

"It's beyond me. And we're pretty, eh? Pretty to watch. Drop passes, criss-crosses. I don't see too much jam. We will not survive if we don't play with jam."

The loss ended the Lightning's seven-game unbeaten streak (5-0-2) against the Panthers and its six-game unbeaten streak (5-0-1) at Florida. An added tweak was that the Panthers bench was full of former Lightning employees.

General manager Rick Dudley, who held the same title with Tampa Bay from 1999 to 2002, coached his first game as interim after firing Mike Keenan and earned his first NHL coaching victory since November 1991 with the Sabres.

Next to him was assistant and former Lightning coach Steve Ludzik, whom Dudley just hired, and former Lightning assistant John Torchetti.

"The gratifying thing," Dudley said, "is we played arguably the best team in the National Hockey League, or certainly one of them, and we think we can be quite a bit better, and we beat them."

Beat them because Florida goalie Robert Luongo made 26 saves for his first shutout of the season and 17th of his career, and the Lightning could not answer after falling behind 2-0 in the first period on goals by Niklas Hagman and Andreas Lilja. Beat them because Tampa Bay was 0-for-5 on a power play that has scored just twice in 25 chances.

Nikolai Khabibulin, in his first start since shutting out Pittsburgh, made 25 saves but allowed a goal on the first shot he faced 3:12 into the game. Lilja's goal with 31.2 seconds left in the period bounced off at least one Lightning defenseman. But there were no game-turning saves.

There were no game-turning plays either. Brad Richards bemoaned the chances he missed. Martin St. Louis, who had five shots, had an open chance from the slot in the second period but failed to bury it.

Vinny Lecavalier, Fredrik Modin, Dmitry Afanasenkov, Ruslan Fedotenko and Cory Stillman had one shot each. Of them, only Lecavalier and Fedotenko had third-period shots while Florida scored twice.

"It's time to step up offensively for a few of us, especially me," said Richards, scoreless in seven games. "I had some chances in the first and second period that could have changed the game and didn't score."

What a difference from Tampa Bay's first eight games when it attacked relentlessly and averaged 3.25 goals.

"The bench is dead. The whole atmosphere around our team right now isn't where it should be," Tortorella said. "You guys talk about reading press clippings. Who the (expletive) are we? It goes quick the other way if you don't grab hold of it."

How can the team right itself Friday against the Capitals?

" It's playing harder," he said. "It's playing within the team concept. ... It will be addressed."

"If John doesn't," Andreychuk said, "I will."

[Last modified November 12, 2003, 01:34:28]

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