Helbling off on wrong foot, but earns praise

Published October 7, 2005

TAMPA - Defenseman Timo Helbling's NHL debut did not begin the way he envisioned.

"I didn't have a great start," Helbling said.

On his second shift in the league, Helbling became a victim of rotten luck. Trying to make a smart play by flipping the puck out of danger and behind his net, Helbling's pass deflected off the foot of Don Koharski, who skated himself into bad position.

The puck went toward Koharski's right foot as the veteran referee skated backward. Koharski attempted to move his foot out of the way, but inadvertently kicked the puck to the stick of Carolina's Radim Vrbata.

Vrbata quickly ripped off a shot past surprised Lightning goalie John Grahame.

But the fluky goal did not ruin Helbling's night.

"I thought he played very well, especially after the bad luck on the first goal," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "He was looking to make a good play and it was unfortunate, but I thought he responded very well after that. He played well."

Helbling said he wasn't nervous playing his first NHL game.

"I would say I was more excited than nervous," Helbling said. "I was trying not to do too much. I'm happy with the way I played after the goal and the way I came back."

Helbling thought his parents were watching in his native Switzerland, where the game started at 1:30 a.m. But, at the last minute, the Lightning was taken off the air in favor of another game.

But when he talked to his parents afterward, he was able to report good news.

"Watching the banner go up, it gave me chills," Helbling said. "I'm glad I got to experience that and then to go out and play my first NHL game. It was definitely a night to remember for the rest of my life."

OPENING ACT: For the third consecutive season, the Lightning won its season opener.

When it made the playoffs two seasons ago, the Lightning started with a 5-0-2 record. When it made the playoffs in 2003-04 and went on to win the Cup, it started 7-0-1.

And this season, it's 1-0 with three of the next four games at home and six of its next seven games against teams that missed the playoffs in 2003-04. The scene is set for another fast start.

"It's always good to start well," Tortorella said. "Your confidence starts kicking in. You just feel better about yourself. It has been a key for us the past two seasons. We'd like to try to get that accomplished one game at a time."

FOCUS ON FLORIDA: Training camp is over. The banner is up. The season has started.

Now where does the Lightning turn its focus?

"Next game," Tortorella said. "Florida (tonight). The focus (Thursday) was practice. And, actually, the focus now is the morning tape (session today). Then we'll go from there."