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Affy's offensive elan a key to keeping Cup

By Times Staff
Published December 5, 2005

It is said that for a good team to be great, its best players have to be its best players. But for a great team to be Cup worthy, its other players - the grinders and checkers and role players - have to occasionally show up on the score sheet.

This season, the Lightning has ranged from really bad to really good. Has it been Cup worthy? Not really. But don't blame the so-called stars. While most of the stars have gone through little slumps here and there, they have shown up for the most part.

The players typically on the top two lines and defenseman Dan Boyle have scored 73 of the team's 85 goals. If you don't count power-play goals, the third and fourth lines and the rest of the defense have scored nine goals in 28 games.

Goals from the defense are hit-and-miss with every team. It's not something you can bank on. Then there are players who really aren't expected to score, players such as Tim Taylor and Rob DiMaio . In a combined 1,482 games, they have 172 goals. Dave Andreychuk can't be expected to keep scoring 20 goals a season at age 42. Chris Dingman is around for toughness and has barely played anyway. Then you have a rookie, Evgeny Artyukhin , who is still trying to fit in with a new country, league and team.

That leaves Martin Cibak and Dmitry Afanasenkov . Cibak was a ninth-round pick and not projected to do much scoring.

But what about Afanasenkov? He was a third-round pick, taken ahead of players such as Brian Gionta and Josef Vasicek . He once scored 56 goals in a season in juniors. He was supposed to be a scorer. In 113 NHL games, he has eight goals.

He has one goal this season and has one point in the past 19 games.

"I don't think he has any confidence offensively to score goals," coach John Tortorella said. "Affy has got to start feeling he can do it."

That's why Tortorella keeps running him out there.

"We're going to try to push him through because for us to have a decent team throughout the year," Tortorella said, "we're going to have to continue getting scoring from our bottom six (forwards) and Affy has to be one of those guys."

This is not to suggest that if the Lightning fails to do much this season, it's Afanasenkov's fault. The Lightning's fortunes will continue to be determined by goalies John Grahame and Sean Burke and its top players. Eventually, however, Afanasenkov will have to justify why the Lightning spent a third-round pick on him or the Lightning needs to explore other options. As of Sunday, 408 players have scored more goals this season.

"I like the way he battles and I think he is very good defensively," Tortorella said. "But we're not looking for a checker, we're looking for a guy who can check and score some goals. Affy needs to step up there."

USA! USA!: Grahame's chances of making the United States Olympic team might have increased last week. The Islanders' Rick DiPietro seems a lock to be the No. 1 guy on Team USA. That would leave Grahame, Philadelphia's Robert Esche and Buffalo's Ryan Miller as the leading candidates for the other two spots.

While USA Hockey hasn't said, don't be surprised if Miller is selected as the No. 3 goalie. Miller is 25 and the Americans might want a younger, next-generation guy to get a taste of the Olympics. So it could be that Esche and Grahame are fighting for one spot.

Esche, however, suffered a groin strain that might keep him out a bit. The Flyers feared Esche had a sports hernia, which would require surgery and sideline him for the season. But now the Flyers are fairly sure it's just a groin strain.

At the moment, it's a tossup with Grahame's numbers slightly better. He is 12-8-1 with a 2.64 goals-against average and an .898 save percentage. Esche is 10-4-2 with a 3.18 GAA and an .891 save percentage.

Team USA will be announced Dec. 19.

[Last modified December 5, 2005, 03:00:29]

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