Kuba not out of lineup for long
But John Tortorella wants more from the veteran defenseman, who was benched last week.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published March 12, 2007
CALGARY - Filip Kuba said all the right things about his benching last week in Edmonton.
The Lightning defenseman said he was "disappointed" and "frustrated" and declared, "I want to play. I want to be part of the team."
Coach John Tortorella's response: prove it.
"Plain and simple, there is another level to Filip Kuba and we're going to get it out of him," Tortorella said. "We know it's there. He has to dig down and get it. If he doesn't, he's not going to play."
A notable sentiment considering the hype during the summer around Kuba's signing and the team's investment of a three-year, $9-million contract.
But Tortorella is frustrated with Kuba, whose game, he said, has "chipped down" and who needs to play as big as his 6-foot-3, 205-pound body is capable.
He called the benching "a last resort" after "many different discussions in many different ways.
"I don't expect Filip Kuba to be running around and banging everybody," Tortorella added, "but we need a more physical presence, a little bit more battle in his game."
That was why Saturday's 3-2 overtime victory over the Flames at Pengrowth Saddledome was so important.
Kuba, 30, returned to the lineup because defenseman Paul Ranger is out with a knee injury, and he flashed the instincts that helped him to career highs of 10 goals and 31 points.
His dash to the net in overtime forced Calgary's Daymond Langkow into a hooking penalty. With Roman Hamrlik's simultaneous double minor for high-sticking Eric Perrin, Tampa Bay had a five-on-three that produced Dan Boyle's winner with 2:01 left.
Vinny Lecavalier's league-best 46th goal 6:35 into the third tied the score.
Nick Tarnasky scored and assisted on Lecavalier's goal for his first multipoint NHL game, and Tampa Bay 39-27-4 regained first place in the Southeast.
Kuba said he felt "all right" about his game.
He had a team-high four blocked shots and a hit in 15:17 of ice time. But given his situation and badly timed minor penalties late in the second and third periods, Tortorella probably wanted more.
"You want to play a perfect game," Kuba said, "but it's not going to happen."
Kuba was signed in great part to pick up the slack after Pavel Kubina got a four-year, $20-million deal from the Maple Leafs.
He averages 20:30 of ice time and has had extended periods in which he looked smooth and confident.
His five power-play goals are a career best, but he has just three goals and two assists in his past 29 games.
Tortorella said at this point offense for Kuba is secondary to "playing with a presence back there."
Boyle, whose 15 goals tie a career high, said all of Tampa Bay's defensemen got the message. It stands out with Kuba because "he's such a big man.
"Let me put it this way," Boyle continued. "He was brought here to be a top four. I think he needs to shoot a lot higher."
"He's a good player," Tortorella said. "We need him. But we need him at another level."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8622.