'Safe' is okay, Tortorella says

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
Published January 11, 2008

TAMPA - "Safe Is Death" are words by which the Lightning has lived. Regardless, coach John Tortorella acknowledged tweaking the team's system to inhibit defensemen from pinching too far through the neutral zone.

"We've been giving up way too many odd-man rushes," he said Thursday. "We're still going to go. We're still going to press, but I understand the limitations of our hockey club here and we're trying to find ways to win."

Tampa Bay has thrived with defensemen involved in the offense. But a relatively inexperienced group, in which three of six have played fewer than 150 NHL games and another fewer than 200, has had positioning issues.

Tortorella said it is somewhat similar to when he took over in January 2001. It wasn't until February 2004 that defensemen were fully turned loose.

"We've pulled back a little bit to where we're filling the middle. I hate it ... but it's my job to understand the makeup of our club right now and where we're at mentally."

As for the whole "Safe Is Death" thing, he said, "We'll get back into a full-fledged system we like to play. But right now, we need to take care of ourselves so we don't die. We're on the vine right now. We don't want to die."

TAYLOR UPDATE: Captain Tim Taylor said he is going home to Stratford, Ontario, on Jan. 21 to skate through the end of the month before deciding if he can practice with the team.

Taylor, recovering from September's right hip surgery, hopes to play but has not skated and said his rehab schedule prohibits contact until March 6.

"I just don't want this to be a spectacle," he said of getting back on the ice. "I don't want this to turn into Tim Taylor coming back. It's all about the team. I want to go away and skate on my own and see how I feel."

ANOTHER STEP FOR BOYLE: Defenseman Dan Boyle, who has played only four games because of two wrist tendon surgeries, took shots for the first time at the morning skate.

"It's progress," he said.

There still is no announced timetable for his return.

A STUPID TEAM: Continuing the theme from Tuesday's victory over the Rangers, Tortorella reiterated, "I still think we're a stupid hockey team.

"It doesn't matter if you win or not. Our third period, in the situations we put ourselves in, you can't keep going that way."

Mathieu Darche's penalty for too many men on the ice that gave New York a 1:23 five-on-three was fodder for head scratching. "I've never seen a too many men on the ice penalty while you're killing a penalty," Tortorella said. "It was a first for me."

ODDS AND ENDS: Vinny Lecavalier won 71 percent of his faceoffs 17 of 24, Sidney Crosby 26 percent (7 of 27). ... The Penguins blocked 22 shots. ... Wing Michel Ouellet (shoulder separation) is awaiting clearance to practice. ... Wing Nick Tarnasky returned after two games as a healthy scratch. ... Forward Andreas Karlsson was scratched.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.