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Coach, captain check in

John Tortorella, Vinny Lecavalier meet for "a good talk'' about Sunday's benching.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 28, 2001


TAMPA -- The door to John Tortorella's office stayed closed for about 20 minutes after Tuesday's practice at the Ice Palace.

When it opened, Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier emerged and declared he and the coach were on the same page.

"Me and Torts had a good talk, positive," Lecavalier said. "He's a very honest person. If that's what he thinks is good for me, I'll believe him and do my best to come back harder."

Lecavalier was talking about Sunday's third-period benching against the Sabres that left him frustrated because "to my eyes I didn't see anything (wrong). I was wondering, would I have another chance to go back out there? But I didn't."

Still, the 20-year-old center said he understands the message Tortorella was trying to send: That Lecavalier must fight to win the one-on-one battles for the puck, play defense and be held to the same standards as his teammates.

"Obviously, nobody likes to get benched," Lecavalier said. "But I think it's good to get mad. The only thing I can do is play well the last 19 games."

"I think Vinny understands what we're looking for from him: commitment in a team concept," Tortorella said. "No more talk, and that includes everybody. Everybody is accountable on this club."

For Lecavalier, the benching is the latest setback in what has been a frustrating and emotional season.

In addition to a string of injuries -- the worst of which, a fractured left foot, kept him out 14 games -- he has dealt with a change in coaches and philosophy, and the trade of buddy Dan Cloutier.

He has 16 goals, 22 assists for 38 points, third on the team but nowhere near what was expected, especially after last season when he had career highs of 25 goals, 42 assists and 67 points.

Lecavalier has two goals in his past 23 games and is minus-24, second-worst in the league. All of which made a conversation he had last summer with his father, Yvon, seem prescient.

"I was thinking about it that I never had anything bad happen to me. I never got injured. I never got anything," he said. "I told him, "Something is going to happen one day,' and it all came at once."

"Everybody expects a lot from Vinny," Yvon said. "He's 20 years old and that's very young. This is the way life goes."

Lecavalier said he is happy playing for Tampa Bay, a sentiment his father reiterated.

"He really believes in the Lightning," Yvon said. "We never thought different."

But Lecavalier knows he must play a little differently, and Thursday's game at Boston is a perfect place to start. He also knows that as captain, his teammates will be watching to see how he reacts.

"They're going to check if (I'm) going to start crying or if (I'm) going to come out hard," he said. "I'm a realistic guy. I know what I can do. I know I have to be better."

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