By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 2, 2000
BRANDON -- Kevin Weekes skated for about 45 minutes Sunday at the Ice Sports Forum.
To cap his first practice since Sept. 19, when the Lightning goaltender strained his lower back against the Capitals, he took a turn in net.
Weekes wasn't about to try a split save, but getting on the ice was an improvement from last week when he had trouble bending to tie his shoes.
"Improved, very improved," Weekes said. "I felt loose considering where it was."
Weekes returned Saturday from Los Angeles after four days of therapy. He said it was worth the trip.
"He said the doctor really helped him out there," coach Steve Ludzik said.
Asked what kind of therapy he has undergone the past 12 days, Weekes said, "You name it," and then listed stretching, massage, ultrasound, chiropractic and acupressure.
Weekes, 25, acquired from the Islanders the day before the draft for one of Tampa Bay's two first-round picks, said there is "no definitive timetable" for his return.
Weekes was supposed to share the goaltending duties with Dan Cloutier. With Weekes' back still a question mark, Tampa Bay will keep 19-year-old Evgeny Konstantinov as Cloutier's backup.
MARA BACK IN: Ludzik said defenseman Paul Mara, who broke his left pinky Tuesday night in a fight with Florida's Rob Niedermayer, "should be able to play" in Friday night's opener against the Islanders at the Ice Palace.
Ludzik said Saturday that Mara was close to being scratched. Mara said he will wear a splint that will allow him to grip his stick with few ill effects.
"I'll be ready to go," he said.
That will ease the pressure on the defense, which could still be without Sergey Gusev (right knee) and Andrei Zyuzin (right ankle), though both are practicing.
Even if they do not play, Tampa Bay will have seven defensemen available, the number with which it wanted to break camp.
DON'T LOOK BACK: Whatever you do, don't ask Ludzik to compare this season's Lightning with last season's.
"I've put last season away," the coach said. "I'm focusing on what I have to do. ... I won't talk about it. You have to turn onto the next page right away."
ODDS AND ENDS: Center Ryan Johnson sat out of practice with tendinitis in his right biceps. It is not considered serious. ... Defenseman Petr Svoboda (sprained left wrist) reiterated his intention to play Friday, though precautionary X-rays are scheduled for today. ... Defenseman Bryan Muir sat out because of the concussion received Tuesday against the Panthers. He also is expected to play. ... An intrasquad scrimmage is scheduled at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Ice Palace. The game is free to the public. A 30-minute autograph session will follow. ... The team will not practice today. It has planned a golf outing.
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