By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 12, 2000
BRANDON -- Kevin Weekes said he is still a little sore but isn't worried about how his back will respond to his first game action in 24 days.
"If we worried every time we went on the ice," the goaltender said, "we'd all have ulcers."
Coach Steve Ludzik said after Wednesday's practice at the Ice Sports Forum that Weekes will start Friday night when Tampa Bay faces the Penguins at Mellon Arena.
Weekes strained his lower back Sept. 19 against the Capitals. He returned to practice Oct. 1.
"It could have been worse," Weekes said. "I think it's behind me."
As for his lack of playing time, he said: "I'm not really worried. You have to take it for what it is. It wasn't a possibility at that time."
He said practices might be more strenuous for the back in that there is "way more repetition."
He said soreness will not be a problem. "We all play with aches and pains," Weekes said. "Debilitation is another thing. I don't mind sore."
CONDITIONING DRILLS: Assistant general manager Jay Feaster said defensemen Andrei Zyuzin and Sergey Gusev will play for the IHL'S Detroit Vipers on conditioning assignments.
Zyuzin will play Friday and Saturday, and rejoin the Lightning before Sunday's game against the Thrashers at the Ice Palace. Gusev will play Wednesday, Oct. 21 and 22, and rejoin Tampa Bay in Detroit for the Oct. 25 game against the Red Wings.
"We want these guys playing themselves into game shape so they can come back here and help us," Feaster said.
Zyuzin played in Tampa Bay's first two games but missed the preseason with a sprained ankle. Gusev has not seen game action since injuring his right knee Dec. 19 against the Rangers.
Both players agreed to the assignment.
"I'm in the game but a little uncomfortable," Zyuzin said. "They made the right decision. I can go play a lot of minutes and get back in game shape."
Feaster said he told Vipers coach Brad Shaw to play Zyuzin and Gusev 30 minutes a game. Feaster said he is staggering their assignments so as not to scarf up all the playing time available to Tampa Bay's prospects.
"I have no problem with this," Gusev said. "I want to get back in game shape as soon as possible."
REBOUND: The Penguins are not quite sure what to make of Tampa Bay's meltdown Sunday night in which the Canucks scored three goals in the final 2 minutes, 55 seconds to earn a 5-4 victory.
"Sometimes when a team loses like that, they come back (strong), and sometimes they come back with confidence," defenseman Darius Kasparaitis said. "Hopefully, they will be without confidence. ... I think they're going to come out hard, but they are going to come out careful."
JOBS ON LINE?: Ludzik's message after the Lightning watched a videotape of the Canucks game: be aggressive, establish the forecheck and move the puck up ice quickly.
"To win in this game, you have to be confident and go after teams," he said. "Every team I've coached, that's one prerequisite. That's what I expect. They are going to work."
And though the coach didn't specifically say jobs were on the line, he did say, "There's an old saying: If the horse is dead, get off."
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