By BRANT JAMES
© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 19, 2001
TAMPA -- Physical skill identifies itself much quicker than the "urgency" and "desperation" coach John Tortorella is seeking.
While some of his players have demonstrated all three on occasion, few have done so as consistently as fourth-line center Vinny Prospal. As a result, he might recoup the playing time he lost when Vinny Lecavalier returned.
"Every time I watch tape and see his minutes, "Why didn't you play him more?' I say to myself," Tortorella said. "If he continues, he has to get more ice time because he's been a very creative player for us and he's worked very hard away from the puck."
Prospal, who did not score until Dec.16, his 32nd game, tallied his second in six games in a 2-1 loss Tuesday at Colorado. He controlled a loose puck in front of the net and beat Patrick Roy.
He is fourth among Lightning centers in average ice time but is just one off the team lead in points with three.
He said he is content to play where and whenever he fits.
"I was able to play in a couple of games with the good lines, and it's been fun," Prospal said. "It's tough at times when you're not out there much, but that's the way it goes sometimes."
YOUNG ONE: Count goaltender Kevin Weekes among those impressed with the Rangers' Dan Blackburn, who last week became the fourth-youngest goalie to play in an NHL game and is 1-1 with a 3.03 goals-against average.
"I think the good thing is he has a lot of natural talent," Weekes, 26, said. "Some guys are very technical and sound that way but don't have a lot of natural talent.
"He has more than enough talent, naturally, to compete. So that's quite an accomplishment."
Weekes, who at 18 was in his second year in the junior level Ontario Hockey League, said he knows Blackburn is in for constant surprises and adjustments.
"I remember my first camp. And I felt pretty good, and I thought maybe it was easier than it actually was just because I had enough talent to get by," he said. "But at the same time, it's a process of refinement. And that process is ongoing."
GOAL-ORIENTED: Rookie forward Nikita Alexeev has pledged $1,000 to Ronald McDonald House-Tampa for each goal he scores this season plus an additional $30,000 if he scores 20.
Ronald McDonald House is a nonprofit organization that provides lodging for families with children receiving treatment at local hospitals.
INJURY REPORT: Right wing Matthew Barnaby, a scratch against Colorado, had his sore left elbow drained and is expected to play Saturday against the Rangers.
Defenseman Nolan Pratt, whose right foot was broken by a shot in the preseason, is expected to have his cast removed today and resume skating next week.