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With Devils on the horizon, Ludzik shuffles top 3 lines

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


MONTCLAIR, N.J. -- What you've seen of the Lightning is not what you will get Saturday night, when Tampa Bay faces the Stanley Cup champion Devils at Continental Airlines Arena.

Coach Steve Ludzik shook up his top three lines at Thursday's practice at Montclair State, a day after a disheartening 6-5 loss gave the expansion Wild its first regular-season victory.

Things always are subject to change, but Vinny Lecavalier's linemates on the top line went from left wing Todd Warriner and right wing Mike Johnson to Alexander Kharitonov and Fredrik Modin.

Brad Richards centered for Warriner and Brian Holzinger instead of Wayne Primeau and Modin. And Primeau shifted from right wing to center between Mike and Ryan Johnson.

The fourth line of center Steve Martins and wings Martin St. Louis, Sheldon Keefe and Kyle Freadrich remained the same.

Ludzik said Kharitonov, a rookie who scored his first goal Wednesday, and Modin, who scored his third, deserved promotions for consistent play.

"I'm trying to see if I can find the right balance and mix," Ludzik said.

The players welcomed that. "When you're going good, you stay with what you've got," Ryan Johnson said. "When you struggle a bit, it doesn't hurt to try something new to see who's working well with who."

HIGHER STANDARD: Lecavalier reiterated the Lightning needs to be "the hardest-working team in the NHL."

Ludzik said he was discouraged that Tampa Bay decelerated Wednesday after turning a 4-2 third-period deficit into a 4-4 tie. He also was discouraged by the way the Lightning could not clear the zone before Marian Gaborik's goal with 2:28 remaining gave the Wild a 5-4 lead.

"They came out and battled and worked hard for 60 minutes," defenseman Paul Mara saidof Minnesota. "That's why they were successful."

As captain, Lecavalier said, he must set that example: "I've got to be the guy that comes out hard and never gives up. I have to be working hard, and it all starts in practice."

TOUGH LOSS: Goaltender Dan Cloutier played 24 seconds Wednesday night, didn't allow a goal and took the loss.

Ludzik said he replaced starter Kevin Weekes with Cloutier late in the third with Minnesota leading 5-4 so he wouldn't burn a timeout.

When Cloutier was pulled for an extra skater, Gaborik took advantage and scored an empty-net goal with 58 seconds left.

When Modin scored with 12 seconds left to make the score 6-5, Gaborik's empty-netter became the winner. Because Cloutier was the goalie pulled, he got the loss.

"Twenty-four seconds," Cloutier said. "You don't get a shot. You don't get scored on, and you get the loss."

Ludzik called the rule "ludicrous."

KEEFE SEES OPPORTUNITY: In his first game since being called up from the IHL's Detroit Vipers, Keefe played 4 minutes, 13 seconds during seven shifts.

"I felt pretty good when I was out there," said Keefe, called up Monday after Stan Drulia broke his left hand. "I see this as a second opportunity. I want to show them what I can do and prove that I belong."

ODDS AND ENDS: Ludzik said Cloutier will start against the Devils. He also said defenseman Andrei Zyuzin will make his first start since returning from a conditioning assignment with the Vipers. ... Tampa Bay has allowed two power-play goals in 33 short-handed situations, a 93.9 percent efficiency that was second in the league heading into Thursday night's games. ... Lecavalier has scored in five straight games, which ties him for the league's longest active scoring streak. ... Richards, with two goals and five assists, leads all rookie scorers.

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