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Road haul is measuring stick


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 13, 2000

MONTREAL -- Smart play. Impeccable goaltending. Consistent performance.

Coach Steve Ludzik said those are the elements the Lightning needs to be successful on the road.

"There's no question of our heart and character," the coach said Sunday after checking into the team hotel. "I'd like to see us play at the same level for 60 minutes and see what happens."

It will be interesting to see what happens the next 35 days as the Lightning plays 12 of 16 games away from the Ice Palace, beginning Tuesday night against the Canadiens.

Tampa Bay was 6-30-5 with three regulation ties on the road last season. It is 1-5-0 with one overtime loss this season, though the team should get a boost from a feel-good 3-1 homestand.

"We know the next 16 games will be the telltale sign of the season," forward Stan Drulia said. "We've learned how to win at home, and now we have to learn to win on the road."

Drulia said it is easier to play on the road than at home.

"You can keep things simple," he said. "You don't have to impress anybody. You don't have to worry about the fans. All you have to worry about is winning games."

Goaltender Dan Cloutier said the key is discipline and jump, especially in the first 10 minutes, a time in which the Lightning has struggled the last two games.

"The first 10 minutes in every building, all the teams come out flying and try to win the game," said Cloutier, expected to play this week after recovering from tendinitis in his left biceps. "If we're not ready, it's going to be tough."

KUDOS FOR LUDZIK: General manager Rick Dudley praised Ludzik for keeping focused through the just-completed homestand.

"He stayed in a zone," Dudley said. "He was not too high and not too low. He knows what he's doing and kept focused and kept the boys focused. ... Every time it seems we were about to melt down, we were able to regroup and refocus and that's a function of the coach."

Tom Wilson, president of Palace Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Lightning, also gave the coach a thumbs up.

"I think everything is going well," he said. "The team will be better for having gone through this."

LEARNING PROCESS: Defenseman Cory Sarich said he was expected to be a leader during his two-week stint with the IHL's Detroit Vipers, and that has helped him mature as a player.

"They looked for me to lead by example," the 22-year-old said. "You knew guys were paying attention to what you were doing. I used practices to work on things and to do the little things the right way."

Ludzik said he has seen the difference.

"He's tough," the coach said. "He hits great. This kid is going to be a star player in the future. It's just a matter of ice time."

Sarich, a healthy scratch the past two games, may be sent back to Detroit to get more of it.

"Is it better to play a little here or a lot there?" Ludzik said.

LEARNING PROCESS II: Right wing Mike Johnson, who has five goals, including three in his past three games, was a victim of the NHL's get-tough policy on stick and obstruction penalties, getting two in 2 minutes, 26 seconds Friday night against the Canadiens.

Both were questionable, but the message was clear.

"It puts the thought in your mind that you have to be careful when you check a guy and not lead with your stick," Johnson said. "It makes it a lot harder to check and get loose pucks and initiate the battle you want to get to."

ODDS AND ENDS: With Cloutier expected to come off injured reserve, goaltender Dieter Kochan was sent to Detroit. ... The Southeast is the only division in which no team has 20 points.

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