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Fewer goals, less fun

Even with last season's production, the Lightning would be higher in the standings.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
© St. Petersburg Times,
published December 4, 2001


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The way Lightning coach John Tortorella sees it, creating offense should be the most fun hockey players are allowed to have on the ice.

Why then does Tampa Bay look so miserable when it has the puck?

The Lightning has struggled offensively all season. Its 53 goals are second-fewest in the league. But its past two games have been particularly unproductive: no goals, 35 shots and consecutive shutout losses -- 2-0 to the Flyers and 1-0 to the Rangers.

Tampa Bay, which faces the Devils tonight at Continental Airlines Arena, never has gone three consecutive games without a goal.

"All you can do is prepare them for what they will face and show them how to generate some goals," Tortorella said. "But for offensive consistency, your goal scorers have to make plays. Offense is creativity."

In that context, the Lightning attack resembles a canvas painted white.

Martin St. Louis has one goal in his past 13 games. Center Vinny Lecavalier has no goals in nine.

Brad Richards has two goals in his past 15 games. Ben Clymer has one goal in seven games. Vinny Prospal has two. Dave Andreychuk has two goals in his past four games but before that went without for 15.

It doesn't help that left wing Fredrik Modin, who also was struggling, will miss his third game with a severely bruised right thigh.

"We're in the NHL. We're professional hockey players. Battle through it and get something done," Tortorella said.

"To get points in games on the road, the rhetoric has to stop. I keep hearing, "I'm playing well and getting my chances' or "I'm pressing.' I don't think they're pressing. I feel they don't want the puck."

More to the point, perhaps, is they aren't sure what to do with it once they have it.

Lecavalier said, "I'm just not shooting right now. I'm not really hitting the net. When I go out on the ice, I have to shoot all the time."

"Sometimes you just make a wrong play," Prospal said. "There are times we should pass, but there are times we should take responsibility and shoot the puck and know the other players will go for the rebound."

At the very least, Tortorella wants his players to stop icing the puck so much. The coach complained that players are shooting into the offensive zone before making sure they have reached the red line.

That is not only lazy, it creates faceoffs in Tampa Bay's zone. When you win 26 percent of draws, as the Lightning did Sunday against the Rangers, that gives the puck to the opposition and provides scoring chances.

That the Lightning is going through such a scoring drought is painful considering how well goaltenders Nikolai Khabibulin and Kevin Weekes are playing.

Tampa Bay's 59 goals against is 31 fewer than it allowed after 24 games last season. Its 53 goals, however, are 18 less than it scored.

If Tampa Bay could have scored at the pace it set last season -- a pace, by the way, that ranked it just 23rd in the 30-team league -- Tortorella said it would have been worth "seven or eight" more points.

Then the stories would be about the huge steps the team had taken.

Lecavalier said he knows he has a responsibility to help make the steps possible.

"I want to lead by example," he said. "I want to get that big goal and get things going. I want to put pressure on myself."

And the pressure is mounting, not just on Lecavalier but on the team. The Lightning still has seven games to go in a stretch in which it plays eight of nine on the road.

"I'm not criticizing the effort," Tortorella said. "But this is winning and losing. To be a guy who is going to help a team win, you have to make plays consistently."

You never know, it might be fun.

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