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Cloutier backs into situation

Last season's starter in goal, Dan Cloutier, waits behind Kevin Weekes.

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 30, 2000


TAMPA -- He expected to play Tuesday.

So when Dan Cloutier got wind that another night would be spent wedged in a corner beside the Lightning bench, he finished his duties at the pregame skate and went directly to the locker room.

Teammates tapped the goaltender's leg pads in an attempt to goad his ear-to-ear grin.

No luck.

"I thought for sure I was playing, but it's not my decision," Cloutier said. "There wasn't really that much I could do about it."

Times like that are tough on the 24-year-old. Three months ago he was the opening-night starter. Now, he hasn't started in almost two weeks. It has taken patience and an evolving maturity not to lash out.

"If this was a couple years ago, I might have done some things differently," said Cloutier, who played in 52 games as the Lightning's No. 1 goalie last season.

"You just want to stay positive around the team. You don't want to hurt the team in any way. You don't want to let them know that something is getting to you because then it could affect your teammates."

Expected to start against the Bruins tonight at the Ice Palace, Cloutier says he has benefited from a blossoming friendship with goaltending coach Jeff Reese.

"It's a great thing that he's here," Cloutier said. "He has me work on things and forget about things. He helps me a ton on the ice and off the ice. If he wasn't here, who knows what I'd be going through right now.

"It's good to listen to him because he's been in that situation. He's played the game and he knows exactly what I'm going through right now. You've just got to take advice from somebody who's been through it."

A veteran of 11 seasons, Reese, 34, spent the 1995-96 season with the Lightning as backup for Daren Puppa.

He played 19 games that season. "I made a whole career pretty much out of being a backup," Reese said. "For me, it was a totally different situation than for Dan Cloutier. I don't think you can compare us at all. He's still young, so don't start writing this kid off as a backup, really. He's only 24 years old and in goalie years, that's a baby."

Cloutier hasn't performed poorly.

It's just that Kevin Weekes, acquired in an off-season trade, is hotter.

"Obviously, Weekes has made huge steps this year, but Cloutier has too," Reese said. "I think it's gone unnoticed because he hasn't played that much. He's doing things this year that he wasn't doing last year. He's out handling the puck more. He's playing with more flow. He's learning how to play the game. His rebounds are starting to improve. ... He's starting to mature."

Cloutier is 2-3-0 with a 2.38 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage in his past five starts, better than his season statistics (14 games, 3.47 GAA, .891 save percentage).

"He's a professional," general manager Rick Dudley said. "He knows the game. He's got to bide his time. He's going to get his chance. He's played very well lately."

Cloutier has had only three real setbacks this season.

He missed eight games from Oct. 25 to Nov. 11 with biceps tendinitis. He allowed seven goals in two periods against New Jersey on Oct. 21 and three goals in 76 seconds during the third period of a Dec. 6 game against Philadelphia.

"If you look back, I had one bad game against New Jersey and the third period against Philly," Cloutier said. "Other than that, I've felt great all season long. It's just a matter of playing, I guess."

Reese is convinced it's a positive sign that Cloutier is frustrated with his status.

"I think it's great that he hasn't accepted being a backup," Reese said. "He doesn't want to be a backup. He wants to be a No. 1. That's why he's done such a good job of handling things."

Tonight: Lightning vs. Bruins

WHEN/WHERE: 7:30; Ice Palace, Tampa.

TV/RADIO: Sunshine; WDAE-AM 620.

THE LOWDOWN: This is the first meeting this season and the fifth of a six-game homestand for the Lightning. ... The Bruins are 7-6-2 at Tampa Bay. ... Boston C Joe Thornton had a team-high three goals and two assists against the Lightning last season. ... Before Friday's loss to Florida, the Bruins were 3-0-1-1 in their previous five games. Boston also had its string of 26 straight penalty kills snapped. ... C Jason Allison led the team with 18 goals and 29 assists. ... RW Mike Knuble had at least a point in his past four games. ... The Lightning didn't win 12 games until Jan. 29 last season. Tampa Bay won 19 games last season; it is on pace to win 28. ... The power play is one for its past 35. ... The defense has killed 10 of its past 11 short-handed situations, including 6-for-6 against Philadelphia. ... LW Fredrik Modin has three goals and one assist in the past two games. ... C Vinny Lecavalier has three assists in two games. ... Tampa Bay could win its third straight game. The last time it did that was in early November when it beat the Islanders (4-3, Nov. 3), Washington (5-2, Nov. 5) and Montreal (3-1, Nov. 10). ... Dan Cloutier is expected to start in goal. ... RW Martin St. Louis scored twice against Philadelphia and has six goals this season. He had four goals in 69 games before this season. ... LW Kyle Freadrich (eye bruise) and D Pavel Kubina (cut left index finger) are questionable. ... D Kristian Kudroc was recalled from the IHL's Detroit Vipers on Friday. -- Compiled by Kevin Kelly.

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