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Let become your destination for all the latest Lightning scoops. The Lightning Insider will be in the stands, in the locker room and on the road with the team throughout the 2007-08 season to provide you with a positive look at the Bolts as they pursue Lord Stanley’s hardware. Our resident snoop will post the latest following practices and morning skates, and he’ll make sure you’re the first to know when the Lightning are making news.
October 19, 2007

In a performance that was much too similar to the loss in Florida, the Lightning dropped a 4-1 decision in Boston last night. Once again Tampa Bay badly outshot its opponent, and once again the Lightning controlled most of the game after a slow start. Once again, though, weird bounces ended up in the Lightning net while the Bolts couldn’t catch a break or make the most of their many chances.

Just like last Saturday night in Sunrise, the Lightning peppered the opposing goaltender for most of the night and controlled most of the play (outshooting Boston 15-3 in the second period), only to get victimized on the counter-attack. You had to wonder if it was going to be one of those nights when less than four minutes in a shot from the point by Andrew Ference that was headed wide hit Peter Schaefer – who was trying to jump out of the way – in the knee and floated perfectly between the legs of Johan Holmqvist. The Lightning caught a similar break on the Brad Richards goal, but ultimately didn’t make the most of their 36-23 shot advantage.

One area John Tortorella had to be pleased with was the discipline, as Boston didn’t receive a power-play opportunity. Strangely though, the Lightning had six skaters on the ice for about 20 seconds in the first period yet nobody among the four officials on the ice and the players and coaches on the Boston bench seemed to notice. Jason Ward calmly skated to the Lightning bench as if on a line change to end the impromptu power play without raising suspicions.

You could tell it was going to be an entertaining night for the crowd during warm-ups when Boston’s Shawn Thornton tried to stare down Andre Roy. Sure enough, they tangled near the end of the first period after Nick Tarnasky and Milan Lucic had already hooked up for an earlier bout.

Tortorella said after the game that he felt the team worked hard and battled well along the walls, but ultimately it needs to take better advantage of its opportunities in tight games. Tortorella also did some line juggling during the game – moving Michel Ouellet to the third line with Chris Gratton and Mathieu Darche while Jason Ward moved up with Brad Richards and Jan Hlavac – and said he was pleased with how the change worked out. Tortorella said Ouellet seemed more comfortable after the switch and he intends to continue the experiment Saturday night.

The Lightning got a day off after landing in Tampa after 2 a.m. this morning. The team will skate tomorrow morning before facing the Thrashers – who thankfully got their first win out of the way last night – at 7:30 p.m. at the Forum.

The Lightning team bus winds through the Beacon Hill area of Boston after the morning practice.
October 18, 2007

It’s overcast in Boston today but the temperature is in the 70s which is a nice break from the Florida heat. From the sound of things this morning, most of the Lightning’s traveling party had dinner in the North End at some of the many Italian restaurants. Included on the list is the Antinori family of Tampa, who purchased an auction item at the John Tortorella Celebrity Fishing Tournament in September that gave them the chance to travel to Boston with the team. They enjoyed a pre-dinner reception with coaches and management in Jay Feaster’s suite before heading to the North end for dinner with Lightning Foundation director Nancy Crane and Feaster’s assistant, Liz Sylvia.

The ride on the media bus (or the “Happy Bus,” as named by Bobby “The Chief” Taylor) from the hotel to the TD Banknorth Garden takes you past many great sights, including Boston Common, Cheers, Beacon Hill and the Massachusetts State House. The “Happy Bus” usually follows behind the team bus and transports media, broadcasters, Sun Sports production people and any other guests.

One of the funnier sights in Boston is the four story apartment building (pictured) located across from the loading dock ramp at TD Banknorth Garden. It’s owned by a man who refused to sell his property to the government for Boston’s “Big Dig” project, so they built the new roads and ramps around the building. It even has a small yard in the middle of the concrete jungle.

Apparently the Bruins are have “upgraded” some aspects of their building this season, and the team benches were one of the projects. Unfortunately, the put the new benches about 3½ feet from the boards and left almost no room for the coaches and trainers to stand behind them. Players who like to lean on the boards while they sit on the bench are out of luck here.

The Lightning held an optional skate, and it looks like Johan Holmqvist will once again get the nod in goal. Tim Thomas, who has been better than Manny Fernandez, is expected to go for Boston. Doug Janik will be back in the lineup on defense for the Lightning – good news for the Massachusetts native who will likely have a lot of friends and family in attendance.

Dan Boyle continues to make progress and John Tortorella was hopeful of Boyle being back soon.

“He’s seeing the doctor Monday and I’m expecting a good report,” said a relaxed Tortorella, who at one point seemed to be doing his own interviewing of the Boston broadcasters to find out what’s going on with the Red Sox.

On the topic of Boyle, Tortorella said having him out of the lineup will ultimately have benefits.

“We’re going to be a better team for it,” he said. “I’m really happy with how the D have held themselves together. You just don’t replace Danny Boyle.

October 17, 2007

The Lightning had a quick session on the ice today after some more video work, then they dashed to the Tampa Jet Center for the flight to Boston.

Nothing momentous occurred during the skate this morning, though Lightning athletic trainer Tom Mulligan sais Andreas Karlsson had been cleared following his abdominal strain. Now it remains to be seen if John Tortorella puts him in the lineup. The Lightning's ECHL affiliate, the Mississippi Seawolves, watched the Bolts then practiced today at the Forum. They'll practice in Tampa again tomorrow before their opener Saturday against the Florida Everblades in Estero.

One thing that becomes abundantly clear when you travel on charter flights is that the airlines sometimes take their time getting from A to B. I’ve been on 75 minute commercial flights to Atlanta, while the charter always takes about 50 minutes. Boston for us today will take just under three hours, which isn’t too much different from the commercial non-stops (if they’re on time). Luckily, we don’t do much circling before landing.

It’s easy to avoid air traffic delays when you’re landing at a small, private airstrip, which is what the Lightning do when they head to Boston. The old drill was to fly to Logan, which is just through the prone-to-collapse tunnels from downtown Boston, but the security delays of driving a bus onto the tarmac can be long. The past few seasons, the Lightning have landed at Hanscom Field, a small military/private airstrip adjacent to Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Mass. From there the team bus winds through historic Lexington, past Minuteman Historical Park and Minuteman Regional High School, to the interstate for the 30-40 minute ride through Waltham and Newton and into Boston.

Boston has several great areas for visitors to stay, and the Lightning’s headquarters at Copley Place is one of them. Connected to a mall, the team hotel is a few blocks from the finish line for the Boston Marathon and a two-minute walk to Boston Common. From the T station across the street, Kenmore Square (Fenway Park and the Boston Beer Works!) is a 10-minute ride south while Government Center (Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, the North End) is 10 minutes to the north.

Since tonight is the night off between games for the Red Sox in the ALCS, it shouldn’t be too crazy of a night to go out for a bite. Unfortunately for the Bruins, tomorrow night’s home opener goes head-to-head with what could be the elimination game for a Red Sox team everyone in New England probably expected to win the World Series. It’ll be interesting to see what type of crowd the Bs pull in.

October 16, 2007

In a press conference following practice at the St. Pete Times Forum today, Lightning star Vincent Lecavalier made an unprecedented commitment to the local community when he pledged $3 million to build the Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at All Children’s Hospital. The Center will occupy half of the seventh floor in the new All Children’s Hospital currently being built in St. Petersburg. It will include 28 patient rooms with accommodations for parents to stay overnight, and playrooms will include an area specifically geared toward adolescent-aged patients. Additionally, the entire Center is designed with a special filtered airflow system that allows young patients whose immune systems may be weak due to chemotherapy to move freely about the unit rather than being restricted to their rooms.

More than half of the $3 million price tag will be gifted by the Vincent Lecavalier Foundation and its partners, Kane’s Furniture and DEX Imaging, and the rest will be raised by the Foundation (don’t forget, year two of his celebrity poker night is November 12 at the Hard Rock). Some of the media in attendance at the announcement speculated it might be the largest single commitment ever by a pro athlete in the Tampa Bay area.

Special teams was the focus of the Lightning's workout today. After a 30-minute video session the players hit the ice divided into black and white jerseys - a sure-fire sign it's time to work on the power play and penalty kill. It can be confusing at times, with players that skate on both units having to switch jerseys with a teammate.

The team spent a solid hour working solely on special teams, and after John Tortorella said he had originally planned to give the team off Tuesday because he doesn’t like to practice three consecutive days once the season starts. However, after the performance in Sunrise Saturday night, he changed his mind.

Andreas Karlsson practiced with the team but his status is still unknown for Thursday. Ryan Craig is still skating on his own but not ready for contact, while Dan Boyle is getting more and more involved in the practices on a daily basis.

The Lightning skate at 11 tomorrow morning before heading to Boston for Thursday night’s game, which is the home opener for the Bruins.

October 15, 2007

Wrapping up Saturday’s game, the team still has an issue with playing in South Florida. For whatever reason the Lightning always seem a bit out of sync in the Panthers’ home barn.

John Tortorella’s post-game comments after the Lightning dropped to 3-1 focused on the parade to the penalty box which ultimately did the team in despite a valiant comeback effort.

“My concern is about our discipline,” Tortorella said. “We have to understand how these games are called. It’s frustrating because I thought our team worked their butts off to get back in it. At 5-4, I thought we had a good chance, but the discipline hurt us.”

The feelings coming out of the game weren’t all negative, though, because it’s clear the 2007-08 Lightning don’t quit and even a four-goal lead against them isn’t necessarily safe. Once the Bolts started playing their game in the third period, they dominated the Panthers and seemed on track to tie the game before Florida sealed it with a two-man advantage.

Other positives were the play of Vaclav Prospal, who now has five goals in four games, and Jan Hlavac, who scored his first with the Lightning. Hopefully that will lead to more for the talented winger from the Czech Republic. Now it’s Michel Ouellet’s turn to score his first.

Today’s practice consisted of a 30-minute pre-practice video session in which Tortorella said much of the focus was still on winning battles. The one-hour workout had the same focus, and the enthusiasm boiled over a bit near the end when Brad Richards and Shane O’Brien got into a cross-checking battle. They two were quickly separated, only to go back at each other again. Tempers cooled by the end of practice and the two chatted on the ice before heading to the locker room, where they opted not to discuss it.

“It’s part of practice,” Tortorella said.

The Lightning will skate at 11 tomorrow at the St. Pete Times Forum before heading to Boston on Wednesday.

October 13, 2007

The Lightning haven't enjoyed a lot of success in South Florida the past two seasons, so maybe the fact the team moved into a new hotel this trip will change the fortunes a bit. The new spot is nicer hotel than past locations, but it’s a bit isolated. The Sawgrass Mills mall, with its restaurants and movie theater, was located directly across the street from the previous location.

The BankAtlantic Center was Johan Holmqvist's own personal house of horrors last season, but Holmer seems to be playing with more confidence now than at any point last season. Tonight is a huge opportunity for him to build on his great start as he gets the call once again.

The Panthers are playing with confidence heading into tonight after a 3-0 win against New Jersey Thursday. They also probably feel like they deserved a better fate against the Lightning Wednesday night at the St. Pete Times Forum.

The Cats had a slight scare at their morning skate today when goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who shut out New Jersey and is scheduled to play tonight, took a deflected shot in the throat and was down on the ice for a couple of minutes. Vokoun went to the bench briefly with a Panthers trainer, then returned to practice. Much of the Florida workout centered on getting traffic in front of the net tonight to screen Holmqvist. The coaches had all three forwards charging the net while the defensemen fired from the points.

Branislav Mezei looks like the defensive scratch for Florida tonight, with Noah Welch expected to play his second consecutive game. For the Lightning, Doug Janik stayed out to skate late with coaches Mike Sullivan and Jeff Reese after the optional skate, meaning Matt Smaby will likely get in his second game of the season.

John Tortorella, who didn’t go on the ice, told the gathered media and broadcasters that the Lightning’s focus is on being faster in all aspects of the game.

“It’s important that we play with a lot of speed because this is a very quick hockey team we’re playing tonight,” he said. “Tonight’s game will be a high-tempo game if the ice allows it.”

Finally, Tortorella talked about Michel Ouellet’s adjustment to the Lightning. Tortorella said Ouellet has been challenged by the coaching staff to win more battles and get into more scoring areas for Brad Richards, and he’s interested to see how he performs tonight.

October 12, 2007

As always, the Lightning Foundation's Glitz & Sticks charity event was a huge hit Thursday night. Close to 600 patrons, including Mike Alstott and Wade Boggs, packed the floor of the St. Pete Times Forum to hang out and gamble (for charity) with the Lightning players, coaches and management. Once Andre Roy kicked things off with his tribute to the movie Dumb and Dumber during the player intros, you knew it was going to be an entertaining evening. It was difficult to find a spot at the blackjack tables as the players took their turns as dealers, and the silent auction was a hit as always.

The team also held a live auction in which the old logo carpet from the locker room, which was replaced by an updated version in September, went for $5,000.

The team skated out the cobwebs from last night at an 11 a.m. Practice this morning before heading to Tampa Jet Center for the quick flight to Fort Lauderdale. Practice was intense and John Tortorella was animated as they focused on clearing the puck out of the defensive zone. If a five-man unit failed, they did push-ups on the ice.

Following the practice, Tortorella indicated the lineup for tomorrow would stay mostly the same, although he hadn't decided between scratching Doug Janik or Matt Smaby on defense.

The Lightning will have an 11:30 a.m. morning skate in Sunrise tomorrow to prepare for the 7 p.m. tilt against the Panthers.

October 11, 2007

Following last night’s big win against Florida, Lightning coach John Tortorella once again praised his team for getting the job done despite not playing its best hockey. Johan Holmqvist once again gave the Lightning a chance to win.

“Holmer played well, but we did some really good things around him too,” Tortorella said. “We did a good job of blocking shots and clearing away the rebounds after the first shot.

“We found a way.”

Tortorella said the line of Chris Gratton, Jason Ward and Mathieu Darche was the team’s best, and he hinted that Darche may be sticking around for awhile.

“Darche is a good skater,” he said. “Sometimes you have some injuries and a guy steps in. It would be awful tough to take him out of the lineup now if someone gets healthy.”

Tortorella said the most encouraging sign was that another line stepped up while the line of Vincent Lecavalier, Vaclav Prospal and Martin St. Louis wasn’t at its best.

“We have depended on that line quite a bit the past few years,” Tortorella said. “To win games in this league and to continue the start we’re off to now it’s important for someone else to chip in.”

The team skated at noon today in Brandon in what turned out to be a short and lively session. Assistant coach Mike Sullivan ran the practice, incorporating some new drills and games the players seemed to enjoy.

The team will skate at 11 a.m. Friday before hopping on a short flight to Fort Lauderdale for Saturday’s rematch with the Panthers.

October 10, 2007

The Lightning will go with the same lineup that beat Atlanta on Saturday for tonight’s game against the Panthers. Johan Holmqvist (2-0-0, 1.50 GAA) will be between the pipes again, Matt Smaby is the healthy scratch on defense and Ryan Craig and Andreas Karlsson still aren’t ready to go.

Tortorella offered an encouraging (and a bit comical) update regarding Dan Boyle, who continues to skate with the team but can’t pass or shoot well.

“No matter what Danny says, he’s not far off,” Tortorella said, eliciting a chuckle from the media. “We’re hoping to get him back shortly. Once we get the word from our team doctors – and it’s not Dr. Boyle – that he can’t hurt it anymore, he’ll be ready to go.”

On the topic of what areas he thinks the Lightning need to work on, Tortorella was direct.

“All of them. We played a very good game the other night, but that was the other night. We’re playing a very good team in Florida that’s lost two in a row, so we know what we’re in for tonight.”

The Panthers, set to play at home tomorrow night vs. New Jersey, are expected to have  backup Craig Anderson in net tonight with Tomas Vokoun likely to get the nod tomorrow. Richard Zednik is expected to make his season debut for Florida tonight after missing the first two games with a shoulder injury.

October 9, 2007

The tuxes being handed out in the Lightning locker room today can only mean one thing – Glitz & Sticks is approaching! If you haven’t been to the Lightning Foundation’s largest fundraiser of the year (this Thursday night), you’re missing out. At no other time during the year will you have a chance for more quality time with the Lightning players as they spend the evening dealing at blackjack tables, spinning roulette wheels and generally hanging out with the fans.

Also, the food and drinks are fantastic, and the Lightning Foundation saves all of its best auction items for this night. One of the favorites is the player baskets, containing personal items supplied by each of the Bolts. For all the rock fans, I took a sneak peek and saw a Fender guitar autographed by Three Days Grace in Brad Lukowich’s basket.

Today was a quick day for the team, as is usually the case on the day before a game. John Tortorella likes to get them out of the rink as early as possible, so a one-hour skate was all that was on the agenda. The practice started on a lighter note with the players forced to execute a passing drill while holding their sticks backward (righties had to play lefty), and there was also a little “monkey in the middle” before the drills started.

Dan Boyle actually participated in some of the drills today, making some passes while still not being able to fully grip his stick. Near the end of the practice, Tortorella once again emphasized his early-season buzzword of “battles” by letting the players fight it out with some five-on-five work. The hitting was intense - as was the coach - a good sign for tomorrow night when the Panthers visit.

In his comments to the media today one of the subjects discussed by Tortorella was defenseman Filip Kuba, who seemed to struggle at times during the preseason but has been better in the first two games.

“Yes, Kuba had a career year last year, but we know he can do more and we’re asking more of him,” Tortorella said.

Following practice, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio was on the bench interviewing players for her television show, “The Mayor’s Hour.” Mayor Iorio has visited the team each of the past three seasons, and today she interviewed Lightning GM Jay Feaster and several players, including Brad Richards and Vinny Lecavalier.

****Shameless plug warning****

Thanks to Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries, a new food vendor in the St. Pete Times Forum who supplied lunch for the players, coaches, trainers, media etc. at practice today. How come I didn’t know about this place before?

The team will have their usual 10:30 skate tomorrow morning in preparation for Game 1 of the eight-game series with Florida.

October 8, 2007

Yes, the Lightning are 2-0 for only the third time in their history and yes, the other times it happened the team went on to win a pair of division titles and a Stanley Cup. There are plenty of reasons for Lightning fans to feel good about the wins against New Jersey and Atlanta, but 80 games remain in a season that will offer its share of ups and downs. However, the positives so far are many:
  • Johan Holmqvist has a goals-against average of 1.50 and a .929 save percentage. More importantly, he’s made the big save when called upon to stem the tide.
  • Vaclav Prospal, probably the guy who most needed a fast start to get his confidence going, has three goals and a game-winning assist in two games.
  • Marty St. Louis has five points while linemate Vinny Lecavalier has four. Brad Richards also has a pair of goals (one power play, one short-handed) so all the big guns are firing.
  • The Lightning defense – a question mark entering the season – has only allowed an average of 21 shots through two games while the Bolts have averaged 28.5.
  • The third and fourth lines, though not represented on the score sheet yet, have been aggressive, dangerous and entertaining.
  • Second-line wingers Jan Hlavac and Michel Ouellet have created good chances and have combined for nine shots, but haven’t broken through yet.
Today’s practice consisted of a 50-minute on-ice session focusing on battles, followed by a team workout in the weight room and a 30-minute video session. Andreas Karlsson re-joined practice today mixing in with the Gratton-Ward-Darche line. Lightning athletic trainer Tom Mulligan said Karlsson is still day to day and it’s not known yet if he’ll be ready by Wednesday. Dan Boyle participated in the skating portion of the practice and was seen passing the puck with Paul Ranger at the end, although he still can’t grip his stick with his top hand. Mulligan said Boyle has about 50 percent range of motion in his hand as his recovery continues.

Tomorrow the Lightning practice at 11 a.m. at the St. Pete Times Forum in preparation for the Florida Panthers, who will be in town Wednesday.

October 6, 2007

The musical selections that can be heard in the Lightning locker room are a lot more eclectic this season now that Brad Lukowich is back and Dan Boyle is out for awhile. With Boyle in charge the past two years, heavy rock was a safe bet though you might have heard The Tragically Hip, Barenaked Ladies or even some rap mixed in before the morning skates. As game time approaches the music generally moves from mellow to intense.

With Lukowich manning the iPod, he seems to think it's his personal mission to expand the musical tastes of everyone in the room. This morning, for example, the players were treated to a little Johnny Cash before the skate, leading to a few quizzical looks from those too young or too European to recognize "I Walk the Line."

After the opening win against New Jersey - a situation in which Boyle likely would've opted for a hard-driving Nickelback or Three Days Grace selection - Lukowich chose a mellow Red Hot Chili Peppers ballad (even though he once worked as a roadie for Nickelback and had Three Days Grace at his 2004 Stanley Cup Party). Maybe he already knew what John Tortorella's mood was going to be after he watched the game tape...

Former Lightning forward Eric Perrin was an early arrival at today's morning skate, exchanging pleasantries with Lightning staff and broadcasters as he entered the locker room area. After signing with the Thrashers during the summer, the pressure will be on “EP” to deliver this year in Atlanta.

Outsiders seem to think Tortorella is tough on his players all the time, but no coach in the NHL is more focused on making sure his team is adequately rested. Case in point – today’s morning skate at the St. Pete Times Forum was the first of many that will be optional for the players this season. While most of the Lightning participated anyway, Tortorella gave the players the choice to rest. Mike Sullivan ran the 30-minutes session with help from Jeff Reese and Nigel Kirwan.

The Thrashers followed the Lightning with an optional as well after playing last night in Atlanta, but the majority of the team was on the ice after their loss against Washington. Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa and Alexei Zhitnik were among those who were absent.

Tortorella and Atlanta coach Bob Hartley both like to stick to a schedule on game days and much to the chagrin of the media, broadcasters and PR staffs, their schedules always collide when the Thrashers are in town. Tortorella meets with the media at 11 a.m. on home game days, the exact same time Hartley chose for his media chat time on the road. You have to be on your toes, but at least you don’t have to wait around.

Stogies were being handed out in the Lightning locker room this morning by head athletic trainer Tom Mulligan, who missed yesterday’s practice to welcome the arrival of Abigail Jean Mulligan. It’s the first daughter for Mulligan and his wife, Kellie, joining sons Tyler and Zach. Congrats!

The Lightning’s lineup tonight will be mostly the same as Thursday, with Johan Holmqvist getting the chance to build on his strong performance. The only change is that Doug Janik will be in on defense while Matt Smaby will sit this one out. Boyle, Andreas Karlsson and Ryan Craig are still out.

October 5, 2007

What an opening night! It wasn’t pretty on the ice early on as the team admittedly shook of some jitters and rust, but Johan Holmqvist held things together long enough for the Lightning offense to start clicking. In what may have been one of his best performances for the Lightning, Holmqvist made some huge saves in the first and second periods and controlled his rebounds all evening long. Timing seemed to be an issue for the Lightning until a few minutes into the second period, when the defense started to settle down and the forwards got their rhythm.

Some observations:

  • Chris Gratton may have tried too hard at times last night but his fight at the end of the game while sticking up for his teammates is the type of thing that gets noticed in the locker room. John Tortorella made reference to it after the game, and while he wasn’t enamored with the fact Gratton decided to risk his injured eye in the bout with David Clarkson, he said Gratton showed he’ll do anything he can to help this team win.
  • The Lecavalier-St. Louis-Prospal line struggled to get involved for the first half of the game, then it took over. I challenge anyone to name a more dangerous line in the NHL. It’s great to see Lecavalier and St. Louis start where they left off last season, but in my mind the best part was seeing Prospal have immediate success. What do you think Martin Brodeur thought to himself when he committed himself to blocking Prospal’s passing lane on the game-winner, only to see Vaclav’s blind back-hander slide in front of the gaping net toward the reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner?
  • Matt Smaby and Mike Lundin looked like rookies in the first period, but by the second period they were NHL defensemen. Lundin especially appeared more and more comfortable as the game wore one, and Tortorella hinted post-game that the rookie out of Maine could find himself in the Lightning’s top-four if he continues to progress.
  • Paul Ranger threw the hit of the game in the first period when Rodney Pelley turned into him to go shoulder-to-shoulder in the corner. Ranger was penalized for interference on the play. 
  • While the big guns worked out the kinks early, the line of Gratton (sometimes Craig MacDonald), Andre Roy and Nick Tarnasky put together some fantastic shifts and created some great scoring chances. If the goaltender at the other end had any name other than Brodeur, Gratton likely would’ve scored.
John Tortorella considers having his finger on the pulse of the team to be perhaps his most important job as head coach. After reviewing the game tape last night, Tortorella decided that a tough, vocal 45-minutes session on the ice was needed today, followed by a 45-minute video session. The coach clearly wasn’t happy with how many battles were lost along the boards last night.

“The most important job of a coach and a coaching staff is to understand, and make the players understand, how they played,” Tortorella said. “There are quite a few things we need to work on. They again showed their resiliency in finding a way to win, but it wasn’t at all pretty in a lot of ways.

“We found a way and I'm happy about that, but we want to be more consistent on the puck. Simplifying things was a key to us winning the game.

“They weren't browbeaten today, they were taught today.”

October 4, 2007

Jay Feaster and John Tortorella's "meritocracy" seems to be alive and well this season based on who will be in the line-up tonight. After watching today’s morning skate, it looks like rookies Mike Lundin and Matt Smaby will get the nod to appear in their first career NHL games, while Doug Janik will sit out. Janik stayed out with tonight’s backup, Marc Denis, for an intense extra skate after the 30-minute workout, a reliable sign that he will sit.

In total, five players will make their Lightning debuts tonight, including forwards Jan Hlavac, Michel Ouellet and Craig MacDonald. Add in Jason Ward and Shane O’Brien, who were late arrivals last season, and you can see Feaster and Tortorella’s wish for the Lightning to be a harder team to play against taking shape.

Ryan Craig, Dan Boyle and Andreas Karlsson skated on their own this morning prior to the practice and each is progressing as expected. Karlsson likely won’t miss too much time, and Craig seems more comfortable every day.

Tortorella was calm and focused during his chat with the Tampa Bay and New Jersey media and broadcasters this morning. As is the case upwards of 80 times a season, Tortorella was asked about tonight’s opponent and replied with his usual “I’m not going to talk about the opponent; we’re just concerned about our team right now” line. “No disrespect to the Devils, of course.”

The topic of Chris Gratton came up and Tortorella indicated he has no plans to hold Gratton back even though he only played a couple of shifts in the preseason before injuring his eye.

“He’ll play,” Tortorella said. “He’s a utility player for us, and it all depends on what happens as the game goes on.”

Tortorella also indicated that he expects Gratton to have a strong season because there won’t be any unreasonable expectations placed on him this time around.

One item for fans to note is that the Lightning helmets this morning were decked out with pink “Hockey Fights Cancer” stickers on the back. Every team in the league will wear the stickers in October as part of a league initiative. As Andre Roy noted as he walked to the bench this morning, the St. Pete Times Forum looks like it’s ready for a birthday party with the seats covered with metallic blue and silver pom-poms compliments of Sweetbay Supermarket. The first 10,000 fans through the doors tonight will also receive a Lightning schedule magnet from Snapple.

October 3, 2007

As is usually the case, the mood in the Lightning locker room is a lot more businesslike today as the regular season opener looms. For the past 20 days the players, coaches and trainers have been working toward being ready for the Devils. Everyone seems ready to play the games that count.

On the ice, Lightning head coach John Tortorella didn’t waste time making sure the players knew what day it was. Tortorella lit into the team early in the workout after some sloppiness, gathering the players together for a passionate speech that set the tone for a focused session. Practice was only about 50 minutes, a little shorter than the others have been so the legs will be fresh tomorrow. Judging by the number of hits thrown (Shane O’Brien in particular) and the battles in the corners, the players are anxious to get started.

Following practice, Tortorella didn’t give up much about tomorrow night, although he said Mike Lundin will definitely be one of the six defensemen. He wouldn’t reveal if Matt Smaby or Doug Janik would get the call for the last spot, but he indicated he won’t dress seven D this time. As far as match-ups go, Tortorella said he and Mike Sullivan were going to try to make sure not to send out together whichever two of Lundin-Smaby-Janik are in the lineup for the first few games. To prepare for the mixing and matching on D, no consistent pairs have emerged from practice.

As for the special teams, Tortorella said he expects Craig MacDonald, Chris Gratton and Jan Hlavac to possibly see time on the penalty killing units, and possibly Lundin as well.

Forwards Andreas Karlsson (abdominal strain) and Ryan Craig (back) stayed off the ice, and Lightning head athletic trainer Tommy Mulligan said Gratton had received a special contact lens Tuesday night that should help his eye to heal. Mulligan still expects Gratton to be ready tomorrow night.

Also spotted in the locker room this morning was captain Tim Taylor, who’s walking better and even demonstrated the therapy exercises he’s able to perform (standing on his healing leg) after hip surgery.

Tomorrow the Lightning will have a quick warm-up skate at 10:30. I’ll try to post the lineup shortly thereafter.

October 2, 2007

The team moved back into the St. Pete Times Forum for practice at 11 a.m. today in preparation for Thursday's opener against New Jersey. Before the skate, ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale visited the Lightning locker room with his wife, daughter and grandkids. They received a tour from John Tortorella before Vitale and Tortorella participated in a photo shoot for Vitale's charity event Saturday at the Marriott Waterside Hotel. The event, which starts at 4:30 Saturday, is being run by the Lightning Foundation and will benefit The V Foundation for Cancer Research.

On the ice, the Lightning started out with a special teams practice, mainly focusing on the penalty kill. Tortorella seems to be allowing new assistant Mike Sullivan to inject a lot of his ideas into the special teams, which should create some new wrinkles at both ends of the ice.

After the special teams work the focus was on entering the opponent's zone, as well as defending against the same. Near the end Tortorella held an animated teaching session along the boards on the ice, drawing up Xs and Os on a wipe board.

Following practice, the positive sight of the day was Ryan Craig on the ice for the first time since his back flared up. Craig skated on his own for 10 minutes under the supervision of athletic trainer Tom Mulligan. Andreas Karlsson, who suffered an abdominal strain in practice Monday, seemed to be moving much easier but wasn't able to skate today. Looks like Mathieu Darche will get his spot in the lineup Thursday, and Tortorella said it will be a chance to earn a regular job.

Tortorella also named Johan Holmqvist as the starter for Thursday, and when the post-practice talk with the media turned to the defense, Tortorella said he’s asking the defense to be more aggressive this year, but the right kind of aggressive.

We need to be more of a physical team when we have the opportunities,” Tortorella said. “We want to cut down on the chances we allow.”

For the players, today was one of two or three days each season on which they sign hundreds of items that the Lightning Foundation will use for charity donations. A sea of tables greets the players as they approach the locker room, with the Lightning Foundation's Arlynn Haarer directing the chaos while the players sign individual and team items. For some, such as Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Brad Richards, so many items await that they have to take two shifts - one before and one after practice.

The team is scheduled to practice at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the St. Pete Times forum in the final tune-up before the opener.

Can you feel it?

October 1, 2007

Roster news: The trio of Bryce Lampman, Kyle Wanvig and Mathiue Darche cleared waivers at noon today, but only Lampman and Wanvig are headed to Norfolk of the AHL. Darche will get the chance to stick around after Andreas Karlsson suffered an abdominal strain in practice today. He’s listed as day-to-day.

Despite the Karlsson setback, Lightning athletic trainers Tom Mulligan and Jason Serbus, whose theme song had become Green Day's "Wake Me Up When September Ends," are starting to receive some good news as center Chris Gratton's eye is improving steadily and center Ryan Craig's back is showing good signs as well. While defenseman Dan Boyle remains out following wrist surgery, defenseman Paul Ranger and left wing Nick Tarnasky, who both left Saturday's game in Dallas, are expected to play in Thursday's opener against the Devils.

The Lightning held a team meeting at 10 a.m. in Brandon this morning before hitting the ice for practice. The focus seemed to be on offensive rushes, two-on-ones, etc. Following practice the players high-tailed it over to the St. Pete Times Forum for the Lightning's annual event for area Chambers of Commerce. Looking sharp in their road whites, the players manned stations located throughout the Forum mingling with fans and signing autographs. Attendees also enjoyed free food, locker room tours, etc.

One interesting note from Dallas Saturday - the team had the President’s Cup golf competition on the TV in the locker room at the morning skate at the American Airlines center. The event was being played at the Royal Montreal course in Vincent Lecavalier's hometown of Ile Bizard, and as he watched Lecavalier mentioned that not only had he worked as a caddy there in his teen years while his father mowed the greens at night, but his grandfather used to own part of the land the course was built on.

When news came out Sunday that the Lightning might open next season overseas, in Prague against the Penguins according to Damian Cristodero of the St. Pete Times, Serbus commented "if we're going to go, that's the city we want to go to!"

Serbus spent 10 days in Prague with the U.S. U-17 team just prior to training camp.

"It's the best city in Europe," he added.

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