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Competition remains intense for Lightning roster spots

Lightning left wing Pierre-Cedric Labrie accidentally crashes into goaltender Mathieu Garon during a scrimmage Monday.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Lightning left wing Pierre-Cedric Labrie accidentally crashes into goaltender Mathieu Garon during a scrimmage Monday.

ESTERO — The last thing Pierre-Cedric Labrie wanted was to cause an incident.

He does, however, want a spot on the Lightning roster.

So, after the 6-foot-2, 220-pound prospect crashed into Mathieu Garon during a scrimmage, he "right away" told the goaltender, who needed a few seconds to get back on his feet, he was sorry.

"An accident, of course," Labrie, a wing with AHL Syracuse, said Tuesday at Germain Arena. "I got pushed. It's not my intention, but (the coaches) asked me to go to the net, so that's what I did."

Actually, what coaches asked Labrie was show what he does best: use his body to create havoc by getting in front of the net or separating an opponent from the puck with a big hit.

Indeed, it is show time at Lightning camp, where, depending on your view, six players are after two forward positions or seven players are after three.

"There's a huge fight with a lot of guys," coach Guy Boucher said, adding, "Don't come in and try to be somebody else. You come in and do what you do best. You'll be evaluated on that. If you're trying to be somebody else, you'll be evaluated on that, too, and it might not be too good."

The six obvious contenders are Labrie, Mike Angelidis, Cory Conacher, Tyler Johnson, Kyle Wilson and J.T. Wyman. But if you believe right wing Dana Tyrell has to prove himself after last season's knee surgery, add him to the mix as well.

"They're going to take a look at all of us," Johnson said, "and if you play well, you never know what's going to happen."

The dynamic is not just about numbers. Given how the lines have been structured in two days of scrimmages at the camp that runs through Friday, the needs are a top-six player and one or two for the bottom six.

Conacher, 23, who for two days has played left wing on a line with center Vinny Lecavalier and Teddy Purcell, seems to have the inside track on the top-six spot.

That leaves Johnson, 22, in an interesting spot. Despite 20 goals and 35 points in 36 games for AHL Syracuse, he has played mostly on third and fourth lines in camp, though Boucher has said he wants a third line "that's got some shark to them."

"I mean, they just kind of let me play and whatever happens, happens," Johnson said. "It's a lot tougher (in the NHL) and there's less space (on the ice). I'm going to have to adapt to that and change my game around. At the same time, I really have to focus on my defense here. Playing good defense will lead to offense."

"But it has to be sustainable," said Wilson, who on Tuesday scored his second goal in as many days. "They have to see you're doing the right things to get those goals and they're not just lucky goals and the rest of the time you're loafing around out there in the wrong spot."

And that brings us back to Labrie, who said competing for a job adds no pressure, especially when he recalls lessons from Syracuse coach Jon Cooper.

"They always tell me you play better when you smile," Labrie said. "Just go out there and smile and be a menace."

Ask Garon about that.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @LightningTimes.

Competition remains intense for Lightning roster spots 01/15/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 10:47pm]
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