TAMPA — To figure out what position Kurtis Foster is playing on a given day, one has to know the code — the color code, that is.
Take Monday's workout at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Foster wore a yellow jersey to designate the line on which he played as a forward. He changed to defenseman's black to join the power play.
All in a day's work for Foster, who is Tampa Bay's jack-of-all-trades — a defenseman who for the second time this season is manning right wing, and whose slap shot, once clocked at 101.5 mph, makes him a formidable weapon on the power play.
"Basically, in the long run, I want to be a D," Foster said. "That's where I think I can help the team the most. But if the coaches think I'm going to help the team playing forward, I'm more than willing to do it."
"He's actually not bad up front," coach Rick Tocchet said. "Kurtis Foster is a guy every team can use. He has a lot of value."
The value runs both ways.
Foster, 28, needs ways to help re-establish himself after a left-leg fracture in March 2008 limited him to 10 games in 2008-09.
The Lightning, with eight defensemen (nine if you count Paul Ranger, away from the team on personal business), needs to occasionally lessen the glut to help people get playing time.
Foster, who played some forward for the Wild before signing a one-year deal with Tampa Bay last summer, was a natural for the fourth line, expected to produce energy and forechecking.
He has played there about 10 games during the season and has seven goals and 22 points at forward and defense combined while averaging 15:42 of ice time.
"His attitude is as good as anyone," Tocchet said. "He's accepted both roles, and right now he's best used (at forward) for us to win. We need guys like that on this team."
Still, Lightning defenseman Mike Lundin said, "It's got to be tough mentally, there are so many differences in the position. Just knowing what to do on defense alone is a task that you can never perfect. But going back and forth, I'm sure that's a strain on him. I'm sure he has to be at the top of his mental focus."
Especially on the high slot of the power play, a dangerous place given there is nothing between the blue line and Tampa Bay's goalie. But that is where Foster has shined with three goals and 12 points.
Good decisions with the puck help, but so does a slap shot so heavy it twice cracked the glass above the end boards at the Times Forum. Is that a kick?
"It might put a smile on your face for a second," Foster said. "But then you realize if you hit the net, it might have gone in."
But Tocchet said those wayward shots have value:
"There are not many guys who want to block that shot, and every now and then that high hard one off the glass, if it breaks the glass, that's a little warning around the league.
"That might provide more time (to shoot) or give somebody an option down low, so the breaking of the glass or shooting over the net, as long as it's not our players getting hit, I actually don't mind it."
Bottom line, Tocchet said: "Nobody can deny he's made our power play work. He's option No. 1 for me."
Whatever color practice jersey Foster is wearing.
Smith tested: Mike Smith, expected back on the roster Wednesday against Montreal after missing six games with a strained neck, took a couple of pokes at teammate Steve Downie after Downie, going to the net on a drill, bowled over the goalie.
Smith, also with a concussion history, chided Downie to "do it to the (opposing) goalies" and later joked Downie was "just testing" him.
"I passed," Smith said.
First Period—1, Pittsburgh, Conner 1 (Crosby, Letang), 2:47. Penalties—Dubinsky, NYR (slashing), 17:00.
Second Period—2, N.Y. Rangers, Anisimov 8 (Higgins, Lisin), 13:04. Penalties—Malkin, Pit (tripping), 8:02.
Third Period—3, N.Y. Rangers, Anisimov 9 (Girardi), 9:15. 4, Pittsburgh, Malkin 18 (Gonchar, Letang), 9:46 (pp). 5, Pittsburgh, Conner 2 (Crosby, Dupuis), 10:46. 6, Pittsburgh, Dupuis 12 (Malkin, Gonchar), 19:20 (en). Penalties—J.Staal, Pit, double minor (high-sticking), :20; Cooke, Pit (roughing), 4:10; Gaborik, NYR (slashing), 9:30. Shots on Goal—Pittsburgh 7-10-11—28. N.Y. Rangers 7-10-13—30. Power-play opportunities—Pittsburgh 1 of 2; N.Y. Rangers 0 of 4. Goalies—Pittsburgh, Fleury 26-14-1 (30 shots-28 saves). N.Y. Rangers, Lundqvist 22-18-6 (27-24). A—18,200 (18,200). T—2:21. Referees—Dennis LaRue, Brad Meier. Linesmen—Brian Mach, Jay Sharrers.
First Period—None. Penalties—Janssen, StL, major (fighting), 2:17; McGrattan, Cal, major (fighting), 2:17; Steen, StL (hooking), 4:23; Jokinen, Cal (tripping), 16:40.
Second Period—1, St. Louis, Berglund 7 (Jackman, Polak), 18:42. Penalties—Janssen, StL, major (fighting), 3:12; Prust, Cal, major (fighting), 3:12; Langkow, Cal (delay of game), 9:00.
Third Period—2, St. Louis, Perron 15 (McDonald, Sydor), 11:21. Penalties—St. Louis bench, served by Tkachuk (too many men), 5:05; Brewer, StL (roughing), 6:41; Bourque, Cal (roughing), 6:41. Shots on Goal—St. Louis 9-12-8—29. Calgary 7-12-15—34. Power-play opportunities—St. Louis 0 of 2; Calgary 0 of 2. Goalies—St. Louis, Conklin 8-6-1 (34 shots-34 saves). Calgary, Kiprusoff 23-16-6 (29-27). A—19,289 (19,289). T—2:28. Referees—Eric Furlatt, Tom Kowal. Linesmen—Lyle Seitz, Thor Nelson.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]