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Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina has adjusted to stay productive

Pavel Kubina did not want to make too much of his 900th NHL game.

The defenseman called it a "little accomplishment" and noted that so many players had reached that plateau and beyond.

But reaching the mark while playing for the Lightning? That, he said, is a "great accomplishment."

"Great memories," said Kubina, who will play No. 900 Friday against the Panthers at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"This team drafted me. This team gave me a chance in the league, and I won a Stanley Cup. I had a chance to come back, and it meant so much to me."

Kubina's affection for the Lightning and the Tampa Bay area and how he relished his return this season after three with the Maple Leafs and one with the Thrashers is well-known.

Less obvious is the story of an older player who had to remake his game to remain viable in the league.

Kubina, who turns 34 on April 15, entered the NHL during the 1997-98 season, when defense was all about clutching, grabbing and interference. Now those are no-nos, which made the game much faster and meant defensemen had to adapt, even gain speed, or get out.

It has not been an easy transition for the 6-foot-4, 258-pound Czech, and even coach Lightning Guy Boucher noted Kubina's season has had ups and downs.

Making things tougher: Kubina has an offensive mind-set that had to be tempered, too.

"When he's trying to do too much offensively, it prevents him from being able to come back defensively," Boucher said. "Then he's flat-footed and late. But lately that hasn't been the case. Right now he's playing well."

Even so, Kubina has had his power-play time reduced, meaning a player with 106 career goals and 370 points has three goals and 22 points in 77 games this season, his lowest full-season output since 2002-03.

But he also is plus-1 and averaging 19:12 of ice time.

"Myself, I'm not worried about my points or goals," Kubina said. "If I can do my job defensively, we have a good chance to win games, so I'm not going to do something risky. I'm just going to worry about defense."

That means lots of off-ice weight work and doing on-ice sprints to increase his quickness and speed.

"It's a new NHL, and all these bigger guys who don't necessarily have great speed, they have to find a way to adjust," Boucher said. "So for him this year, it's been a year where he's realizing there's an adaptation he has to go through. He's looking good, so full credit to him."

Some things haven't changed.

"He's such a great guy," teammate Vinny Lecavalier said.

"And he likes playing," said Lightning founder Phil Esposito, who drafted Kubina 179th overall in 1996. "He still loves it, and guys like that always last."

In Kubina's case, he has lasted for 13 seasons and 900 games, 608 with Tampa Bay, with which he won the 2004 Stanley Cup.

"It just flew by," he said. "I appreciate it more now when I get older. I hope I still have a lot of games left in me."

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina has adjusted to stay productive 04/06/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 6, 2011 10:54pm]

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