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"Dramatic' turnabout seen on Day One

The goals weren't that closely monitored. Neither were the shots on goal nor the body checks.

The real gauge of how the Lightning did Saturday during the first day of training camp at the Ice Sports Forum were the affirmations from general manager Rick Dudley and coach Steve Ludzik.

Of course, it's too early _ about 12:01 a.m. if you think of the season like a clock _ to make any lasting determinations. But Dudley and Ludzik had difficulty finding negatives in the four 45-minute intrasquad games played in front of about 400 spectators.

"It was very good," Dudley said. "The difference between this year and last year is that nobody looked out of place and it was very high tempo."

"We were probably 10 times better," Ludzik said. "The turnaround was dramatic. It was unbelievable."

Granted, Tampa Bay had no way to go but up, but some noteworthy performances should stir some embers of hope.

+ Goaltenders Dan Cloutier and Kevin Weekes were extremely sharp. In one game that ended 0-0, Weekes made, by unofficial count, 24 saves.

+ Center Brad Richards may have found a home between wings Fredrik Modin and Wayne Primeau. The rookie made some Vinny Lecavalier-like passes and showed poise along the boards.

+ Left wing Sheldon Keefe was extremely active and wasn't afraid to mix it up with some of the regulars.

+ Right wing Nikita Alexeev, this year's first-round draft choice, protected the puck, played well along the boards and flattened defenseman Kyle Kos with a check.

+ Right wing Martin St. Louis, signed as a free agent, showed speed and creativity with the puck.

+ Vinny was Vinny, stick-handling through traffic and taking advantage of scoring opportunities in front of the net.

"I feel good. I feel comfortable," Lecavalier said. "The first couple of shifts, I felt a little tired, but after that, I felt great."

So, was there a downside? Ludzik said fans may have wanted to see more hitting.

"Some people say, "We want to see a blood bath and bodies strewn all over the place,' " Ludzik said. "But if you're a realist, we want intensity and checks finished. You're not going to win many kudos by cross-checking Vinny Lecavalier across the head."

CUT-DOWN DAY: Ludzik said games will be played the next four or five days. Cuts will then reduce the 61-man roster to about 30. The coach said he wants to work with a core group as soon as possible.

INJURY REPORT: Left wing Gordie Dwyer strained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee. He is day to day. Defenseman Andrei Zyuzin and center Steve Martins were limping and wearing walking boots to protect sprained right ankles. Both are expected to be out about a week.

LIGHTNING ON ESPN2: For the first time in two years, the Lightning will be on a major television network, Feb. 17 when it faces the Rangers at the Ice Palace on ESPN2. Tampa Bay played a regional game on Fox during the 1998-99 season.

Lightning president Ron Campbell said Lecavalier is the main attraction.

"They want to showcase the new stars," Campbell said. "We expect to be on a lot more in the future."

ODDS AND ENDS: Defenseman Pavel Kubina arrived in Tampa at 10 p.m. Friday after a two-day wait for a visa and a 25-hour trip from his native Czech Republic. Kyle Freadrich's skating was so poor last season, the Lightning sent the left wing to a skating academy run by special skills coach Paul Vincent. Dudley said Freadrich is one of the team's most improved players.