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Coach hoping off days help reenergize club

After the Lightning was pounded by the Panthers 8-2 Tuesday night in the first game after the Olympic break, coach John Tortorella did not skate his team into the ground Wednesday.

He did just the opposite. He gave players the day off.

With the Lightning's Olympians dog-tired after two weeks in Italy and the non-Olympians skating seven consecutive days, Tortorella decided his boys needed some rest. And never one to use practice as punishment, Tortorella stuck with his plan to take off Wednesday.

Meantime, he continues looking for breaks in the schedule to get his Olympians some more time off, especially with the Lightning about to hit a stretch of seven games in 11 nights. Right now is such a time. The Lightning does not play again until Saturday. Tortorella said the entire team will meet today for a video session, then have an optional practice.

The non-Olympians will skate, but the players who played in the Olympics can decide whether or not they want to practice.

"We'll do it the best way possible to make sure guys are physically able to go in this last quarter (of the season)," Tortorella said.

Tortorella isn't crazy about the schedule, especially that the Lightning had to play Tuesday night. Only 12 of the league's 30 teams played Tuesday, while others had off until Wednesday or today. To be fair to Tortorella, he made the following comments before the Lightning's embarrassing loss to the Panthers.

"To me, it absolutely makes no sense that this league has (only) six games (Tuesday)," he said. "To come off something like (the Olympics) and to allow some teams a couple more days off than other teams, it just baffles me. If 30 teams can play on opening night, 30 teams should be playing on the opening night after the Olympic break."

THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS: If you watched the Olympics, you might have noticed center Vinny Lecavalier and defenseman Pavel Kubina wearing visors even though neither wears one with the Lightning.

It wasn't their choice. The Olympic rule this year was that any player born after 1975 had to wear a shield. Lecavalier, who wore a visor even smaller than the ones normally fitted for NHL players, said he hated wearing it, and both played without visors Tuesday night against Florida.

HEADS UP: Kubina said he wasn't sure how to feel about the hit delivered by Russia's Ilya Kovalchuk that knocked him out of the bronze medal game in the Olympics. Kubina suffered what sounds like a mild concussion when Kovalchuk pounded him into the boards. Kovalchuk was given a five-minute major penalty for boarding and a game misconduct, but Kubina stopped just short of calling the hit dirty.

"I haven't seen it on the replay, but, obviously, he got a (major penalty) and a game misconduct," Kubina said. "I don't know if it was an elbow or a shoulder, but he hit me right in the face."

The hit happened in the first period, and Kubina did not return as the Czechs went on to victory.

"I didn't feel good after the hit," Kubina said. "I was so tired."

Kovalchuk plays for the Atlanta Thrashers, which the Lightning plays three more times this season. Will Kubina be looking for any payback?

"We'll see," Kubina said.

YOU TALKIN' TO ME?: This season, Flyers goalie Robert Esche made a wisecrack, apparently about Lightning goalie John Grahame. When asked if Grahame and Buffalo's Ryan Miller would make the U.S. Olympic team, Esche said, "Definitely not both of them. I'm not going to get into it, but one of those guys doesn't belong in the NHL."

Though Esche said nothing else, it was assumed he was talking about Grahame. But the two got along well on Team USA.

"It never came up," Grahame said. "He's a real good guy. That was just some silly thing. I don't know. It never came up, but he's a really good guy."

- TOM JONES, Times staff writer

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