Getting in Gear

You know training camp is getting close when the local media machine starts revving it's engine again and covering the Lightning.

Earlier this week, the St. Pete Times came out of its summer post-free-agency slumber and published an article regarding expectations on Brad Richards to perform:

That means expectations are higher, the pressure more intense, the microscope that much sharper.

Richards said he won't be taking that much more notice.

"When you get in that upper whatever, whether you're first, second or 10th in the league, that means your team is depending on you," he said.

And for Richards, 26, "That's all that really matters."

As for the rest of it - the media, the scrutiny, the stories written, especially in Canada, that his compensation package threw the league's salary structure out of whack - Richards said it is superfluous.

"It doesn't really matter at all," he said. "I'm going to go about my business and do things the way I always do it. Don't get me wrong, I'm very fortunate. I was lucky to get (the contract). But if it was $10, I'd probably come to the rink the same way."

Meanwhile, it seems the Lightning are trying to push exposure for Marc Denis. He was on Bay News Nine's Sports Connection the other night and this morning the Times published a story regarding... well, expectations.

Marc Denis said he likes to think of himself as thick-skinned.

Good thing, because the Lightning's new goaltender is going to need some sturdy armor.

Consider the situation in which he finds himself.

Denis (pronounced den-ee) was acquired to replace John Grahame, who took most of the blame for a 2005-06 season in which Tampa Bay barely made the playoffs and was booted in five games by the Senators in the East quarterfinals.

He will play for no-nonsense coach John Tortorella, who has little patience for goofups and is particularly hard on goalies. Remember when he publicly ripped Grahame after a Game 4 loss to Ottawa?

That's not even getting into the fact the Lightning have had two major goalies during their existence that have left their mark on the fans -- Darren Puppa and Nikolai Khabibulin -- and not only does Denis need to have thick skin for ribbing and catcalls he may get over the above quoted material (which didn't include the trade for him and the loss of fan favorite Freddie Modin) but also the ability to fill those big shoes with the fans.

The Lightning faithful have seen showstopper antics in Net and they know full well when the team has been covering the goalies backside. It was evident last year more often than not with either Grahame or Sean Burke in net. There were games the two goalies stole with their own talent -- that's for certain -- but there were other games where the Lightning bailed out the netminders.

Denis has to play up to his potential... And the Lightning have to play up to theirs to support him.

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