It might be too early for the Tampa Bay Lightning to view this week as a good test to see what kind of team they're going to have this season.
But make no mistake, the Bolts faced three playoff teams this week, including the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, and have two wins to show for it with one more game to play.
The Lightning will take on another formidable opponent Saturday when they host the St. Louis Blues at AMALIE Arena (7 p.m. puck drop).
"This is a tough league to win in, so I don't know, I can't sit here and say is this a test or not," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "We've played some really good teams, but the second you start saying, 'Okay, well this team is good, this team is good.' And then you look at another team and say, 'Maybe we should beat these guys.' That's when you lose. We're happy with our start, but we can't be content."
The Lightning defeated the top two teams from the 2016-17 regular season in Washington and Pittsburgh earlier this week. And they did it in contrasting styles.
Against Washington, Tampa Bay fell behind 2-0 and 3-1 before rallying behind a dominant third period and winning in overtime. Versus the Cup champion Penguins, the Lightning jumped out to a two-goal lead and then had an answer every time Pittsburgh threatened to tie the game in a 5-4 victory.
"It's obviously a good feeling to win hockey games, but we're giving up way too many goals," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. "It's not going to hold to win games 4-3, 5-4 as the season goes on. As of right now, we'll take the four points we got in those two games and try and improve and try and get better. That's the bottom line. It's still early in the year and still got stuff we need to work on and get better at."
St. Louis presents another difficult challenge for the Lightning. The rough-and-tumble Blues have been one of the league's strongest teams in recent years having qualified for the playoffs each of the last six seasons. The Blues have also had the Bolts' number of late, winning six of their last seven over the Lightning.
"They're off to a good start this year," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "They're usually known as a pretty solid defensive team that doesn't give you many opportunities. We'll look to try to attack using our speed and just simplify the game a little bit. That's something we've talked about since camp is just trying to focus on playing the right way. We've gone away from that a little bit the last couple games and allowed a lot of scoring chances, so we'll look to limit that because they're probably going to limit ours and look for a low-scoring game and go from there."
The Lightning will try to sweep their first home stand of three games or more since Jan. 27 - Feb. 5, 2016 with a victory tonight. And while winning three straight over the likes of the Capitals, the Penguins and the Blues might not immediately vault the Lightning toward the top of the list of Stanley Cup contenders for 2017-18, it does serve notice to the rest of the league that the Bolts are going to be an extremely difficult team to beat this season.
"Teams don't really find their identity I think until a little later in the year," Stamkos said. "But in saying that, you try to collect as many points as you can at the beginning of the year because teams do change. You'll see teams get off to poor starts who finish strong and vice versa. I don't think we're looking at it like, 'Hey, we just beat Washington. We beat (Pittsburgh). We're the best team.' We're happy that we're 3-1, but there are a lot of areas for us to improve on."
GAME-TIME DECISION FOR PAQUETTE: Cedric Paquette missed the Lightning's 5-4 win over Pittsburgh with a lower-body injury but was a full participant in Saturday's morning skate ahead of the Bolts' matchup against the Blues.
Cooper said he's "hoping" Paquette can go tonight and added that the Bolts' lineup tonight will remain the same, the one change being if Paquette is able to return.