After Wednesday’s practice head coach Jon Cooper emphasized how crucial the last two games on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s preseason slate were for many on the training camp roster.
“They are important, extremely important,” Cooper said. “‘Can we throw in another adjective?’ They’re paramount.”
For J.T. Brown, who replaces forward Ryan Malone (upper body, day-to-day) in Thursday’s lineup, the final home stretch of camp got just that much more important.
“I thought he was one of the minor bright spots in our game against Nashville the other night,” Cooper said. “He’s shown he deserves to keep being in the lineup and he deserves a chance.”
Brown notched one assist on Steven Stamkos’ lone goal for the Lightning on Tuesday in Nashville, logging 10:45 of ice time versus the Predators.
“It’s another opportunity for me to show what I have,” Brown said. “Obviously you don’t want anybody to be injured, but I was called on this morning and I have to be ready for it.”
It’s another chance to fine-tune his game at the NHL-level too.
“You have to make sure the effort’s there 100-percent of the time,” he said. “I do not want to make any costly turnovers and I want to create offensive pressure.”
Making the switch this morning, Cooper mentioned that Malone was sitting out of Thursday’s game as a precaution, much like last week’s situation with Bolts forward Teddy Purcell.
“He’s in no jeopardy of missing regular season games,” Cooper said. “It’s not hockey related and it’s not a concern.”
FINDING THEIR PLACE
With two dozen-less skaters on the ice, the coaching staff has a better chance at observing each player closely.
P.C. Labrie and Brown, who’re amongst a handful of players that may or may not be with the team next week when the roster is finalized, plan on seizing the moment in Thursday’s tilt.
“I just have to go out there shift-by-shift and enjoy every moment,” Labrie said. “We’re getting closer to the final team, so you just have to enjoy every opportunity.”
“Nothing’s clear at this point, so you just have to keep going and keep playing hard,” Brown added. “It will all tell itself at the end of preseason. Until then, you just have to keep going.”
Labrie also wants to put his high-energy style on display during the game.
“When I go on the ice I want to make sure I bring momentum for my team,” he said. “If someone gets hit I have to jump in and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Despite fewer skaters, Cooper admits it’s not easy fitting everyone into a game situation.
“A spot opens up and someone needs to take advantage,” Cooper said. “It’s been difficult trying to find room for all these guys. We have 18 forwards and only 12 can play a night.”
Cooper also added that it’s a balancing act that involves getting veterans, like Martin St. Louis, action and taking a final look at their prospect-loaded roster.
“You’re caught between you want to see everybody play and getting guys ready for the season,” he said.
ODDS ‘N ENDS
Scoring the game-winner in the shootout against the Panthers last Saturday, forward Jonathan Drouin also added an assist last game in Nashville. Drouin is slated at right-wing Thursday night.
Forward Brett Connolly will be featured at center tonight. Coach Cooper said Connolly played the position a number of times with the Syracuse Crunch last season and is exceptional at draws.