The past four days has brought a heavy work load for the Tampa Bay Lightning during practice, but now that they close in on the last stretch of their October slate, there are a few key areas the Lightning hope they have had enough time to hone their skills in.
Thursday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks brings along with it haunting memories of a first period, in just the second contest of the season, where the Bolts had zero shots on net. By the time 40 minutes had been played, the Lightning added a total of six through two frames and were in a 2-0 hole on the scoreboard. Surprisingly enough, the Lightning walked off the ice with a 3-2 shootout victory.
“That was one of those times where you don’t deserve it, but you get it and you take it whenever that happens,” Steven Stamkos said. “We didn’t have a shot in the first period against these guys last time and that’s kind of been our Achilles heel, when we don’t start well, we don’t play well.”
And after Saturday, another friendly reminder of the consequences that come with a slow start, the Bolts know they need to take advantage of their time left on home ice, which includes just a pair of games, before they embark on a three-game road trip.
“We need to come out of the gates like we did against L.A.,” Victor Hedman said. “The way we played that game is how we need to play tonight. We need to play hard, physical, make sure we have the puck most of the night because we know they are very skilled up front.”
“The day you take any night off in this league, you’re in big time trouble,” head coach Jon Cooper added. “The one thing we’ve said to these guys is we need to get off to a good start. We can’t let what happened the other night happen.”
Though the Blackhawks are a team the Lightning aspire to be like, in regards to puck possession, Cooper acknowledged they are growing in that area and that is a welcoming sign for the Bay-area blue.
Netminder Nikolai Khabibulin will man the crease for the first time since his season debut on October 11 with the Blackhawks in a 3-2 win against the New York Islanders. Khabibulin was the 2003-04 Stanley Cup-winning goaltender with the Lightning as, coincidentally enough, Tampa Bay nears its 10 year anniversary of winning the Cup at the end of this season.
“I hope he’s nice to me,” Martin St. Louis said when asked about Khabibulin, which earned some laughs. “I expect him to be tough in this game, no doubt.”
Since winning the Stanley Cup with the Lightning, the 40-year-old has played for the Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers and again in Chicago, but has only appeared in 13 games combined over his past two seasons.
STAMKOS SCORES A TRIO, TWICE
With two career hat tricks against Chicago, according to Stamkos, sometimes you just play well against certain teams, the fact that it is the defending Stanley Cup Champions doesn’t hurt though.
“These guys are a good team,” Stamkos said. “It’s nice to have mental confidence heading into these games.”
Stamkos has also notched eight points (five goals, three assists) over his past five games.
Getting more rubber to the net is an area the Lightning have struggled with much of this season.
“Aside from walking around with them for 24 hours, saying ‘shoot, shoot, shoot,’” Cooper said. “It takes time to break these habits. You just have to keep hammering it into their head.”
While the word “selfish” usually carries a negative connotation, when it comes to taking more shots, Cooper believes it is one area the Bolts should be more selfish with.
“I think our guys can be accused of being too unselfish,” he said. “They just rather tic-tac-toe it and setup their buddy, when sometimes you have to make the selfish act and just shoot yourself. I think it’s the one time when it’s not a bad thing.”
ODDS ‘N ENDS
Ben Bishop looks for his sixth win in seven starts Thursday. Cooper said his play in the Lightning’s first game versus Chicago, who he credits the team’s win mostly too, is the reasoning behind his decision.
Keith Aulie serves as the healthy scratch for his sixth-straight game, while Mark Barberio has not been in action since the season opener on October 3.