The Tampa Bay Lightning return to AMALIE Arena for another three-game homestand tonight when they take on the Calgary Flames (7:30 p.m. puck drop).
And they'll do so missing a couple key team members.
Defenseman Erik Cernak and forward Mathieu Joseph were not on the ice for Tampa Bay's morning skate Tuesday, and following the practice session, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said both will be absent from the lineup tonight. Cernak has sustained a lower-body injury according to Cooper and is day-to-day.
"This is not a long-term thing," Cooper reassured.
Joseph is also dealing with an injury, although Cooper didn't elaborate on his status.
"We've got some roster issues going on here," he said.
Video: Cooper | Pregame TBL vs. CGY
Add those two injuries to the likely absence of Ondrej Palat -- a participant at morning skate who didn't take part in line rushes, indicating he probably won't be in the lineup - and the Lightning will have some holes to fill before they take on the Flames, who own the third-best record in the NHL currently.
Ryan Callahan, who stepped in to the lineup Sunday at Florida with Palat out and netted the game-winning goal, will play for the second-consecutive game. Danick Martel will also probably see action after sitting the last 12 games. Those two skated on the fourth line along with Cedric Paquette during Tampa Bay's morning skate line rushes.
"You'd rather be able to pick from everybody, a healthy group, instead of having a bunch of guys that are banged up," Cooper said. "Fortunately for us, nobody's really long-term."
Callahan has been out of the lineup more than in it coming out of the bye week but has produced when he's gotten his opportunity. In addition to scoring a goal in Sunrise, he's recorded points in five of his last eight games (15 team games), putting up three goals and three assists over that stretch.
"It's too bad they didn't show our bench because I think our bench celebrated more than he did," Cooper said, referring to Callahan's now semi-famous goal celebration in Sunrise. "Clearly a popular player on our team and he's meant so much to us over the years. When he contributes in that way, he probably never gets enough credit for the hitting and shot blocking and the effort and all those other things, you just know how much it means to him and it meant a lot to our guys as well."
Martel has played just six games for the Lightning this season and recorded his first career NHL point with a beautiful, spinning, backhanded assist on Paquette's goal in his second game with the Bolts on December 18. His last game came January 10 versus Carolina. He understands chances to play are rare with the depth the Lightning have at forward and that when his number is called, he has to be ready to go. There can be no time to get acclimated to the game, especially against a high-powered team like Calgary.
"I think my mental part of it is really good this year," Martel said. "I know my role but I want to improve my game in practices, I want to get better every day…When I have my opportunities to play games, I've got to work hard and be the best player I can be. Tonight, it's going to be the same thing. I've got to play hard every shift, even if it's six, nine, 12 minutes, it doesn't matter, got to play hard every shift."
Video: Martel on playing hard every shift
Martel was in the lineup the last time the Lightning faced the Flames, a game that needed a seven round shootout to determine a winner, the Bolts prevailing 5-4. He said it will be important for the Lightning to limit turnovers as that can fuel the Flames' transition game.
"I think they're a team that really cheat the game, they leave the zone really quickly and get in transition," he said. "Every turnover that we have is going to hurt us. We've got to keep the game clean and play behind the D and after that we'll see what happens."
The Lightning own an 11-point lead over second-place San Jose in the NHL standings and top the Eastern Conference by 14 points, but they still view tonight's game as an opportunity to prove themselves against one of the other elite teams in the NHL.
"We've gone back and looked at the last time we played Calgary and it was actually probably a wildly-entertaining game for the fans but there were a lot of things that were really loose," Cooper said. "So, for us, we'll see if we've matured as a team. Are we going to get caught in the track meet or are we going to play a disciplined game? So in that regard, a little bit of a measuring stick."