The Tampa Bay Lightning will face their second of three Atlantic Division opponents to start the 2014-15 season when they play the Ottawa Senators tonight at Amalie Arena.
Although it’s only game two, winning games against divisional opponents, especially at home, is paramount for Tampa Bay’s playoff hopes.
“Naturally, this is a team you’re fighting with to get in the playoffs down the road,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said after the Bolts’ morning skate. “This is somebody you’re going to have to go through…You want to help yourself. To have a chance of making the playoffs, you’ve got to beat the teams in your division, and it’s pretty plain and simple.”
Ottawa’s first three games of the 2014-15 season are on the road before playing its home opener Thursday, October 16, against the Colorado Avalanche. The Senators dropped their first game of the season to Nashville, allowing three third-period goals after entering the final period with a 1-0 advantage.
“We’re starting off at home; they’re starting off on the road. They’ve been on the road now for four or five days, and we’ve got to try to take advantage of these situations,” Cooper said.
Ottawa finished last season with a 37-31-14 record (88 points) to finish fifth in the Atlantic Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference, missing the playoffs for the first time in three years. But, the Senators are a much different team this year.
Twelve players, including F Alex Chiasson and C David Legwand, made their Ottawa debut two days ago against the Predators.
“They’re a talented group,” Lightning F Ryan Callahan said. “They have a very mobile defense, good goaltending. It’s more about us in here, what we do, how we prepare our systems. I think if we concentrate on that, we’ll be fine.”
Lightning forward Brenden Morrow said he didn’t have any issues with his back after playing 7:54 of the season opener.
Morrow had been sidelined for the latter portion of training camp and a couple preseason games with back spasms but was cleared in time for Thursday’s victory over Florida.
“Nothing with the back, probably more issues with the hands, the feet and the brain,” he said. “The back actually felt pretty good, but it was the rust and what not of not being in too much game action for a long time.”
Morrow said it will probably take him a couple games before he returns to his old self.
“When we’re doing things in practice, sometimes you know that the defense is going to let you do some things, so in the game, everything is different,” he said. “When you’re not used to the speed and the timing, it usually takes you a few games.”
ERIK THE GREAT
Cooper called Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson “a dynamic player” and said he ranks Karlsson among the top echelon of NHL players.
“Here’s how I describe guys like Karlsson. Karlsson’s so fast, he could beat out his own icing,” Cooper said. “He gets the puck. He controls everything that goes on the ice. He plays the game skating forwards. He knows how to gap. He knows how to put you in positions that make you get rid of the puck, especially for a guy that’s not very big.”
Karlsson ranked first in the NHL last season for most points by a defensemen with 74. Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman was third at 55.
“You’ve got to continually make (Karlsson) work,” Cooper said. “The problem is it seems like he never gets tired.”
19-year-old rookie Jonathan Drouin continues to skate with the Lightning at practice but has yet to join in fully. Cooper said it would be a couple more days before the team has a better idea when he’ll be ready to make his NHL debut.
“I would say, I think probably Monday or Tuesday we’ll have a better indication of where he’s going to be,” Cooper said.
Ben Bishop will be making his second-straight start in goal to begin the season. Cooper admitted the Lightning were a playoff-caliber team last year with Bishop, but without him, they weren’t.
“To have that guy back there that you just throw out there 60, 65 times a year is pretty comforting,” Cooper said.