Tampa Bay Lightning forward Cedric Paquette hasn’t played since November 14, missing 15-straight games with an upper-body injury.
Paquette, in fact, has been in the lineup for just 10 of the Lightning’s 34 games and has been injured on three separate occasions.
But Bolts head coach Jon Cooper said Paquette told him he’s feeling better than he has all season, training camp included. Cooper said Paquette is “probable” to play tonight versus the Vancouver Canucks at Amalie Arena, the Bolts final game before the three-day Christmas break.
“It’s just the timing of everything with him and how he’s kind of had the same injury, that’s the tough part for him where some of our other guys, like (Tyler) Johnson for instance, he had one injury and then a completely different injury,” Cooper said. “(Paquette) just keeps reaggravating the same injury, and we’ve just got to trust that he’s good to go now.”
A quartet of injured Lightning players – Johnson, Ondrej Palat, J.T. Brown and Jonathan Drouin – participated in today’s morning skate but wore grey jerseys. None will play tonight. Cooper, however, said the upcoming time off will be very beneficial to them.
“Everybody’s getting closer,” Cooper said. “I know it’s a short break, but these three days will be a little bit of a bonus, and then hopefully come the 26th, 28th (of December), all of a sudden we can start plugging some more guys in.”
Cooper said Brian Boyle (upper-body injury), who was hit high by Mark Borowiecki on his first shift and left Sunday’s victory over Ottawa without returning, is out tonight. Cooper didn’t have any update on his status.
The Lightning have scored 13 goals combined over their last three games, tying a season-high for goals over a three-game stretch (the Bolts scored 13 in their first three games of the season).
The Lightning are averaging 2.50 goals per game, which still ranks just 21st in the NHL.
“We’ve had a pretty good stretch,” Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said. “I think scoring goals has been an area that we struggled with, especially early in the year. You look at all the injuries we still have, it’s exciting about hopefully getting a win here and then having some rest for the guys to come back healthy after the break.”
Alex Killorn, who has recorded points in four-straight games, tying a Bolts season high for consecutive games with a point, said the reason for Tampa Bay’s recent offensive outburst is simple: they’re shooting more.
“We’re getting more shots on net, getting more second-chance opportunities,” he said. “When you do that, you’re going to score more.”
Vancouver will be playing the final game of a six-game road trip tonight in Tampa. The Canucks have been on the road since December 13 when they started in Chicago and have traveled to Minnesota, Philadelphia, Detroit and Florida before capping the trip in Tampa.
“We have to take advantage of a team that’s been on the road for a while,” Cooper said.
The Lightning have won four straight over Vancouver and are 6-0-1 versus the Canucks since the beginning of the 2009-10 season. The Bolts are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Vancouver.
“I don’t know what it is,” Killorn said about Tampa Bay’s recent success against the Canucks. “Whether or not they play us at certain points of the season when we’re playing well or I don’t know if it’s a certain matchup, but we seem to do well against them.”
Ben Bishop was the first Lightning goaltender off the ice at morning skate, signaling he’ll get the start tonight, his 27th of the season. Bishop is undefeated all-time against Vancouver, going 4-0-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.
ODDS AND ENDS
The Lightning have won three of their last four, six of their last nine and nine of their last 14 games…The Bolts are 5-1-0 against Pacific Division teams this season, the only loss coming at Los Angeles on December 6 (3-1). “We don’t play (Pacific teams) that often. I don’t know if that has anything to do with it,” Killorn said. “We tend to put a lot of shots on net when we play those teams.”…Ben Bishop has yet to win on Tuesday this season – the only day of the week he hasn’t recorded a victory – going 0-3-1 in four starts.