Injuries are never ideal for an organization. Let alone the seven (excluding Mattias Ohlund) that the Tampa Bay Lightning are currently nursing.
Yet it is players like Mark Barberio and Andrej Sustr, defensemen who have come in with a combined four games of National Hockey League experience prior to this season, that have helped keep the Bolts’ heads above water.
“You want to be counted on and you want the confidence of the coaching staff that they can put you out there when there are opportunities,” Barberio said. “Injuries are awful, but part of the game, so you have to take advantage of it.”
Not exactly projected to make the final roster at the end of training camp, Sustr started the campaign in the lineup, but was in out and of it as time went on. Barberio also played in the season opener, but then saw his role drastically decrease, including being scratched eight straight games (October 5-24).
“’Is it ideal that Sustr is playing right now?’ Probably not, he’s a first-year pro, but the plus side is that he deserves to be here,” Cooper said. “It speaks miles on how he’s developed over the last year.”
Same can be said about Barberio. He jumped into the pros at a younger age and that’s why we have an AHL system, so guys can develop, and Barberio is a great example of that.”
The coaching staff has noticed the rookie blueliners making better hockey decisions over their extended stints.
“They used to play with a little bit of panic, just those nerves, and now the game has slowed down for them,” Cooper said. “They’re more under control and they’re making pro plays now.”
And the more they play, the more the two have improved in the category.
Barberio said himself that he was nervous at the beginning of the year, but the experience has calmed him down.
“I’ve eased into the game,” Barberio said. “Earlier I was practicing a lot, but you can’t make a lot of things that happen in a game up at practice. Making quicker decisions comes with game time and game situations.”
Barberio and Sustr will continue to ease-in to their surroundings and their new roles as they are more than likely to be everyday players in the weeks ahead with Keith Aulie out for the next two months and a cloud of uncertainty surrounding Victor Hedman’s return.
COOPER CONFIDENT BETWEEN THE PIPES
At the end of Saturday’s game, multiple players backed up Anders Lindback’s performance in net (he also received second star honors), even though the Bolts fell, 2-1, in overtime.
Monday Cooper reiterated how vital Ben Bishop and Lindback have been in keeping Tampa Bay competitive.
“We’re not in the spot we are in the standings if we don’t have the goaltending we’ve been getting, especially with a team that’s going through lineup changes on a daily basis and has the inability to score right now,” Cooper said. “I can’t stress enough how much that’s kept us in the race.”
Playing a more mature game, Cooper likes that both his netminders “want that net” and that they are managing to turn the page successfully after a goal is scored on them.
“I think both guys have been unbelievable at that,” he said.
ODDS ‘N ENDS
Hedman (lower body) will not travel with the team to Washington, D.C. for Tuesday’s contest versus the Capitals.
Still not cleared to play, forward P.C. Labrie (upper body) may be good to go by Tuesday.
Four out of the Bolts next five games will come on the road.