Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop has missed the last three games after suffering a lower-body injury late in the first period against Pittsburgh last Monday.
Bishop practiced with the rest of his teammates today as the Lightning held their first training session in the Tampa Bay since returning from a five-game road trip.
Bishop said he “felt pretty good” during practice and would “try to convince” the training staff to let him play in tomorrow’s rematch with the Penguins at Amalie Arena.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper was less enthusiastic, saying Bishop’s prospects of playing Tuesday were “doubtful to questionable.”
“He’s just getting back,” Cooper said. “He, by his own account, is not 100 percent, so if that’s going to leave a little bit of doubt, then we’ll see where he’s at tomorrow.”
The emergence of Andrei Vasilevskiy as a reliable alternative to veteran netminder Evgeni Nabokov also factors in the decision whether to rest Bishop a few more days or let him start against Pittsburgh.
“Something could be said too about playing the kid who’s hot, and (Vasilevskiy) is playing well right now,” Cooper said. “So, it does give you a little bit of a luxury to have some goalie depth. It that can give Bish a little bit of an opportunity to become 100 percent, it’d be crazy not to take advantage of that.”
Cooper was less optimistic about defenseman Jason Garrison playing Tuesday, saying his chances were “highly doubtful.”
Garrison did not play the third period against the New York Islanders and is listed as day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.
“Especially with this break coming up, there’s no sense in somebody who may be out for a week re-aggravating something that suddenly puts them out three weeks.”
Garrison said he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of playing Tuesday, but the decision was not his to make.
“It has felt better from day to day…Hopefully, again tomorrow I feel better,” Garrison said. “I would say if there’s the same kind of improvement, I would like to think that I would love to skate on the ice (Tuesday).”
With Garrison out and Anton Stralman taking a scheduled body-maintenance day off Monday, the Lightning had just five defensemen available to practice.
So, Bolts center Brian Boyle slid over to the other side and played defense to give the Lightning enough blue liners to hold a normal practice.
Boyle took the new assignment in stride.
“My number was on the board to play D. This was what was in my locker,” he said, pointing to the defenseman’s gear hanging on hooks. “I don’t ask too many questions.”
Boyle has had a bit of training as a defenseman during his career, first at Boston College where he skated periodically on the blue line and then during his first professional season in the American Hockey League.
He showed surprisingly good awareness Monday, and, using his 6-foot-7 frame combined with a long stick, made it difficult for Lightning attackers to find passing lanes.
“It was tough,” he said. “New skates didn’t help either.”
The Lightning have scored just 12 goals in their last six games, including a short-handed score against Philadelphia on Tuesday.
To address the scoring slump, the team worked for a considerable portion of practice on tip-ins at the net. Tampa Bay tallied a number of goals through the first two months of the season by redirecting pucks in front of goal but have failed in that area of the game lately.
“I think it’s just more about getting back to the basics all over the ice, not trying to be too cute or too fancy,” Lightning forward Tyler Johnson said. “We have a lot of skill in this locker room. We’re able to make a lot of plays. In the end, it’s the easy, basic plays that’s the stuff that gets the job done.”
Cooper said there’s no magic fix to the scoring slump other than perseverance.
“We have to work our way out,” he said. I think in time, we’ll get back to scoring. I’m not saying we’re going to score five, six a game. We need to get back to scoring three. We get that fourth one, that should give us a real good chance to win the game.”
Games are getting tighter, too. Teams that started slowly are now in do-or-die mode as they try to position themselves in the upcoming playoff chase.
“It’s not going to take as many goals to win games,” Boyle said. “We need to make sure we keep them out of our net. That’s the most important thing.”