With one month of the season and 12 games complete, the Tampa Bay Lightning have to feel pretty good about their position in the National Hockey League, especially considering the amount of injuries the team has had to deal with early.
The Bolts are tied with Montreal for the second-most points in the league (17) and are atop the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference.
Only Anaheim has more points with 20 in 13 games.
“Overall, we sit 8-3-1,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “I don’t know if you could ask for much better than that.”
Aside from a nightmare in Minnesota and a pair of loose periods against Washington, the Lightning have played well defensively according to Cooper. They’re getting consistent goal scoring, which has helped bail the team out when it’s not on top of its game defensively, and goaltender Ben Bishop has picked up where he left off a season ago with his superb play in net.
“I’ve liked our commitment level,” Cooper said. I’ve liked how guys have kind of rallied around. Everybody gets injuries, and we’ve had some pretty heavy ones. But, everybody’s kind of stepped up and filled roles when we’ve needed that, and I think that’s been a really good sign for our team.”
Even with the great start, the Lightning aren’t satisfied.
“We have a lot of aspects of the game that we can change,” Bolts defenseman Radko Gudas said. “There’s still a lot of stuff we have to work on.”
RADKO TO THE RESCUE
Gudas skated Monday afternoon sporting a full shield face mask covering a black-and-blue left eye, the result of a fight with Washington’s Tom Wilson on Saturday.
Gudas was incensed the Capitals’ Eric Fehr ran over Bishop in the first period -- causing the Bolts goalie to fall on his back -- and quickly came to his teammate’s defense.
“I think anybody on this team would do the same thing,” Gudas said. “Obviously, we don’t want Bish to get run over…Somebody has to step up or somebody has to do something. Fortunately, I was on the ice for that, so I have to do something.”
Following Saturday’s game, Bishop praised Gudas for sticking up for him and mentioned he might have broken his nose in the fracas, but the 24-year-old defenseman said Monday after practice he hadn’t suffered any major injuries.
“The doc said (my face) is better than before,” Gudas joked.
Gudas will continue to wear the mask for probably two weeks he said.
Cooper said the upper-body injury Alex Killorn sustained during the victory over the Capitals “isn’t a long-term thing” but “he’s definitely a question mark” for Thursday’s home-stand finale against the Calgary Flames.
“These guys are big, strong athletes and they’re wound tight,” Cooper said.
“Sometimes just the awkward movements or something tweaked something…Hopefully, we’ll have him for Thursday.”
Cooper stated Killorn’s latest injury is unrelated to the one he picked up in morning skate prior to the Edmonton game. The Bolts could call up a player from its AHL affiliate in Syracuse, but no move is imminent.
“We’re in no rush right now because we finally have somewhat of a little mini-break in the schedule, but that’s a possibility for sure,” Cooper said.
ON THE MARK
Tampa Bay defenseman Mark Barberio saw his first action in five games when he skated 20 shifts and registered 17:30 of time on ice in the Bolts’ victory over Washington.
Barberio showed a good burst of energy playing in place of Andrej Sustr.
“I just wanted to come in and try and make (the transition) as seamless as possible,”Barberio said. “It’s not easy sitting out and having to jump back in, but I’ve been doing work in the gym and working with Coach Gwozdecky after practice to make sure my tempo is still at game level so when I do come in I don’t miss a beat.”
Barberio was in a similar situation last season with the Bolts as a utility guy, someone who can stay positive mentally without being in the lineup every night yet be ready to step in and perform when needed. The Montreal native played in 49 games during the 2013-14 season, registering five goals, five assists and 28 penalty minutes.
That experience a year ago helped prepare Barberio for a similar role this season.
“I think last year when I was going through this, it was tougher,” Barberio said. “I think when I got inserted back into the lineup last season, I was really nervous and jumpy and just wasn’t really myself. I feel like this year I understand what my role is: to make sure I’m pushing guys in practice and to stay on top of my game so when I do come in, I feel like I’m a lot more ready this year than I was for this situation last year.”