For the first time in nearly a month, the Tampa Bay Lightning have consecutive days off between games, a welcome respite after completing a difficult stretch of 10 games in 17 days, six of them on the road.
Following a day off Sunday, the Lightning went back to work Monday at Amalie Arena, practicing for nearly an hour ahead of Wednesday’s home game against the New York Rangers.
“We’ve played a lot of games over the past few weeks, so it’s good to rest the body up,” Lightning defenseman Jason Garrison said. “…For most of the guys, (the break) is just about refocusing and making sure we’re doing everything right on the ice.”
The Lightning completed the 10-game stretch with a 6-3-1 record, accumulating 13 of a possible 20 points. Entering Monday, the Bolts continued to sport one of the best records in the NHL. They have the third most points (30) in the league, trailing only Montreal (33) and Anaheim (31).
“I think we played some games really well,” Lightning forward Valtteri Filppula said. “Obviously, we had a few games that we didn’t play as well as we wanted to, but it happens. It’s a long year. You’re going to play better, you’re going to play worse. But I think it was a pretty good stretch for us.”
With one quarter of the season in the books, the Lightning set a franchise record for most points through the first 22 games.
“I think we’re doing very well for ourselves,” Garrison said. “I think it’s key to, teams want to get off to a good start and that was one of our focuses at the start of the year…
“I think we have a lot to learn, which is good because there’s a lot of potential still going forward.”
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman has missed 17 straight contests since fracturing a finger in the fifth game of the season against the Vancouver Canucks.
Hedman skated with the team for the first time during practice prior to the New York Islanders’ game on November 18. Since then, he’s joined the Bolts for each practice session -- wearing a red no-contact jersey -- and has started taking shots on goal.
While Lightning coach Jon Cooper wouldn’t go so far as to upgrade Hedman’s status to day-to-day, Cooper did say Hedman was “half a fortnight” away from returning to the lineup.
“He’s getting there, we’ve just got to make sure the bone’s, everything’s fully healed,” Cooper said. “But, I think it’s pretty close.”
Hedman had a tremendous start to the 2014-15 season, scoring goals in each of the first three games and recording seven points through five.
The initial diagnosis when the injury occurred suggested Hedman would miss four to six weeks of the season. Week four was November 15 when the Lightning played the Islanders at Amalie Arena.
Week six would be this Saturday when the Bolts host the Ottawa Senators.
Although the injury has taken a little longer than anticipated healing, Cooper is pleased with the steady progress Hedman has been making.
“I think I was a mid-December guy, now I’m moving to an early-December guy,” Cooper said, referring to when he felt Hedman would return.
Cooper was pleased with the way the Lightning bounced back Saturday from two consecutive defeats, beating Minnesota 2-1 in a tight, low-scoring game.
The Lightning continue to lead the NHL in total goals with 76 and, at 3.46 goals a game, trail only Pittsburgh (3.53) in average number of goals.
But Cooper suggested there will be times, especially as the playoffs near, the Lightning won’t be able to rely on outscoring opponents. They will have to focus on their own net, which made Saturday’s result even more encouraging.
“We feel that if we give up two or less a game, we’ve got a pretty good chance of winning the game,” Cooper said. “That hasn’t been the case lately. Some of these wins, we’ve been outscoring the opponent. That’s not a habit we want to get into. Goals are great and you need to score goals to win hockey games. But, to have those 2-1 games, to put your guys in situations to win them, you want that.”
The Lightning played the final 1:17 against Minnesota two men down after Tyler Johnson was assessed a two-minute minor penalty for holding and the Wild pulled goalie Darcy Kuemper.
Three newcomers -- Brian Boyle, Jason Garrison and Anton Stralman -- and one rookie, Cedric Paquette, who had a grand total of two regular season games of experience entering this season, served as the Lightning’s penalty-kill unit to hold off the Wild in the closing minute.
“The way that game played out too with a 6-on-4 to finish the game and to watch the passion of all those guys who had to lay it out blocking shots…the other players, they just feed off that,” Cooper said. “I think to watch those guys, that will to win a 2-1 game, those are things you have to do. That’s how you make the playoffs. It was great to see that. Especially if you look at who was on the ice. Not one of those guys was playing last year, other than Paquette finishing up the end of the year.”