With now just one player missing out of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s defensive corps (Keith Aulie, broken hand), the blue line is getting back to basics of keeping a defensive mindset.
Maintaining that structure laid out at the beginning of the year, coupled with some strong play between the pipes, has made the Bolts’ defense more complete.
In two of the past three games, the Lightning have also played with the lead, a feeling that netminder Anders Lindback joked was “different.”
Coming off of their most recent win Thursday, Tampa Bay nursed a 2-0 and 4-2 lead for a majority of the game. Last Saturday in Detroit the Lightning found themselves ahead 2-0 midway through the third. An empty-netter from Alex Killorn served as insurance.
Playing with the lead especially benefits the Bolts’ blue line too.
“It takes a little bit of pressure off of you,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “You stay within your structure and are not doing things out of your comfort zone.”
NOT MISSING A BEAT
Not only did Victor Hedman re-join the team on the ice Thursday, but he added a helper on Tampa Bay’s first goal of the game 2:25 into the first period. Hedman had said prior to his return that he was concerned about getting his timing back, but instead he shocked himself and the coaching staff.
“I was a little surprised with how good I felt in the first,” Hedman said. “I was a little short of breath at the end of shifts sometimes, but I knew coming in that it was going to be like that, but I felt better than I thought I would.”
As Hedman represents the core of the Tampa Bay blue line, Cooper said how important it was to have him play, since he is a defenseman who “eats up a lot of minutes.”
“He takes the pressure off of everybody,” Cooper said. “When we have that on the back end everyone just breaths a little easier.”
AN OLYMPIC OPPORTUNITY?
The question still remains if Ben Bishop’s name will appear on the docket to represent the United States in the 2014 Winter Olympics. An injured Jonathan Quick, Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas are all being considered for the three roster spots available for goalies as well.
“If you’re going on complete merit and statistics and that’s your gauge it’s hard not to think Ben Bishop is one of top three U.S. goalies,” Cooper said.
Bishop is currently ranked tied for second in the league for wins (18) and is within the Top 10 for goals-against average (1.96) and save percentage (.934).
KUBINA ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT
Former Stanley Cup-winner with the Lightning, Pavel Kubina, officially announced his retirement from the NHL after 13 seasons Friday.
“Making my way to the NHL and playing in the best league in the world for 13 seasons has been a dream come true,” he said. “I will be forever grateful for the experiences and friendships that I have gained over the course of my career, including capturing the Stanley Cup in Tampa in 2004.”
Originally drafted by the Bolts in the seventh round (179th overall) in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, Kubina appeared in 970 career NHL games, scoring 110 goals and 276 assists. In addition to winning the Stanley Cup, he was also an All-Star and represented the Czech Republic three times as an Olympian.
ODDS ‘N ENDS
Cote will now be wearing No. 22 for the Bolts.
Forward Tom Pyatt could make his possible return to the lineup Saturday. He has missed 31 games with a broken collar bone suffered on October 8 in a game against the Buffalo Sabres.
Hedman, Killorn and Lindback all went to Tampa General Hospital’s Children Medical Center Friday to deliver bear blankets and spread some holiday cheer to kids.