Tampa Bay engages in their second tilt in as many days, and second of four games in four nights, as they meet the Nashville Predators in their real home barn, the Tampa Bay Times Forum, tonight at 7:30 p.m. The Lightning opened their 2013-14 preseason with a come from behind 4-3 shootout win against the St. Louis Blues at the Amway Center in Orlando Wednesday night.
Taking a new crop of camp players Thursday (exception: Cedrick Desjardins), the Bolts wipe the slate clean of yesterday's late-game rally and make way for a new mix of veterans and rookies who'll attempt to brew their own plan for success.
"We look at yesterday as exactly the same as today because what teaching yesterday's group got, one got the game teaching, one got the practice teaching, now you've got to reverse it," head coach Jon Cooper said. "The mentality doesn't change, but today is the same as tomorrow and Saturday, so everyone has to be on the same page of the learning curve."
Barely flinching since the start of camp last week, Cooper continues to grow more comfortable with his role as bench boss with the Lightning, despite the task of picking apart what are now nearly 60 players to fit his Bolts roster. With his second game in four days tonight, Cooper's only sign of sleep deprivation seemed to be at his morning press conference as he casually grabbed a cup of coffee before addressing the media at the podium.
Steven Stamkos, Ryan Malone and Victor Hedman are among the veterans a part of Thursday's game group. Forward Jonathan Drouin also makes his debut tonight. The on-going experiment with the No. 3 overall draft pick positioned at center still applies tonight with hopes of helping Drouin touch the puck on a more consistent basis.
"He's the type of player that you want to have the puck," Cooper said. "If he gets put in that situation again, nothing's set in stone, but so far it's working out."
Cooper's next test with Drouin is to observe his defensive zone play.
The match against the Predators is much like yesterday's situation, a more game-ready group in Nashville's squad. The Predators appeared in their first preseason games on Monday in somewhat of a day-and-night double header, losing the first game versus the Florida Panthers, 6-3, and then falling later that night, 3-2, in overtime.
They come to the Times Forum on two nights of rest, while the Lightning's game group plays for the first time. Fifteen of 20 players on the Predators roster appeared in game action, suiting up 36 players in two games thus far. Netminder Pekka Rinne could possibly appear between the pipes for the first time this season and blueliner Seth Jones, drafted after Drouin, appears in his second game as well.
HAS THE BAR BEEN SET?
Tampa Bay veterans were split on whether or not yesterday's game set the bar for their performance tonight.
"I think it's just normal," forward Ryan Malone responded when asked if the expectations rose at all after last night's late-game heroics. "It's just good to kind of get into a normal game situation. You want to make sure you get the rust off quick and just kind of get after it."
While blueliner Victor Hedman said, "Absolutely."
"We want to win hockey games and the guys did a great job coming back," Hedman continued. "It will give us a little momentum coming in to tonight's game too. Everybody's trying to prove themselves and you want to get a good start, so it's going to be fun for us."
Hedman also discussed the importance of implementing their speed, skill and physicality early.
"We want to go out there and play our game we're supposed to; bring a lot of speed and finish our checks, that's part of our game, kind of our team mentality," he said. "We have a lot of talent with this group and a lot of speed."
While the Lighting used hybrid icing during their intra-squad scrimmages this week, Wednesday was the first time they saw the scenario take place on the ice this season against another team. Cooper said it may be a little hard for fans to understand the concept early, but he thought the referees did a good job using the rule.
"It's going to be a little confusing for people because the first one that was called last night, the puck didn't cross the line," he explained. "People have to understand that there's a decision-process in there where referees have to make their decision at the [faceoff] dot, whether the puck's going to cross the line and who's going to get there first, so there's actually a chance that the puck won't get to the goal line by the time the players are there and I thought the refs did a good job calling it."
Cooper also noted that hybrid icing was an easy concept for him, as he used it in juniors and in the AHL until the lockout ended last year.
ODDS 'N ENDS
No update was given on LW Henri Ikonen after his hit and exit from Wednesday's game against the St. Louis Blues. Cooper did say that the 2013 draft pick was in good spirits after the game and didn't show any concussion-like symptoms.
The last time the Lightning were slated for four games in four days was during the 2009-10 campaign (September 21-24). Tamp Bay went 2-2 during that stretch with one overtime win and one shootout loss.