There are a lot of records, which many might have called surprising at the beginning of the year, that still stand for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
One is the fact that they are still undefeated against the Western Conference (6-0-0). Looking back, it is a pretty impressive statistic, given they’ve played the Chicago Blackhawks (twice), the Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues and Edmonton Oilers.
And it has been said more than once already, it only gets harder from here, starting with the best team in the league, the Anaheim Ducks Thursday.
“They have a lot of new faces, but the older guys that most of us have played against are a very talented group upfront,” Ryan Malone said. “They have a good blue line and goaltending too. They’re in first place for a reason so we have to make sure we’re sharp from the beginning.”
With the Bolts a little battered and their ego facing adversity, “everybody is waiting for the slipper to fall off the foot,” according to head coach Jon Cooper.
However Tampa Bay has taken that message in stride and it started with a total team effort against the Canadiens in one of the hardest buildings to play in the NHL in downtown Montreal.
“We are a far better team with No. 91 in the lineup, I can’t stress that enough,” Cooper said. “But we’re a pretty good hockey team with or without him and I think, especially after Montreal, the guys truly believe that.”
“In any season you need all four lines, the extra guys in the minors, especially if you make the playoffs, you need everybody and it really becomes a team game,” Malone said. “We’re fortunate to have some great depth in the organization. It will be tested and hopefully we won’t have to deal with too much more adversity than what we’ve had so far.”
With the depth of the Lightning being tested, it is also a chance for the veterans in the lineup to play a more active role as well.
Valtteri Filppula’s goal at the beginning of the year was to become a leader, especially with the youthfulness of the Bolts. Now with Steven Stamkos out of the lineup, it presents the perfect opportunity for him to do just that.
“He’s (Stamkos) scored almost every game, so that was a big help for this team,” Filppula said. “Now other guys are going to have to score goals if we’re going to win games. It definitely has to be my focus as well.”
Over his past three games, Filppula took more shots and now has the second-highest shooting percentage on the team (21.4%). Though he’s been known as a selective guy in the past, he has been working to change that mentality.
“It’s one thing I need to be better at, trying to shoot more and just take pucks to the net,” he said
Sami Salo (lower body, day-to-day) practiced Thursday morning, wearing a red, no-contact jersey during the full-team morning skate. While he will not play tonight, he will make the trip with the Bolts and is expected to play on the road.
Keith Aulie (upper body, IR) on the other hand is a little farther down the line and Tom Pyatt (broken collar bone, IR) has made pretty good progress in his arm. According to Cooper, Pyatt has good movement in his arm. He is also out of his sling, but there is yet to be a timetable for his return.
The first question Cooper faced Thursday morning was inevitably about the absence of Stamkos, but according to Cooper, he would like to move on.
“He’s with us all the time, but we can’t keep dwelling on it, we just have to understand that he’s not here, we just need to keep picking ourselves up as we did in Montreal,” he said.“He’s worth 3/4 of a goal a game, but it doesn’t necessarily made up by scoring, it can be made up by keeping that 3/4 of a goal out of the net and maybe that’s our direction right now and let the scoring look after itself.”
ODDS ‘N ENDS
Cooper was happy with the way Brett Connolly has played in between his new linemates, Alex Killorn and Martin St. Louis, while he believed J.T. Brown deserved to get back in the lineup and was really keep up with the pace by the third period.
Ben Bishop left the ice first after this morning’s skate and will get the start in net tonight against the Ducks.
Though the Lightning have been struggling on the power-play, they are now 19th in the league at a 17.4-percent success rate and have not tallied a goal on the man-advantage since October 29, the Ducks special teams have been even less successful. Anaheim ranks 26th in the league on the power-play and the penalty kill.