Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper was only around for less than 20 games at the close of the 2012-13 season, but there’s one team he remembers playing vividly. And that was the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“In the 15 games I coached last year the one team that completely outclassed us was the one we’re playing tonight,” he said. “They beat us 6-3, but it could have been 16-3.”
If Tampa Bay’s defensive contribution through the first four games of the early season is any indication of what is to come from the Bolts looking ahead, they may not be in such bad shape as in seasons past.
“We’ve been on the same page so far playing well in all zones of the ice,” forward Nate Thompson said. “Everyone’s been playing their position, helping each other out and there’s been better communication on the ice. Whenever you’re playing good defense, you’re usually spending a lot of time in their offensive zone.”
The Lightning will look to lead an offensive attack in Pittsburgh’s zone early with the Penguins coming off of their first loss of the season at the hands of the Florida Panthers, 6-3, last night. Having the ability to provide such balance from each of their four lines, the Lightning must put the pressure on Pittsburgh the entire game.
“We’re going to have to come out in the first five or 10 minutes like we did last game and really push the pace,” Thompson said. “We’re going to have to sustain it for the whole 60 minutes; we’re going to have to do that for a team like Pittsburgh.”
“They have skilled guys on their team,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “We have to make sure there’s no odd man rushes and we get pucks on net.”
Those factors along with the relentlessly teaching of the importance of defense from each player on the ice, since the onset of training camp, could help the Bolts start anew against one of the Eastern Conference’s most seasoned rosters.
“Playing defense is not an afterthought,” Cooper added. “If we score three that should be good enough, if we score five that’s awesome. I think we’ve just put it into our head that one comes before the other, and that’s playing defense.”
Not taking part in the Lightning’s practice Friday, goalie Ben Bishop skated on his own Saturday, prior to the team’s morning skate. Bishop is still considered day-to-day with a lower body injury.
Cooper again reinforced his confidence in the Bolts goaltending situation and said Bishop’s night off was nearly the same as him being the back-up.
“There’d probably be no difference than him not getting his scheduled start and sitting on the bench, than him sitting in the stands,” Cooper said. “If he’s a little bit sore, there’s no sense in putting him in the game. We’ve got more than capable goaltending in this organization.”
Forward Richard Panik suffered his first scratch of the season on October 8 in Buffalo, but was reinserted into the lineup last game.
Panik was not thrilled with his performance via the official score sheet, as he went minus-1, but coach Cooper disagreed.
“He may not have completely got to see on paper some work he did, but I thought he contributed on the penalty kill and power-play,” Cooper said. “Sometimes if players don’t see results on the score sheet, they don’t think they had an impact on the game, but I thought he had a positive impact on the game.”
Being a part of some line shuffling, Panik has played with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, as part of the third line, as well as with Valtterri Filppula and Alex Killorn on Tampa Bay’s second line.
ODDS N’ ENDS
Anders Lindback was the first goaltender to exit the ice after Saturday’s morning skate and will see his first action in net since the season opener against the Boston Bruins on October 3. Netminder Cedrick Desjardins, who was recalled from AHL affiliate the Syracuse Crunch Friday evening, will serve as Lindback’s back-up.
Cooper said there would be no other roster change in tonight’s game, meaning blueliners Keith Aulie and Mark Barberio will both be healthy scratches.