The Tampa Bay Lightning face a difficult task Tuesday, playing the second game on back-to-back nights against an undefeated team a day after an emotionally-charged victory over a divisional rival.
It would seem almost inevitable the Lightning would come out flat tonight against the New Jersey Devils, or flat compared to the Bolts’ performance Monday in a 7-1 blowout victory against the Canadiens.
But, to a man, Lightning players and coaches aren’t concerned about fatigue or a letdown against the Metropolitan Division-leading Devils.
“I don’t think so,” associate head coach Rick Bowness said when asked if he had concerns about tonight, particularly the opening period. “First of all, we know New Jersey’s been playing great hockey. I mean, look at the goals they’re scoring [11 in two games]. So, we know we have a very tough opponent who was sitting here last night watching us play. We’re well aware of that.”
Bowness said the key for Tampa Bay will be maintaining possession and not turning the puck over in bad areas.
“I think what’s going to be important is early success on the face off so we can control the puck,” Bowness said. “Also, making strong decisions in the neutral zone so we don’t allow them to come at us early.”
Lightning F Ondrej Palat said he’s used to playing as many three games in consecutive nights during his time in the minors, so tired legs shoudn’t be an issue.
“For me, I like it,” said Palat, one of five goal scorers for the Lightning Monday night. “I feel like I’m in shape, and I’m game ready…It’s weird, but I feel pretty good in the back-to-back games.”
C Vladislav Namestnikov, who recorded the first goal and assist of his NHL career in the rout over Montreal, said playing back-to-backs at the end of the season could be difficult.
But not in the first week.
“Everyone’s fresh and ready to go,” he said.
Tampa Bay backup goalie Evgeni Nabokov will make his first start tonight after Ben Bishop got the call in the Bolts’ first three games.
Bowness said Nabokov has been everything advertised since signing with the Lightning in the offseason. He’s served as a mentor to Bishop, who is entering his first season as an undisputed No. 1 goalie, and is ready to step in to play 20-25 games when Bishop needs a rest.
“We know what we’ve got in him,” Bowness said. “He’s played well in the preseason, wonderful teammate, great practice habits (and) very popular with his teammates.”
Nabokov played in at least 40 games each of the last three seasons with the New York Islanders before joining Tampa Bay.
“We’re anxious to see him play, and we’re very anxious to make sure we play a good game in front of him to give him a chance to get his feet wet with us,” Bowness said.
Lightning F Jonathan Drouin was seen taking face offs Tuesday morning at practice, the first time he’s done so since slightly fracturing his right thumb during training camp.
Still, Drouin is unlikely to make his NHL debut tonight against the Devils.
“I think contact is going to start soon and definitely get into practice drills,” the 19-year-old prospect said. “I’m excited about that and think it’s going to be another step to getting closer to coming back.”
Drouin admitted he still feels a bit of pain in the injured thumb and continues to wear a brace.
“There are days that it’s good and days that it’s bad,” he said.
Drouin, who is from Quebec Province in Canada, could make his first appearance north of the border when the Lightning embark on their first road trip of the season, four stops in Western Canada before concluding in Minnesota.
But whether his debut comes in Canada or in Tampa Bay is inconsequential to Drouin.
“Whoever we play, if it’s here or there, it doesn’t really matter to me,” he said.
AVENGE THE PLAYOFFS
Bowness didn’t feel Monday night’s dismantling of the Canadiens served as any sort of revenge for Montreal’s playoff sweep of the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals last season.
Tampa Bay won three of four regular season meetings against Montreal in 2013-14, but that success didn’t translate to the postseason.
“We beat them last night. We caught them on a bad night,” Bowness said. “That’s just one game out of 82 for me…Hopefully, we make it back to the playoffs, and we play them again. That’s when we take it personally. That’s when we should be making sure that’s revenge, and we turn this thing around.”