This time last year, the Tampa Bay Lightning had a similar record to start the season, but the product on the ice was vastly different.
“Last year we had a lot of teams coming in on the second half of back-to-backs and we had some comeback wins,” B.J. Crombeen said. “This time we’re playing the right way. We’re winning games against good teams.”
And winning games against good teams must continue if the Lightning want to be considered a contender in the Atlantic Division.
“If you want to beat the best teams you have to be one of the best teams,” Nate Thompson said.
One team that is still on their to-do list as far as a win is concerned is the Boston Bruins, who upset the Bolts, 3-1, in the season opener at TD Garden on October 3.
“That first game set the tone for our season, even though we lost the game,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “We gave up a goal on a penalty shot; we came unglued in our special teams a little bit, which I feel like as the season’s gone on, we’ve progressed and I felt like we weren’t far off.”
Playing the first of four games against, coincidentally, their first four opponents of the season will be the true test in seeing if Tampa Bay has made the necessary adjustments to come out on the winning side this time around. Although the Lightning went 3-1 during that span, their wins were often in comeback fashion.
“We squeaked out a couple overtimes and a shootout win and those types of games,” Cooper said. “Even though our record was a little ballooned I don’t think we had the lead in any of those games and we were getting points. We’ll see if we’ve grown here over this next four game series.”
Tampa Bay’s slate includes their second meetings against the Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers. With three of the four being divisional games there are also valuable points in these contests the Bolts would like to take advantage of now.
“Anytime you play a division opponent it’s a four-point night, so we have to make sure we come out with our best in order to beat them,” Crombeen said.
The competition is stiff as it stands early on in 2013-14. Six of eight teams in the Atlantic Division have winning records and no-less than eight points.
Second line center Valtteri Filppula missed Friday’s practice, along with Martin St. Louis, for a maintenance day. Cooper said Filppula had tweaked something in the Lightning’s last game against the Wild, but it was a situation similar to St. Louis’, in that the ailment could not get any worse.
He was back on the ice for Saturday’s optional morning skate and Cooper said he is “feeling good and it looks like he’s a go.”
It will not be a surprise if forward Pierre-Cedric Labrie makes his way back into Saturday’s lineup either.
“We may shuffle around the Thompson line a little bit to bring P.C. Back in,” Cooper said. “He was really good against Boston, so we’ll find a way to play him somehow.”
While the team did not say whether or not Connolly would be stay with the team tonight, he was one of the last three players on the ice, along with healthy scratches Keith Aulie and Mark Barberio.
During Cooper’s morning press conference, he said he is reiterating the message to the Lightning that playing defense first is most important.
“Our chances are going to come,” he said. “We don’t want them to go in with the mentality that we’re going to outscore them. We’re going to defend them and take advantage of our opportunities. If we start pressing on them, they’re too good, they’ll eat us up.”
Cooper said he expects the game against the Bruins to be a low-scoring affair, much like Tuesday, with two exceptional netminders between the pipes.
ODDS ‘N ENDS
Ben Bishop will see his first action this year against the Boston Bruins, as he looks for his sixth consecutive win on Saturday night.
The Bolts look to win their sixth game out of their past seven games Saturday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Tampa Bay has posted a 9-4-1 record over their past 14 home contests dating back to last season.