Facing the third game on their slate in three days, the Tampa Bay Lightning will see a handful of players get back-to-back action for the first time this season as they head to downtown St. Louis. The Lightning had no problem making a statement offensively yesterday, in a 5-1 win against the Nashville Predators. And much like game one, two of the five goals came from a camp-goer on the cusp of making it to the big club, Brett Connolly.
Connolly, as well as a handful of others a part of Tampa Bay’s training camp, including Ondrej Palat, Richard Panik and Tyler Johnson, have been picked to be a part of tonight’s contest after appearing last night. With new knowledge being implemented daily and a physical style of play, it’s hard to envision what many of the Lightning are going through, but they believe they can rise to the occasion.
“We’re pretty used to playing two-and-twos in the AHL, so you kind of get used to it,” Johnson said. “It is taxing on your body a little bit though, especially with travel and everything, but it nice to get started early and get adjusted quickly.”
The AHL’s Most Valuable Player last season said that spending a year with the Syracuse Crunch didn’t hurt in preparing him for what’s been a long camp.
“The AHL is a tough league to play in and it definitely forces you to learn the game a little bit better,” Johnson said. “It’s been very beneficial for me and hopefully I can handle two-in-two.”
Johnson’s linemates’ Palat and Panik both tallied in last night’s contest, but the center knows the Cooper-driven system, that’s all about a two-way player, keeps the pressure to perform offensively at bay.
“We know what the coaches are looking for and it’s all two-way players,” he said. “In Cooper’s system, if you can find the defensive zone and if he can rely on you are the biggest things. Goals come and go, but as long as you play good in the defensive zone and get the chances, then you’ll be alright.”
Friday’s game also features two netminders on the roster, who have yet to appear in a preseason game, Anders Lindback and Ben Bishop.
D-MEN WEIGH IN
Amidst teaching the Cooper-style of play in training camp, which includes a physical edge, Tampa Bay’s preseason schedule has been demanding. Lightning blueliners Andrej Sustr and Keith Aulie also play their second game in as many nights and shared how this type of schedule affects their play.
“It really doesn’t matter,” Sustr said. “I played in college, so we usually played back-to-back every weekend. Nothing changes for me; I’m just going to make sure I’m ready for the second game.”
“I guess it kind of depends on the situation,” Aulie added. “Sometimes when you get beat, it’s good to get right back on the ice and try to redeem yourself. As hockey players, we’ve got to prepare to play back-to-backs, that’s part of the game. It’s a little bit tougher to get your body going again, but we’ll be ready to go.”
Cooper is no foreigner to a grueling scheduling, after paying his dues throughout the last three seasons with the Norfolk Admirals and Syracuse Crunch. With the task at hand to whittle the roster count down from 58, it didn’t hurt to ask if he’s a tad drained.
The good thing is I’m familiar with a lot of the players here, so that made it much easier. - Jon Cooper
“The good thing is I’m familiar with a lot of the players here, so that made it much easier,” Cooper said. “’Has it been demanding on our staff?’ Yes, it has, but in a good way. It makes for most definitely a long week, but it’s pretty rewarding to be out there with the guys.”
ODDS ‘N ENDS
Forward Teddy Purcell was replaced by forward Brett Connolly in the lineup tonight after Purcell was listed as day-to-day with an undisclosed upper-body injury.
Adam Erne was assigned to his junior team the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL today, as announced by Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. The Bolts training camp roster now sits at 58 (31 forwards, 22 defenseman, five goaltenders).
Forward Henri Ikonen took to the ice with his practice group today wearing an orange, no-contact jersey.