The Tampa Bay Lightning return to Amalie Arena tonight from a three-game road trip to host the Dallas Stars.
Lightning fans will get their first chance to see the Bolts up close since the season-opening 3-2 overtime win last Thursday over Philadelphia.
They’ll also likely get their first look at forward Cedric Paquette, who is expected to suit up tonight.
Paquette has been hampered by a lower-body injury suffered during the preseason in Dallas (Sept. 26) while trying to block a shot. The 22-year-old has been skating with the Lightning in a regular practice jersey for over a week but has yet to see action in 2015-16.
“Ceddy’s fully healthy right now,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “He’ll draw himself into the lineup tonight.”
Cooper indicated Paquette’s been able to go for a couple games now but has had trouble getting back into a lineup that wasn’t losing.
“The tough thing is and what’s hard for me personally is, ironically, the last game he played was against Dallas in the exhibition game, and he does what Ceddy does: he blocks a big-time shot for us and gets injured because of it,” Cooper said. “Now, he’s on the verge of coming back and struggling to get in because we’ve had a little success with our lineup and by no means ever should an injury prevent somebody from getting in.”
Paquette played in 64 regular season games for Tampa Bay last season, scoring 12 goals and adding seven assists.
ON THE RIGHT FOOT
The Lightning went 2-1-0 on their season-opening road trip, grabbing four of a possible six points, continuing a trend of fast starts under Cooper.
In 2013-14, the Lightning opened 14-5-0.
Last season, The Bolts were 11-3-1 to start.
Tampa Bay is 3-1-0 currently.
“Every four games, if you win three of them, there’s a really good chance you’re going to win the Presidents’ Trophy,” Cooper said. “If we can keep that up, that’s a really good start.”
Steven Stamkos said the Lightning will “take” their 3-1-0 start but need to improve in a number of areas before feeling good about the way they’ve began the season.
“We’ve got to start games better,” the Lightning captain said. “We’ve fallen behind a couple of times and relied on our skill and our ability to score to come back, but that’s not always going to be the case. I still don’t think we’ve seen the best of our hockey yet, consistently.”
Stamkos said the Bolts need to put together a complete 60-minute effort. The Lightning have scored only two goals in the first periods of their four games combined, both coming in Boston after falling behind 2-0.
“I think we’ve got to get back to that mentality of where we ended the year last year with playing a full game,” Stamkos said. “We know it’s going to be a little difficult five games into the season to have the same awareness that you have in the playoffs, but that’s got to start being the norm around here if you want to be a consistent team.”
Tampa Bay and Dallas were the two top scoring teams in the NHL last season.
The Lightning led the league with 259 goals.
Dallas was right behind with 257.
Both teams combined for 17 goals in their two games last season, the Lightning winning both to complete the two-game sweep.
The Bolts are expecting a similarly offensively-charged game tonight as well.
“They’re probably built fairly similar to us I would think,” Cooper said. “They’ve got a lot of skill up front. They have a lot of speed. I guess out of all the Western teams, we get a little bit more of a look at them because we played them in the preseason, but I don’t know if you get as dynamic up front on the first couple lines as you have with Dallas.”
Dallas had 52 shots on Tuesday versus Edmonton, the most shots by a team in a single game this season in the NHL.
Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop can set a new franchise record with one more win.
Bishop tied former Bolt Nikolai Khabibulin with his 83rd win in a Lightning sweater on Monday in Boston.
Bishop can have the record all to himself with his 84th victory.
Number 84 could come tonight as Bishop is scheduled to make his fifth-straight start to open the season.
The 28-year-old has played in 129 games as a member of the Lightning.
“It’d be an honor,” Bishop said about the record, “But, at the same time, hopefully we can set the bar pretty high.”
Bishop is also nearing a couple more milestones: he needs just two more wins to reach 100 for his NHL career, and he is 249 minutes away from 10,000.