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Pregame Notebook: Jason Garrison nears return to the lineup

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Jason Garrison won’t have a spot in tonight’s lineup when the Lightning host the Arizona Coyotes at Amalie Arena according to Bolts head coach Jon Cooper.

But Garrison, who was hurt February 8 in Ottawa and was expected to miss three to five weeks with a lower-body injury, skated for the first time with his teammates during the Lightning’s morning session today and wore a regular jersey, just 15 days after being sidelined.

Garrison took part in defensive rushes with recent Syracuse callup Matt Taormina.

Cooper said he didn’t know when Garrison would return, but judging from morning skate, he could be back sooner rather than later.

Nikita Kucherov also participated in today’s morning skate but didn’t take line rushes with his Triplets linemates and is a game-time decision according to Cooper. Kucherov sat out the Lightning’s 4-2 win at Carolina on Sunday, his first missed game in over two seasons (last: March 22, 2014 at Pittsburgh).

Also, Andrei Vasilevskiy will be in goal tonight for Tampa Bay after Ben Bishop started both ends of a back-to-back set over the weekend. Vasilevskiy is making his 15th start of the season and has won seven of his last eight starts, including a 6-5 shootout win Feb. 18 vs. Winnipeg his last time out

COMING UP SHORT

The Lightning have allowed a shorthanded goal in three-consecutive games, something they’ve only done four times in franchise history according to the Elias Sports Bureau(last: March 17-22, 2010).

As a whole, the Bolts’ road power play has been less than stellar. Steven Stamkos scored the game-winning goal Sunday in Carolina on a late power play to redeem the unit, but that goal was just the second road power-play goal the Lightning have scored in 45 opportunities dating back to December 6 (4.4% success rate).

“When the power play’s struggling a little bit, now you’re probably trying to take an extra chance you shouldn’t,” Cooper said. “You look at the tape (of the shorthanded goals), and those guys would rather take back the decisions they made. But, they’re trying to do it because they’re trying. They’ve just ended up in the back of our net. We’ve got to be a heck of a lot more responsible in that area. Just because we’ve got an extra guy, teams are still pressing to score. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve won these games. Our power play’s got to start scoring more, as it did to win us the game in Carolina. But, we’ve got to be more consistent.”

The Lightning power play should receive a boost from playing at Amalie Arena tonight. At home, the Bolts’ power play is scoring at a 22.2% clip, good for fifth-best in the NHL.

LINE SHUFFLING

The top-line combination of Steven Stamkos at center with Alex Killorn on the left wing and Ryan Callahan on the right has been extremely productive since its formation late in a loss Feb. 14 at St. Louis.

Stamkos has tallied a goal in three-consecutive games, tying a Lightning season high.

Callahan has netted three in the last four games after scoring just one in the previous 41 games. The Lightning are 27-5-2 in games when Callahan scores.

Killorn has chipped in a goal too and had an assist in three-straight games (Feb. 16-20).

“It’s kind of brought a rejuvenated goal-scoring to Callahan, which is what we want,” Cooper said. “Stammer, he finds his way to those open areas, and Killer and Cally do a really good job going in there and getting pucks. And they’re playing gritty. So, it’s been a big boost for us because it’s nice to have some multiple lines here putting the puck in the net. They’ve played together at different times the last couple years. I just like their size, their tenacity, their speed, their puck protect, and the puck’s going in for them.”

Stamkos said the familiarity each player has with one another has led to the line’s success.

“We know, with Cally, he’s going to get to the front of the net,” Stamkos said. “He’s going to create some opportunities with his body and his speed and obviously Killer is that power forward who can protect the puck, make plays, get to the net, shoot the puck, and for me, it’s just try to utilize my speed in the neutral zone, get in and try to generate some offense. It’s been working.”

ODDS AND ENDS

In addition to Valtteri Filppula’s 700th NHL game tonight, Steven Stamkos (551 games played) will tie Brad Richards (552) for fourth all-time games played in Lightning history…Tampa Bay will play the 1,800th regular-season game in franchise history tonight…The Lightning have scored three or more goals in three-consecutive games and improved to 25-2-3 when scoring three or more…The Bolts are 22-7-2 when getting outshot by opponents, the 22 wins ranking third in the NHL…J.T. Brown has points in three of his last four games and has scored four goals in February, more than he’s scored in any month during his career…Steven Stamkos (243 assists) needs one more assist to tie Vaclav Prospal (244) for fourth on the Lightning’s all-time assists list.

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