Associate head coach Rick Bowness said the line combinations for the Lightning against the Florida Panthers tonight will be close to what fans can expect to see in the regular season.
“Not 100% but very close,” Bowness said.
The Bolts host the Panthers tonight at Amalie Arena in the final preseason tune up before the start of the regular season Thursday, October 9, also against the Panthers at Amalie Arena.
Tampa Bay is 4-1 and on a three-game winning streak. Florida is searching for its first preseason victory.
The last time out -- against Florida at the BB&T Center in Sunrise on Thursday -- Nikita Kucherov scored two goals in the third period and Vladislav Namestnikov registered assists on both goals to lead the Lightning to a 3-0 victory.
Kucherov enters tonight’s home-and-home finale as the leading goal scorer in the NHL preseason with five. Namestnikov has an NHL-best seven assists through four preseason games played. Those two will be paired up again tonight.
“We like the chemistry we’ve seen with Namestnikov and Kucherov,” Bowness said. “Duos are very important. We’re hoping that duo can continue. We’ll see what they can do tonight.”
Bowness said that while Kucherov is shining offensively, it’s the improvements he’s made without the puck during training camp that have pleased the Bolts coaching staff.
“We’re not touching him offensively. ‘We’ll stay out of your way. You go play,’” Bowness said. “But, he has a lot to learn about how to play without the puck. That’s where we spent a lot of time with him, and that’s where we see improvement. Not so much with the puck. His confidence with the puck has always been there, and he’s always going to try things that none of us can even dream of.”
Brenden Morrow, hampered since Monday with back spasms, was back on the ice for Saturday’s pre-game skate.
But don’t expect to see him on the ice tonight against the Panthers.
“He’s not playing today,” Bowness said. “He’s still day-to-day.”
Seeing Morrow on the ice Saturday morning, however, is encouraging news for the 14-year NHL veteran’s chances of being ready in time for Opening Night.
BISHOP TO START
Goaltender Ben Bishop will start tonight’s final preseason exhibition and said he is looking for a challenge from the Panthers in preparation for next week’s season opener.
“I haven’t had that much of a test playing a game and a half [in the preseason] and not having as much action the last game, [a 5-1 victory in which he made 21 saves],” Bishop said. I think that first game where you have 30, 40 shots will be a good test.”
Bishop had offseason surgery on his wrist and said he’s gotten to the point where he doesn’t think about it when he’s on the ice.
“It’s a non-issue.”