Today, the Penguins announced 23-year-old forward Beau Bennett is showing mumps-like symptoms and is being tested.
The infectious virus has affected five NHL teams so far. Bennett would become the 14th-known player to contract mumps should tests reveal what many suspect.
“I’m a little blown away at this,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s jumping from team to team but in different parts of the country now, the Rangers in the East, Anaheim in the West. You’ve got teams in the Midwest. So, I’m not sure how this is happening.”
Cooper said approximately a month ago, everybody on the Lightning had blood work done to see who had antibodies in their system and booster shots were administered to those who needed it.
“I know the league’s been extremely diligent trying to stop this, and it hasn’t worked so far,” Cooper said. “So, I don’t know the answer.”
Despite the precautions, Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos seemed resigned to the fact somebody on the Lightning would probably contract the virus before it’s run its course through the NHL.
“I think it’s just a matter of time and you just hope we can do a good job of trying to contain it,” Stamkos said. “But, I don’t really know much about it. I think it’s just hope and pray that we don’t get it.”
Crosby, who entered Monday tied for the league lead in assists (26) and fourth for points (35), will not play tonight against the Lightning.
“It’s too bad too because players get hurt enough whether it’s a physical injury or what have you,” Cooper said. “Now, to have something like this take star players out of the game, no bigger than Sidney Crosby not being allowed to play because of something like this, it’s too bad because the fans pay their money to see guys like Stammer and Sid play and it’s unfortunate.”
PALAT, GUDAS OUT
Defenseman Radko Gudas joined the rest of his Lightning teammates for morning skate at CONSOL Energy Center Monday morning but will sit out at least one more game according to Cooper. Gudas missed Tampa Bay’s 4-2 loss to Washington on Saturday with a stomach virus and traveled separately from the team to Pittsburgh.
“He has a virus, not the one in the news,” Cooper said. “But, he got a good skate in today. Hopefully, he’ll be ready for tomorrow.”
Asked whether he was concerned Gudas’ illness could be the early stages of mumps, Cooper was quick to dismiss those fears.
“Not this one, none of the symptoms are the same,” Cooper said.
As for Ondrej Palat, the winger has missed two straight games with a lower-body injury. He’s still listed as day-to-day but will not play tonight and probably not Tuesday versus the Philadelphia Flyers either.
“Hoping for the weekend,” Cooper said, referring to upcoming games against New Jersey (Friday) and the New York Islanders (Saturday).
As the top team points-wise in the Eastern Conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins offer a unique challenge to the Tampa Bay Lightning, a chance for the Bolts to see how they stack up not just against one of the best teams in the East but in the entire NHL.
“If we want to be one of those top teams, we’ve got to be able to beat those top teams and compete with them,” Stamkos said. “Every game for us right now, especially when things aren’t going that well the last five, six games, every game is an opportunity for us to win. That’s how we’re looking at it.”
The Lightning haven’t fared well in recent times against Pittsburgh since defeating the Penguins four-games-to-three in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010-11 season.
The Bolts are 0-8-1 in their previous nine games against Pittsburgh. The last regular season win for the Lightning over the Penguins came in a 4-1 victory on November 17, 2011.
“We owe them a hell of a lot more than they owe us,” Cooper said.
Tampa Bay has scored just two power-play goals in its last seven games, one of which was a meaningless score near the end of a 5-0 shutout of Buffalo with the Bolts on a 5-on-3 advantage.
The Lightning had a critical 5-on-3 early in the second period against Washington on Saturday but were unable to convert. The Caps scored soon after and took control of the game from there, winning 4-2.
“We’re kind of in a little rut on that now, but we’ve got some pretty talented guys out there,” Cooper said. “It’s only a matter of time. The ebbs and flows of the season, it happens, but, hopefully we break out tonight.”
Cooper said one of the issues on the Bolts power play of late is they’ve been “too cute” with the puck, trying to pass it into the net whether than shooting more.
“Sometimes you have to go back to basics, just get the puck up top, throw it to the net, outnumber and jam one home,” he said. “Sometimes when one of those ‘greasy’ ones goes in, it kind of opens everything up.”