Following morning skate ahead of game No. 22 for the Tampa Bay Lightning -- versus Minnesota tonight at Amalie Arena -- associate coach Rick Bowness said forward Cedric Paquette will start in place of Vladislav Namestnikov.
Paquette sat out in Toronto with a lower-body injury. In the previous game against the New York Islanders, Paquette took a puck off the bottom of his foot while trying to block a slap shot in the first period and headed into the locker room. He didn’t return to the game.
Namestnikov, a question mark to make the Lightning out of training camp until a strong showing in the preseason solidified his spot on the team, hasn’t missed a game all season.
Also, Eric Brewer is a healthy scratch against the Wild in favor of Mark Barberio.
“It’s a challenge, especially when we travel like we did the other night and we got some hiccups in there that we weren’t expecting,” Bowness said, referring to a delay on the flight home from Toronto while customs checked and rechecked the team’s belongings. “We’re in a fortunate position to have the depth. I know everyone wants to play. They get upset when they don’t play, but it’s important that we use as many fresh legs as we can.”
Paquette put in a full shift at practice Friday and declared himself ready to go following the skate. The Islanders’ slap shot that sent him to the bench Tuesday smacked the bottom of his foot, causing a great deal of pain but, fortunately, no broken bones.
“It was a hard shot, Paquette said. “It was in a bad spot. I couldn’t feel my foot at first. I couldn’t put pressure on it.”
Paquette has scored five goals in seven games since being recalled from Syracuse prior to the Bolts home meeting against the Calgary Flames (Nov. 6).
Barberio has been seeing more playing time of late, skating Monday against the Rangers and Tuesday versus the Islanders before sitting Thursday’s road trip finale in Toronto. Prior to the northeast trip, Barberio had played in just three of 18 games.
“No one deserves to sit,” Bowness said. “No one is, due to poor play, say, ‘OK, he’s got to go sit out a couple games.’ Barbs hasn’t played much but he’s played well when he’s played. You can’t let him sit for two or three weeks and then it’s not fair to him to say, ‘OK, go play.’”
Bowness also said Ben Bishop will be in goal for the Bolts tonight. Bishop didn’t start when the Lightning were lit up by the Wild 7-2 in Minnesota (Oct. 25) but entered late in the first period after Evgeni Nabokov gave up four goals.
Bishop allowed three goals of his own as the Lightning were playing the final game of an exhausting five-games-in-ten-days road trip.
During a late afternoon training session at Amalie Arena on Friday, the Bolts spent most of practice putting pucks on net and being in the correct position to take advantage of rebound opportunities.
The Lightning have struggled in that phase of the game during back-to-back 5-2 losses to the Islanders and Maple Leafs.
“We worked a lot (Friday) on getting pucks to the net, getting people going to the net, just kind of straightening out our game a little bit, not just having possession but doing something with it,” Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. “We need to funnel pucks toward the net and make sure people are there and playing a little faster. I think that’s our kind of foundation on this team and that’s something we’ve gotten away from these past two games.”
During the nearly hour long practice, the Bolts sent wave after wave of rushes toward Bishop and Nabokov, stopping only briefly to catch a breather.
“We had a good skate (Friday),” Lightning forward Brett Connolly said. “It’s good to sweat it out, work a little harder in practice. That was one of the harder practices we’ve had in a while. I think that will be good for us to get a good, hard skate and be ready for (the Wild).”
CONNOLLY CLEARS HURDLE
Connolly played for the first time in nearly a month when he laced up the skates on Thursday against Toronto.
Connolly had 17 shifts and 13:13 of time on ice against the Maple Leafs, recording three shots.
A lower-body injury had sidelined Connolly since he left a game at Winnipeg (Oct. 24).
“The knee was good,” he said. “I didn’t feel it, so that’s a good sign. I felt like I had some jump and it’ll get better every day. Obviously, it was my first game in a month so have to work off a little rust, but it’ll get better every game.”
Connolly said once he hit the ice, the injury was the furthest thing from his mind.
“I’ve got a brace on too, so there’s not a lot of fear,” he said. “There are worse injuries than the one I had, so I felt good and hoping to get better every day.”
Connolly has scored two goals in nine games for the Lightning this season.
The last time the Lightning faced Minnesota, the Wild embarrassed the Bolts, the 7-2 defeat the worst loss Tampa Bay has suffered this season.
The Lightning, however, aren’t necessarily looking for revenge in their final regular season meeting with the Wild tonight.
“Revenge may play a little bit into it, but our focus is on us needing to bounce back from these past two games, which have been below average for our standards,” Stralman said. “That’s something we need to fix and to get back on track and get these two points.”
Minnesota has won four consecutive games, including a 3-2 victory over Philadelphia on Thursday.
“No team wants to lose three in a row,” Connolly said. “We’re going to be hungry. But, they’re going to be hungry too. They’re playing well right now, so we’ve got to be prepared.”