Tampa Bay winger Ondrej Palat was on the ice and participating fully in the Lightning’s optional morning skate Saturday ahead of tonight’s game against the New York Islanders at Amalie Arena.
Palat did not practice Friday during the Bolts’ one-and-a-half hour training session at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum, and Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said Palat’s inclusion in the lineup would be a “game-time decision.”
Following Saturday’s session, Palat said he expects to play tonight.
“I’ll be ready,” he said.
Associate coach Rick Bowness, who fielded post-practice questions from reporters, wasn’t quite ready to give Palat the all-clear sign for tonight’s game.
“He’ll be a game-time decision,” Bowness reiterated. “Again, just make sure he shows up tonight ready to go.”
Palat exited Tampa Bay’s 2-1 loss Thursday to San Jose in the third period with a lower-body injury before returning to play a couple shifts in the closing minutes. The 24-year-old has yet to miss a game this season.
Palat has four goals and seven assists through the first 17 contests.
Lightning goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who played the past three seasons as the starting goalie for the New York Islanders before joining Tampa Bay as a free agent in the offseason, had some good-natured fun with the New York media contingent in town for tonight’s game.
Asked if there would be any chirping going on between him and his former teammates should he play either tonight or in Tuesday’s rematch with the Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Nabokov smiled, started laughing and replied in his typical humorous, high-pitched tone, “Well, what do you think?’”
At that point, Nabokov spotted Newsday reporter Arthur Staple joining the conversation.
“As long as it’s not a Newsday reporter [chirping],” Nabokov joked as he took a sip of water, a sip he nearly spit back out during the ensuing laughter.
“I was talking to the good players, I’m sorry,” Staple replied.
“So, I guess I’m not going to talk to the bad reporters,” Nabokov fired back. “Can we escort him out of here please?”
In all seriousness, Nabokov said he “absolutely” wanted to start Tuesday against the Islanders – Bowness confirmed Ben Bishop would make his fourth straight start in tonight’s matchup – and what he missed the most about his time in New York was being “in the locker room with the guys.”
“I thought the guys were absolutely unbelievable in that locker room,” Nabokov said. “It was a little bit of negativity, but the way we handled that inside the locker room I thought was unbelievable. I learned a lot from that also. Those guys were like brothers to each other, and I hope they’re going to continue that.”
Nabokov appeared in 123 games over three seasons with the Islanders, posting a 57-43-18 record with nine shutouts.
“It’s a great group of guys, and I enjoyed (my time there),” Nabokov said.”
The Islanders are sizzling currently, having won five straight games and four in a row on the road.
Friday, New York won in a shootout at Florida 4-3. In their previous game Tuesday at home against the Colorado Avalanche, the Islanders exploded offensively in a 6-0 shutout.
“They have depth, they’re balanced, they’ve got good goaltending, this is a very solid hockey club,” Bowness said. “They’re strong in all areas: special teams, good depth, good speed, their size, they’re gritty. We’re going to see a lot like we saw against San Jose. They’re going to be coming at us.”
The Lightning hope to take advantage of the fact the Islanders are playing their second game of a back-to-back scenario on the road.
“They’ve had a really good start,” Lightning center Brian Boyle said. “Last year they didn’t, but they were still a tough team to play. They’ve had a lot of skill up front; that’s been the case for a couple of years. They’ve added some depth. They’ve added some guys on the blue line. The goaltending’s been pretty good. It’s a better team.”
Right winger Ryan Callahan said the Bolts are eager to put back-to-back losses against Chicago and San Jose behind them and open Saturday’s game at a higher level than the previous two. It started Friday with the team’s longer-than-usual practice session.
“That was our first practice in a little while because we had that road trip there and then we had some days off,” Callahan said. “It gave us a chance to work on some things that we haven’t had a chance to, watched some video. I don’t think it’s something we need to work on for our starts. It’s we have to come out and play better. We’ve been playing good in the second half of the second period and in thirds, but we need that sooner.”