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Pregame Notebook: Stamkos nears milestone; J.T. Brown back in lineup

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos needs only one more goal to reach No. 250 for his National Hockey League career.

If Stamkos were to reach the milestone tonight at Amalie Arena against the Washington Capitals, he would be the 10th youngest player in NHL history to record that achievement.

Stamkos is currently 24 years and 305 days old. Lightning Vice President and General Manager Steve Yzerman is the sixth-youngest player in NHL history score 250, doing so at 24 years, 222 days.

“It was kind of the same thing with 200, being one of the younger guys to do it,” Stamkos said. “It’s a cool stat, but it’s not something that I’m going to go celebrate over or think about too much.”

Since the beginning of the 2009-10 season, his second in the NHL, Stamkos has scored more goals (226) than any other player in the NHL. The next closest player, Alex Ovechkin at 214, wears the sweater of tonight’s opponent. Both goal-scoring talents will be on display at Amalie Arena.

“It’s kind of cool to think about when you’re getting close to something like that, but I never really thought something and 50 was a milestone,” Stamkos said. “When you get to 200 or 300 or 400, (250) is halfway to 500, but if I get 499 one day, you can ask me about the next goal. But this, not that I’m taking it for granted, it’s always fun to score goals, but I just want to help this team.”

Stamkos registered goal No. 249 versus Buffalo on home ice Thursday but was shutout Saturday against Columbus.

“To me, it’s another game tonight, and I have to obviously get back on the horse after not being able to produce the last game,” Stamkos said. “Hopefully, (250) comes tonight.”

BROWN BACK IN

Lightning forward J.T. Brown will reenter the Tampa Bay lineup after being a healthy scratch the past two games.

Brown will likely take rookie Jonathan Drouin’s spot on the ice, reconnecting with linemates Brian Boyle and Brenden Morrow.

“J.T., he’s a regular for us,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “His energy, he’s physical, he’s in on the forecheck, he’s a puck retriever, he blocks shots, he PKs, he does a lot of stuff for us. It’s just we’ve got 13 healthy forwards right now…Guys aren’t sitting out because they’re playing poorly. Guys are sitting out because we’ve got too many guys.”

Following the 3-1 loss to Columbus on Saturday, Cooper was disappointed at his team’s inability to get into the blue paint and manufacture goals through tough, hard-nosed play. Brown gives the Lightning a bit more presence in that regard.

“I think that’s one of the assets that J.T. has is he is not afraid to go to that area and, not that our other guys are, but we’ve got some skill players back there and sometimes I don’t know if they consider the blue paint a skill area,” Cooper said. “So, we don’t have guys that are in that area that often. We have to train our guys a little bit better to be there.”

ACHIEVE YOUR GOAL

At 3.46 goals a game, the Tampa Bay Lightning are scoring at a higher rate than any other team in the NHL.

The stat Cooper is most proud of, however, is the Bolts goals allowed average, which, at 2.46, is tied for ninth-best in the league.

“The goals for, I don’t want to say unexpected, but that’s pretty high,” Cooper said. “If we were to keep this for the rest of the year, I would say that would be somewhat impressive…The goals against is the big one, and until I would say the last week and a half, we were a middle of the pack team. We’ve jumped ourselves into a top ten team now in goals against, and that’s where we want to be.”

Since the beginning of training camp, Cooper has emphasized improving defensively as a team. The Lightning’s goals against average was an abysmal 3.06 (26th in the NHL) two seasons ago. Last year, that number dropped to 2.55 (11th in the league), and Cooper would like to see it fall even more.

“We’ve always known and we’ve always had the ability and skill to score goals,” Stamkos said. “So, I think we’re focusing a little more on the other aspect without really having to give up any offense. So, it’s been a good recipe so far. There’s been some games where we’ve given up and had some breakdowns that we want to correct. But, better to do that at the beginning of the year than halfway or at the end.”

Entering Tuesday, the Lightning (39 points) were tied with Detroit and Pittsburgh for second-most points in the NHL behind Anaheim (41). To stay amongst the league leaders, the Lightning will have to continue improving defensively.

“The greedy coach that I am, now I want to be a top five team [in goals against average],” Cooper said. “You have to be in the top ten in goals against and defense to survive. If you’re going to look at us, the stats you just laid out is probably a big reason we’re where we are in the standings.”

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