TAMPA -- As the Tampa Bay Lightning return to Amalie Arena after going 2-0-1 on their recent road trip, Lightning coach Jon Cooper will is facing some tough decisions for the lineup Thursday against the San Jose Sharks.
With forward Alex Killorn likely returning to the lineup Thursday there could some issues with which forwards play and which one sits out.
"These guys play hard and it's tough to tell one to sit out," Cooper said. "Now maybe in the first period of the Chicago [Blackhawks] game [Tuesday] I wanted to sit the whole team out. But overall we've got good guys that are making positive contributions."
Cedric Paquette is one of the players making Cooper's decision tough. Since being recalled from the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League the 21-year-old forward has four goals in four games and has solidified a spot in the lineup for the time being.
The odd-man out could be rookie Jonathan Drouin. The third pick of the 2013 NHL Draft has one goal and seven assists in 11 games this season. Cooper said Drouin continues to improve but he's still going through a major learning curve.
"He's been fine," Cooper said. "He's a better player today than he was when he got in the League and he'll be even better two weeks from now. He's just learning the League and every one on this roster has gone through the same learning process. But they did it in the minors."
Drouin was inserted on the top line with Steven Stamkos during the third period of the Lightning's 3-2 loss to Chicago and Cooper said he saw a lot of bright spots.
"I saw that he and Stamkos had a little bit of chemistry and at that point we needed a goal," Cooper said. "He's seen situations where he's played late in the game and those will increase. His play without the puck will improve as well. You touch the puck maybe 20 to 30 seconds a night and it's how you play during the other 59:30 that counts."
Meanwhile Tyler Johnson looks like he'll be in the lineup after taking a check to the ribs by Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook on Tuesday. Cooper said he went from "doubtful to questionable to probable" during the last day.
"I feel better than I felt on Tuesday, I can tell you that much," Johnson said. “We had some tests done and I’m just thankful the injury isn’t serious. I’m going to try to play."
The Sharks are 1-2-0 in the first three games of a seven-game road trip that will stretch over 11 days.
"Offensively they are tough to handle because they are big guys with a lot of skill," Killorn said of the Sharks. "Our goal is to limit their chances and keep them skating in the defensive zone as much as possible."
The Sharks' goaltending duties will be handled by Antti Niemi for the rest of the road trip as Alex Stalock was sent back to San Jose to receive treatment for a lower-body injury. Niemi has started 12 games this season with a 2.79 goals against average and a .911 save percentage. Troy Grosenick was recalled from Worcester of the American Hockey League to serve as the backup.
San Jose participated in an optional skate Thursday morning, with Matt Nieto skating on a line with Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture while Tommy Wingels moved to the third line with James Sheppard and Tyler Kennedy.
Here are the projected lineups:
Tomas Hertl - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Matt Nieto
Tommy Wingels - James Sheppard - Tyler Kennedy
Barclay Goodrow - Andrew Desjardins - Adam Burish
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun
Mirco Mueller - Brent Burns
Scott Hannan - Jason Demers
Scratched: John Scott, Adam Burish
Injured: Mike Brown (hand), Raffi Torres (knee), Alex Stalock (lower body)
Valtteri Filppula - Steven Stamkos - Ryan Callahan
Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov
Cedric Paquette - Vladislav Namestnikov - Alex Killorn
Brenden Morrow - Brian Boyle - J.T. Brown
Matthew Carle - Anton Stralman
Andrej Sustr - Eric Brewer
Jason Garrison - Radko Gudas
Scratched: Mark Barberio, Jonathan Drouin
Injured: Victor Hedman (fractured finger), Brett Connolly (lower body)
Status Report: Drouin was one of the last players to leave the ice in the morning skate and could be a healthy scratch if Killorn (upper body) and Johnson (ribs) return to the lineup. … Stamkos did not participate in the morning skate but it was a planned rest day and Cooper said he will be in the lineup.
Who’s Hot: Paquette scored a goal in the Lightning’s 3-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday and has four goals in his past four games. ...Thornton scored a goal in the Sharks' 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday; he has two goals and two assists in the past three games.