TAMPA -- It was an optional morning skate for both teams prior to the Tampa Bay Lightning meeting the New York Islanders at Tampa Bay Times Forum on Thursday, and Lightning coach Jon Cooper was in a reflective mood as he spoke about how his first full season at the helm has changed him.
There have been exceptional ups and downs that Cooper has dealt with, the loss of forward Steven Stamkos to injury for 45 games and the deadline trade of forward Martin St. Louis among others. But the Lightning have maintained an even keel throughout.
"I'm the same person with the same beliefs," Cooper said. "I'm just more experienced now. I guess that's the difference. I'm still the same coach and I have the same feel. I don't know if I would change one thing I've done in the past -- except for maybe the last 20 shootout shooters (the Lightning have gone 0-for-15 in the shootout of late). It's just the experience: life experience and NHL experience. That's what I've really gained about this whole thing."
One bright spot has been the acquisition of forward Ryan Callahan from the New York Rangers in the St. Louis trade.
"He's been with us for 10 games and we've got points in nine," Cooper said. "By no means am I sitting here saying that it's all because of Ryan Callahan, but he is a piece of the puzzle we needed. Anybody that looked at our team saw a skilled, fast team; he brings another element to us. He can play below both dots and he has the ability to put the puck in the net. He's first over the boards in the power play and penalty kill. He's been a big part of our success and he's a good fit for us."
The Islanders have dressed nine rookies in each of their past two games, and coach Jack Capuano does not plan any changes, except for the switch to goalie Evgeni Nabokov, for Thursday.
"We're a young team and the players are getting a great opportunity as individuals," Capuano said. "They've worked a long time for it. For us, it's maintaining as a coaching staff that we are positive, number one. We're going to go through some tough times and will make mistakes, but we’ll continue to teach every day and try to get better every day. For us, it's about our work ethic and how we compete every single shift and not worrying about the outcome of a hockey game. Our work ethic will dictate the result."
Here are the projected lineups:
Anders Lee - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo
Josh Bailey - Brock Nelson - Cal Clutterbuck
Matt Martin - Ryan Strome - Colin McDonald
Mike Halmo - Casey Cizikas - Johan Sundstrom
Calvin de Haan - Travis Hamonic
Kevin Czuczman - Thomas Hickey
Matt Donovan - Matt Carkner
Scratched: Radek Martinek
Injured: John Tavares (knee), Eric Boulton (hand), Brian Strait (hand), Michael Grabner (concussion), Lubomir Visnovsky
Alex Killorn - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Ondrej Palat - Valtteri Filppula - Ryan Callahan
J.T. Brown - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov
Tom Pyatt - Nate Thompson - Ryan Malone
Victor Hedman - Sami Salo
Matthew Carle - Radko Gudas
Eric Brewer - Michael Kostka
Scratched: Keith Aulie, Mark Barberio, Richard Panik, B.J. Crombeen