STOCKHOLM -- The Tampa Bay Lightning arrived here Sunday searching for answers ahead of their games against the Buffalo Sabres in the 2019 NHL Global Series.
"It's been a weird schedule for us because we started with a super long road trip to begin with, six of our first seven games were on the road, and now we are basically on a two-weeker," coach John Cooper said, noting that the Lightning made a three-game swing through the New York metropolitan area before spending the next week in Sweden.
"What I like about it is we kind of figured out a little bit about ourselves in the first few weeks of the season and instead of trying to figure things out in games, we got a few practices here to get our game in order and kind of away from all distractions."
[Related: Complete Global Series coverage]
The Lightning have survived their early struggles, but barely, after playing nine of their first 13 games on the road. They are 4-4-1 in those nine away games but are not pleased with their 6-5-2 record or the fact that have allowed four more goals than they have scored (43 goals for, 47 goals allowed).
To a man, they say they are not yet close to the team that stormed through last season, winning 62 games and leading the League with 128 points before being upset by the Columbus Blue Jackets in a sweep of the Eastern Conference First Round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
While many of the key pieces remain, including high-scoring forwards Nikita Kucherov and captain Steven Stamkos, No. 1 defenseman Victor Hedman and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Lightning have added some new personalities. The first five weeks have allowed the leadership group to integrate the new players, including forward Pat Maroon and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.
Cooper said the trip to Sweden can help the Lightning in many ways.
"I know it is a different country, a different city and all that, but it is basically us as a group all together," he said. "As much as it is a tourist trip some of the days, it is a work trip -- and I like the fact that we have a few practices to get our game in order."
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The first practice was Sunday, about four hours after they touched down after a seven-hour flight.
It featured a couple of drills and some small-game action, providing a chance to shake off the jet lag at Hovet Arena, next door to the Globe Arena that will host the back-to-back games against the Sabres, Friday (2 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN1, NHL.TV) and Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN1, SUN, MSG-B, NHL.TV).
The practices will get more serious as the week progresses, including an open practice Thursday for fans to watch. At some point, the Lightning hope Hedman can join them. He sustained a lower-body injury Tuesday against the New York Rangers, has missed the past two games and has not skated since being injured.
But Hedman has continued to assert his influence while injured as a key part of the leadership group that shapes the Lightning culture. His efforts, along with those of other leaders, have started to pay dividends, according to Shattenkirk.
"At this point, everyone is very comfortable," he said. "We have gotten over that initial stage. It's good because it goes a long way with your chemistry on the ice. It goes a long way with accountability in the locker room and during games."
The next three days will be used to make those developing bonds stronger. As Cooper says, there are no distractions here. Family and friends, for the most part, are absent. With the exception of Hedman, the only Lightning player born in Sweden, nobody has connections to the city.
So the Lightning will be forced to come together as a group away from the rink.
"I think we are all excited to be here and kind of run around the city a little bit together and see what it has to offer," said Shattenkirk, who mentioned that the team may do a group outing to a sauna.
"I think the leaders in this locker room do a good job of trying to get everyone together and hanging out as a group together as much as possible, so that is one thing that has blown me away about this team is how close the group is. As a new guy, it has made it easier for me to come in and get acclimated."
According to teammates, Hedman put together a list of recommendations of places to go and foods to try.
"It's good to spend some time together. Everyone is always looking forward to these games, maybe not as much as I do, but they are still excited to be over here and to play two games in Europe," said Hedman, who plans to pick up some Swedish candy at some point this week.
"We are a close-knit team and we have a lot of fun together. We are looking forward to have another fun week."