As the Tampa Bay Lightning improved their game to start the season, it was heard more often than not that this was a different team, a changed team. One that had the ability to produce goals, but play defense at the same time, something that had been lacking in recent years.
Coming into Tuesday’s tilt, they are most certainly a different team, but it has all to do with the loss of Steven Stamkos, a dynamic scorer who was showcasing his matured play so far this year.
Stamkos has had nearly a flawless record when it came to showing up for work, 344 consecutive games to be exact, but that streak comes to an end at the Bell Centre in downtown Montreal.
“’Are we going to miss him?’ No question, that’s an understatement. ‘Can we win without him?’ Those guys are pretty determined we can,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “This is not going to be the first time these 20 guys have laced up their skates. Pretty much half our team has only played 15 games with Stamkos as it is.”
It is also Cooper’s way of reminding the media that, yes, Stamkos is a huge loss to not only the Bolts, but the entire hockey world, however this is a team game and it takes a whole lineup to win.
And the rest of the staff is convinced that they can get the job done.
“We’re very confident,” Martin St. Louis said. “It’s gotten us where we are right now, Stamkos’ goals are going to be missed, but other guys are going to have to be better. It’s not going to be one guy; it’s going to be everybody.”
“We have a strong team game and we’re going to find some ways to manufacture goals and to perhaps play a bit more defense and a little bit tighter defense in the light that Stamkos won’t be going down the wall all the time,” Eric Brewer added. “We’re going to find some way and we’ll have a little bit of time to make it work, but we’re going to make it work.”
Collectively, the Lightning must focus on playing with structure and discipline and they will need offensive contributions from the whole, rather than the few. To help with this, the team has some newcomers from their AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, joining them Tuesday night
JOINING THE RANKS
With Stamkos out indefinitely and injuries affecting their defensive ranks (Keith Aulie and Sami Salo), the Lightning have recalled forward J.T. Brown and defenseman Dmitry Korobov from the Crunch the help fill the voids.
Brown has appeared in all 13 games for the Crunch this season, collecting 10 points (four goals, six assists) and is third among forwards for penalty minutes with 24.
“This season he’s been one of our best forwards in Syracuse,” BriseBois said. “He plays a strong two-way game, he’s responsible, he’s got speed, he’s really improved his shot over this last year, so he’s more of a threat now to score goals and his game is just come into maturity, he was the obvious call for us to call up someone at forward right now.”
Korobov has also played all 13 for Syracuse in 2013-14 and is the team-leader in plus/minus with a plus-7 rating.
“Dmitry had a good camp in Tampa Bay and has played well for us since the start in Syracuse this year,” BriseBois said. “He’s strong, he’s really good with the puck, finishes his checks hard, has a really well rounded two-way game as well and this is going to be a good experience for him and as he gathers more experience we think he’s going to establish himself as an NHL defenseman.”
Though much speculation from the outside surrounded the decision on who the Lightning would ask to join them, they based their decision specifically on which players could help them in the immediate future.
“We called up the players we felt would give us the best chance at winning tonight at Montreal,” BriseBois said.
After tonight’s game the Bolts plan to re-evaluate for Thursday when they host the Anaheim Ducks.
With all the news surrounding Stamkos’ absence, Sami Salo’s ailment might have been an afterthought.
“He’s a 20 minute veteran defenseman in this league, he’s a big guy to lose,” Cooper said. “That’s why we’ve got a little depth and carried eight defensemen this year.”
Cooper believes the game plan doesn’t change for the team heading into Tuesday game, despite a few missing pieces, as he expressed the utmost confidence in the rest of the blue line.
ODDS ‘N ENDS
The Lightning held an optional morning skate at Bell Centre Tuesday morning, Brown and Korobov skated with a handful of other players. Anders Lindback was the lone goalie on the ice.
This year’s first round pick, Jonathan Drouin, is not available for recall due to the transfer agreement between the NHL and the CHL. It keeps NHL teams from raiding the junior teams from their top players once they are returned to them after training camp.
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