Pre-Game Notebook: Filppula, Lightning Make First Visit To Detroit
Looking at the statistics, it would not seem that the Tampa Bay Lightning's odds were in their favor heading into Saturday's 7 p.m. contest against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.
The club has only won one contest in Detroit in 20 previous seasons and that is almost as many years as the Red Wings have made consecutive berths in the playoffs (22 seasons).
Yet heading into the 16th game of the 2013-14 regular season and first full season of the Jon cooper era the Bolts are "more excited about Val [Filppula] putting on a blue jersey than the stats of the past," according to the Tampa Bay head coach.
And that's a good sign for a team who is trying to become one of the NHL's elite clubs, right along with the Red Wings, which Cooper suggests falls within that upper echelon.
"Saturday's game is another 'okay where are we at game,'" Cooper added. "We consider Detroit a top five elite team in this league and we're going to gauge ourselves off of this."
The Lightning's progress is slowly, but surely, making a statement around the league as well.
"They've been a work in progress and they've improved their team each and every year," Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock said when asked about the Lightning.
Babcock went on to give a nice synopsis of Tampa Bay's progress and did not lead anyone to believe that the Bolts were a team to be taken lightly, despite the Lightning's all-time record against Detroit of 5-24-2-1.
FILPPULA'S BACK, BUT IN BLUE
Speaking of Filppula, he could not beat the cameras leaving a dressing room he has never been familiar with at the Joe until today – the one designated for the visiting team.
"It felt weird," Filppula said. "It was definitely a weird feeling at first. I'm sure it will be even stranger once the game starts, but hopefully everything goes well as soon as we start playing."
Prior to the Bolts' morning skate, Filppula hung around the bench and chatted with former teammates, before taking the ice with his new team.
TIES A PLENTY
While their relationship on the ice has not been as familiar, these two teams have a lot more in common than you would expect.
A few years back in 2011 at the draft in Pittsburgh, Babcock hired new assistant coaches to join the Red Wings staff and he actually sat down and talked with Lightning head coach Jon Cooper.
When it came down to it though, Babcock said Cooper asked what he would do if he was in his position to which Babcock responded, "I'd stay down in the American Hockey League and become and NHL head coach, that's what I would do."
Cooper said their meeting was more of a meet and greet than anything else. Since, Babcock has been a vital part of Cooper's journey, as the two have stayed in contact.
"He was a mentor during that time for me," Cooper said. "We've stayed in touch ever since and he's been a great help, but tonight, for two and a half hours, we are no longer buddies."
Tyler Johnson also played under now Red Wings assistant coach Bill Petersen's tutelage at the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League. During 2008 Johnson even won the Memorial Cup with Petersen as head coach.
Netminder Ben Bishop and Jimmy Howard also attended the University of Maine together. When Bishop was a freshman, Howard was a senior.
Keys to victory for the Lightning according to Cooper:
"They're a team that doesn't beat themselves, so ultimately you have to stick with your game plan and really trust what we're doing because we're not going to break what they're doing, they've been doing it for so long, there's a reason they've made the playoffs for 20+ years. We've played these games before; we just need to stick to the game plan."
ODDS 'N ENDS
Bishop was first to leave the ice during Saturday's morning skate and will be the starter tonight against Detroit.
Late players on the ice Saturday included forwards B.J. Crombeen and P.C. Labrie and defenseman Keith Aulie.