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Lightning know replacing Hedman a tough task

Captain Steven Stamkos made one thing clear; the Lightning can’t replace Victor Hedman.

But Tampa Bay will have to try as it will be without its top defensemen for the rest of this road trip, and potentially the next month, after Hedman suffered a hand injury in Saturday’s 4-2 win over Vancouver. Hedman is back in Tampa getting evaluated, with the team expecting to know more on his status Monday.

But as the Lightning face the Oilers tonight at Rexall Place, its defensemen will have expanded roles as they try to make up for the loss of the 6-foot-6 Swede.

“I’ve got complete confidence we’ll be able to shoulder the load,” coach Jon Cooper said.
What stings the most is that Hedman, 23, was playing some of the best hockey of his career, racking up seven points in his first four games. A force at both ends of the ice, Hedman ran the point on the first power play unit, and along with Anton Stralman, faced opponent’s top lines.

“He did everything,” Stralman said.

It’s de ja vu to Tampa Bay, which lost Stamkos in November for 45 games due to a broken leg. …

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Drouin dazzles in debut, but plan remains the same

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he watched touted wing prospect Jonathan Drouin score his first professional goal Friday night, in his debut with Syracuse in the American Hockey League.

It was a beauty. Drouin, 19, stole the puck from a Springfield defenseman at center ice in the third period, raced down the left side and beat goalie Anton Forsberg glove side with a wrist shot, lifting the Crunch to a 3-2 win. 

"It always brings a smile to a coach's face when you see that," Cooper said. "Especially a game winner."

As well as Drouin played Friday in the first game of his conditioning assignment, the Lightning's plan for him hasn't changed; he's still likely to play for the Crunch through next weekend before re-joining Tampa Bay. For Drouin, who missed the entire preseason with a fractured right thumb, this is his training camp, a chance to get his timing down.

That doesn't mean Drouin wasn't impressive in his first game, going plus-3, while creating a couple turnovers in the defensive end. …

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Gudas hopes to return Monday

Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas was encouraged after skating on his own before Saturday's morning skate, saying he hopes to return to the lineup Monday in Edmonton.

Gudas missed Tuesday's game, and will not play tonight against the Canucks, due to a lower-body injury that he said has nagged him since training camp. It got "really worse" Monday, but has gotten better throughout the week.

"It's not anything major," Gudas said. "Just take a couple days off and make sure everything is gone."

Gudas said he hopes to practice with the Lightning Sunday in Edmonton and, if all goes well, play Monday. With Gudas out, it looks like D Jason Garrison will play on the right side in a pairing with D Matt Carle.

D Victor Hedman will be with D Anton Stralman, as usual, with D Eric Brewer and D Andrej Sustr playing together.

*D Mark Barberio will be a healthy scratch for the fifth straight game. He said it's tough, but his experience being in and out of the lineup last season helped mentally prepare him for this. …

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Connolly excited to finally play in Vancouver

Lightning wing Brett Connolly is no stranger to Rogers Arena, having been to his share of Canucks games growing up in Vancouver Island before moving to Prince George.

Connolly, 22, said it was where he watched his first NHL game, at age eight, with his favorite player wing Markus Naslund.

But Connolly is thrilled to finally get a chance to play at Rogers Saturday night, with a dozen friends and family there to see it, including his parents, who flew down from Prince George.

"I'm excited," he said. "I've got a lot of people coming down. It's going to be good to play here. It's a rink, a team I grew up watching. It's really cool to be here. It'll be fun."

Connolly, who lives in Toronto in the offseason, said it's nice to be able to see his family, considering he doesn't come home much. That included a rare opportunity to watch his younger brother, Josh, 19 play Friday night for the Kamloops Blazers.

"It worked out perfect," he said. …

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Lightning prospect Jonathan Drouin headed to Syracuse for rehab games

The Lightning assigned Jonathan Drouin to Syracuse on Thursday to begin a rehab assignment.

DIRK SHADD | Times

The Lightning assigned Jonathan Drouin to Syracuse on Thursday to begin a rehab assignment.

TAMPA – Jonathan Drouin’s NHL debut will have to wait.

After Drouin was derailed during training camp with a fractured right thumb, the Lightning assigned their 2013 first-round pick to Syracuse on Thursday to begin a rehab assignment.

“It’s not really sending me down,” Drouin said after Thursday morning’s practice with the Lightning. “It’s more getting me ready to come back here, and making sure I’m 100 percent ready.”

Drouin could be on his rehab assignment for up to two weeks but said he might only need a couple games to get ready.

Assistant general manager Julien BriseBois said Drouin will likely play for Syracuse this weekend and the next.

“Essentially it’s his training camp,” BriseBois said. “He hasn’t had a training camp. He needs to get into game shape. He needs to get some reps to get his timing back.”

That work will start immediately for Drouin, a highly touted wing who was named NHL.com’s top prospect last month. Drouin is expected to play in the Syracuse Crunch’s American Hockey League game against Springfield on Friday night. …

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Lightning will decide Thursday if Drouin goes on rehab assignment

It looks like Jonathan Drouin's wait for his NHL debut could be a little longer.

The Lightning will decide by Thursday morning whether the touted wing prospect will do a two-week conditioning assignment with Syracuse in the American Hockey League. Drouin, 19, out since Sept. 18 with a right thumb fracture, has practiced with the team the past few weeks, but has not participated in contact drills or line rushes.

Drouin will be at practice Thursday at Amalie Arena, with the decision coming before the team's charter flight to Vancouver to start a five-game, 10-day trip. A conditioning assignment is one of a few options.

Drouin said he's still experienced some pain in the thumb, and wears a brace, but continues to improve each day. On Tuesday, he worked on faceoffs for the first time since suffering the injury, and hoped to be cleared for contact soon.

Coacch Jon Cooper said Monday Drouin was "really close" to playing, but had a follow-up exam scheduled this week. Where Drouin plays his first pro game, whether it's in Syracuse or with the Lightning, will be figured out soon. …

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Drouin not ready yet; Nabokov makes first start

Goalie Evgeni Nabokov will make his first start for the Lightning.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Goalie Evgeni Nabokov will make his first start for the Lightning.

Touted Lightning wing prospect Jonathan Drouin said he's gotten asked several times by friends in recent days the key question: "Are you playing tonight?"

It's been a long wait for Drouin, 19, and it'll likely be another few days as he's not expected to be in the lineup tonight against the Devils. Drouin, coming back from a right thumb fracture, hasn't had his follow-up exam yet, and doesn't know when he will, but it looks all the more likely he won't make his NHL debut until this weekend's trip to Canada.

"When they feel I'm ready and I'm feel I'm ready, and there's no more pain at all, then we're going to jump in," Drouin said.

Drouin spent extra time after today's optional morning skate working on faceoffs for the first time since the injury. He said he'll start getting involved in contact drills soon. Drouin said he's still experiencing some pain, and still wears a brace.

"Its feeling closer and closer to be honest," Drouin said. "It's a day to day thing, when we feel like we're going to be ready, and I'm ready to jump in, we're going to go." …

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P.K. Subban on Steven Stamkos' hat trick: Not going to happen again

TAMPA – Before Monday night’s 7-1 win over the Canadiens, the Lightning seemed to downplay the revenge factor in playing the team that knocked it out of the playoffs last season.

Montreal, apparently, hasn’t forgotten its success.

Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban was asked after the loss about the success of Lightning star Steven Stamkos, who had his eighth career hat trick in the blowout win.

Subban’s response: “It’s not our best game out there. Obviously he scored some goals out there tonight. We know he can do that. Our team, when we’re playing well – ie in the playoffs last year when we faced them – we were a lot better than what we were tonight.

“For us, I’d tell Steven to enjoy it, because the next time, it’s not going to happen.”

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Schleper enjoys skating with Lightning

Anne Schleper, an Olympic silver medalist with USA women's hockey, joined the Lightning for its morning skate on Monday.

SKIP O'ROURKE | Times

Anne Schleper, an Olympic silver medalist with USA women's hockey, joined the Lightning for its morning skate on Monday.

Anne Schleper had a permanent smile on her face Monday morning as she joined the Lightning for its morning skate.

Schleper, 24, an Olympic silver medalist with USA women's hockey, mingled with the players, did some breakout passes and worked on drills with the Lightning defensemen. At the end of practice, she joined captain Steven Stamkos at center ice to lead the team in stretchig. And when she got back into the Lightning lockeroom, she had her own locker with a nameplate, No. 15.

"It's pretty special," Schleper. "I understood it was a pre-game skate for them, and I understand what that is too as a player. It's good to get out there. I was really trying to learn from them. They're obviously amazing skaters."

 

Schleper grew up in St. Cloud, Minnesota, where "you kind of get in your skates before you learn to walk." She played for the University of Minnesota, as well as for Team USA.

"It's great for the game and for women's hockey," Stamkos said. "Just grows awareness for their game and where it's at. It's pretty amazing the skill set they do have..

"She made some nice crisp passes out there. I was kind of joking she was passing the puck harder than some of the D on our team." …

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Brewer back in lineup; Drouin "really close"

Eric Brewer is back in the lineup tonight against the Canadiens after being a healthy scratch for the first two games.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Eric Brewer is back in the lineup tonight against the Canadiens after being a healthy scratch for the first two games.

Veteran defenseman Eric Brewer is back in the lineup tonight against the Canadiens after being a healthy scratch for the first two games.

Brewer, 35, was understandably upset to sit out, but took it in stride. He said his status with the team hasn't changed.

"They've made their choices, just deal with it, just come to play and do what you're told, see how it goes," Brewer said.

Coach Jon Cooper said Brewer has handled the situation like a "pro" - hasn't seen him pout. Cooper points out Brewer is part of the "big picture" with this team.

"Brew has been in the league 15 years, I'm sure this has happened to him before, but probably happened early in his career and not later in his career. I'm sure like any player in the league, would be not entirely fired up that they're not in the lineup. The one thing about Brew is he's a pro, he works his tail off, but I'm sure he's not been happy about it. That's probably good as a player, you shouldn't be happy you're being sat out. …

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Rematch with Canadiens not about revenge for Lightning

Wing Ryan Callahan said getting swept by the Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs in April served as “fuel” all summer for the Lightning.

But as Tampa Bay hosts Montreal Monday at Amalie Arena, it’s not about revenge in the rematch. Both teams have changed, and it’s a new season. And, right now, the Candiens (3-0) are atop the Eastern Conference, making this an early-season measuring stick for Tampa Bay, which won’t face the divisional rival again until Jan. 6.

“It’s probably going to be a good gauge for us,” coach Jon Cooper said. “Clearly, they’re setting the bar in the Eastern Conference, they’re kind of the team to beat right now, so I guess we’ll see where we’re at.”

“If we want to be one of the top teams in the East, you’ve got to beat the top teams in the East,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “So it’ll be a good test for us.”

The Lightning (1-0-1) learned a few lessons from the humbling sweep, with several rookies making their playoff debut.

“I don’t think we were completely ready for the playoffs,” wing Alex Killorn said. “It seems like we play a certain way all year and we kind of lost it in the playoffs.” …

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Lightning not shopping Brewer

While Lightning veteran defenseman Eric Brewer wasn't happy to be a healthy scratch in the first two games, he's not on his way out of Tampa Bay. At least, for now.

Though TSN's Bob McKenzie reported Thursday Brewer's name is "out there" in trade talks, the Lightning isn't shopping the 35-year-old. Brewer, in the final year of his deal, has a no-trade clause. Things can always change, as players have been asked to waive their no-trade clause (that's how Jason Garrison was traded from Vancouver to Tampa this summer). But that hasn't happened yet.

It doesn't mean the past few days haven't been tough for Brewer, who has watched the first two games at Amalie Arena wearing a suit, instead of a jersey. With the acquistion of defenseman Jason Garrison, Brewer is one of five left-shooting defenseman on the Lightning roster, and has been an odd man out with fellow lefty shooter Mark Barberio.

"It’s their decision,” Brewer said Thursday.  “I don’t like it.  We talked about it, and it was not an easy conversation, and there are no details that are going to make it any easier.  But that’s the way life is.” …

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Bishop credits time in Ottawa for his succes; same lineup tonight

Lightning goalie Ben Bishop enters tonight's start against the Senators with a lot of fond memories of his time in Ottawa.

In fact, Bishop, 27, said his experience with the Senators was instrumental in his development, playing a role in his strong year with the Lightning, becoming a Vezina Trophy finalist in his first year as a starter.

With Senators starter Craig Anderson cutting his hand in a kitchen accident in Feburary 2012, it sparked their need to acquire Bishop from St. Louis, where he was starring in the American Hockey League. Bishop started until Anderson returned, going 3-3-2 with a 2.48 goals against average in 10 games during a playoff push.

"I got a chance to play back-to-back and every night you learn what it takes to win," Bishop said. It was a big reason for the success I had last year, I knew what it took to play every night."

The Lightning acquired Bishop April 3, 2013 for forward Cory Conacher and a fourth-round pick. …

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