Zenon Konopka is a scratch tonight; coach Rick Tocchet blows up an old, tired idea
Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet might have had the quote of the season after Monday's morning skate. It at least was the quote of this road trip. But first the setup.
The thinking always has been that the last game of a road trip is difficult, so with the Lightning tonight against the Islanders set to finish a six-game trip, several players were asked if they were ready to get home. Defenseman David Hale answered like this:
"Tonight's biggest learning experience is that you have to be a professional on these long road trips, especially during the last game when you're thinking about getting home. Guys need to suck it up and make sure we do our jobs."
Asked if he bought in to the idea the last game of a road trip is more difficult, Tocchet deadpanned: "Not when you win one out of six."
He should have said one out of seven, but you get the idea.
Other stuff from the morning skate: Mike Smith gets the start in net. ... Center Zenon Konopka will be scratched for, basically, body maintenance. The scruffy fourth-liner has a sore neck, sore left wrist and is still healing from five stitches in his mouth from a fight with the Blackhawks' Ben Eager. For a guy who thrives on his toughness, it was, as he called it, "a bitter pill. ... It's in my best interest to have a day off. For me, it's extremely frustrating. I'm obviously not happy with it." Said Tocchet: "I don't want him to play taped up. We need him a little healthier. I don't want to patch him up for every game and practice. He has to play at a high tempo. He's just banged up a little bit. We've got to get him a little rest. A couple of days will help him." ... Defenseman Matt Walker is out with a lower body injury. Walker would not say exactly what was bothering him except that it is "a few sore spots," though nothing that needed a look by an outside doctor, X-rays or an MRI test. Asked about a timetable for his return, Walker said, "I don't know. We haven't gotten to that point yet. It won't be that long." Walker was hurt during the first period Friday at St. Louis. ... Right wing Steve Downie is back in the lineup after mssing two games. He smashed his head on the ice Tuesday in Nashville after he slipped and fell while throwing a punch at Shea Weber. "I just wasn't feeling right," Downie said. "My body wasn't feeling right. I took a pretty big hit, but I'm ready to go." ... Defeneman Kurtis Foster has two goals and two assists in his past three games. "He's got a great shot," Tocchet said. "He should be one of our weapons. If he has the puck in the middle of the ice, unless someone is wide open, he should be shooting every time." ... The Lightning penalty kill has been excellent lately, disposing of 21 of its past 23 shorthanded situations. Not rocket science, Tocchet said: "A lot of the problem was (previously) we wouldn't get the pucks down. We'd have possession of the puck and the other team would keep it in. That's huge withe the penalty kill. You don't get that puck down, you have tired guys in your zone. It's a huge difference."