Cooper on the Lightning's fast start: 'Everybody is waiting for the slipper to fall off the foot'
When Lightning coach Jon Cooper and captain Marty St. Louis addressed the players before Tuesday night's game at Montreal, the message was it is time to prove there is more to the Lightning than Steven Stamkos.
Stamkos, who is tied for the league lead with 14 goals and 23 points, is out indefinitely with a broken right tibia. To the Lightning, it seemed that is the only reason the team has gotten some publicity, not for the 13-5-0 start that has it atop the Eastern Conference.
"People were just, maybe, beginning to say, 'Wow, these guys are for real,'" Cooper said. "And then 91 goes down, all of a sudden everybody is watching us. Everybody is waiting for the slipper to fall off the foot. That was our big message to the guys. We can be looked at as a one-man team or looked at as a team. I think the guys took a little bit of ownership with that."
In fact, Tampa Bay played one of its better games in the 2-1 shootout win over the Canadiens in which it launched a season-best 45 shots.
"We're a far better team with 91 in the lineup," Cooper said. "Can't stress that enough. But we're a pretty good hockey team with or without him. The guys truly beieve that."
"I think we realize a lot more people are probably looking at us after Stammer goes down, but we've kind of put that aside," wing B.J. Crombeen said. "We talked about it a few times. I don't think there was one professional (writer) who picked us to be in the playoffs. But that's really not going to affect us. We believe in the group we have. We just have to go out and execute. We're focusing on what we have to do and, hopefully, we can show we're a great team without him and only get better when he gets back."
The next five games -- beginning tonight against the West-leading Ducks at the Tampa Bay Times Forum and continuing on the road against Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Jose and Anaheim -- will be a challenge as Tampa Bay will face opponents with a combined 65-20-10 record.
"A non-stop gauntlet of big-time hockey players," Cooper said. "It' going to be a tough test for us."
And that, perhaps, is a good thing in light of Stamkos' injury.
"We can't keep dwelling on it," Cooper said. We have to understand that he's not here. We've got to keep picking ourselves up like we did in Montreal."
Other stuff from the morning skate: As expected, Ben Bishop will get the start in net. ... Defenseman Sami Salo (lower body) skated in a red non-contact jersey and is expected to be available during the west coast trip. Defenseman Keith Aulie is "a ways away," Cooper said. Forward Tom Pyatt (collar bone) is not expected to play until after Thanksgiving. ... How did Brett Connolly do against the Canadiens as the center for the No. 1 line with Marty St. Louis and Alex Killorn? "We watched tape of the game and never once did I say, 'Oh, my gosh, were those guys terrible,'" Cooper said. "They were good. They were good in the D zone." Said Connolly: "Hopefully I can build on that and be better tonight." ... Cooper also was impressed with J.T. Brown, saying the wing got better against Montreal as the game wore on and he acclimated to the speed of the game. "By the third period he was right with everyone else. He deserves to be back in the lineup tonight." ... Cooper has a fan in Ducks left wing Patrick Maroon, who played for Cooper in 2006-07 at NAHL St. Louis. "He just has a real special bond with his players thatmake them just want to work for him," Maroon said. "It's worked for him everywhere he's been, so he's doing something right." Maroon said Cooper "knew what I needed to do to become a good hockey player. He pushed me hard. There was one game he healthy scratched me. He's not afraid to do that. But he's a players' coach. You can't be afraid to go up to him and say, 'Coop, what's going on.'" ... Liked this from Cooper about overcoming Stamkos' loss and the fact that with14 goals, Stamkos was good for three-quarters of a goal a game. "That has to be made up but it doesn't have to be made up by scoring. It can be made up by keeping that three-quarters of a goal out of our net, and maybe that's our direction right now. We've got to think that way and let scoring look after itself."