'Cruel' schedule makers give Lightning an early road-trip test
There are several ways to look at the Lightning’s season-opening, three-game road trip to Boston, Chicago and Buffalo. One is to joke, as coach Jon Cooper did about the first two games being against last season’s conference champions the Bruins and Blackhawks, “Those cruel schedule-makers throwing the baby Bolts against the two Stanley Cup finalists on the road to open up.”
But another way to look at it is this:
“It’s not an easy start, but whatever happens the next two or three days here, we’re going to have a good gauge of where we’re at,” captain Marty St. Louis said. “It couldn’t be a better situation for us than to embrace this challenge and prove to one another that we can be a good team, and a good team right away.”
Tampa Bay tonight at Boston will start Anders Lindback in net, partially, Cooper said, because he got the most recent work in the preseason finale against the Panthers and because he played so well against the Bruins in the April 25 game here last season, stopping 22 of 24 shots in a 2-0 loss.
“I thought he was exceptional here,” Cooper said. “The only problem that night was the guy at the other end was a tiny bit better. If we can get a performance as we did at the end of last season with Lindy, I’ll like where we’re at.”
Scratched for the Lightning are defensemen Keith Aulie and Mark Barberio and forward Tom Pyatt. The lineup will have five rookies with forwards Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Richard Panik, and defensemen Andrej Sustr and Radko Gudas.
The game also will be a good test of managing the defensive zone. Cooper put much emphasis on that during training camp and said he likes that the team isn’t giving up as many Grade A chances. But there were still several times during preseason when the Lightning was pinned in its own end or started a rush with a sluggish breakout, so managing the defensive zone will be paramount against a puck-possession team such as Boston.
Put it all together and you have this: “Everybody has picked us out of the playoffs," Cooper said. "We’re the little team everybody is going to try to come in and kick around. We’ve got other ideas. We like being under the radar. There’s no better test for us than to go against the best. These guys are the best. It’s going to be a benchmark for us.”
Other stuff from the morning skate: Alternate captains for the season are Steven Stamkos, Nate Thompson and Matt Carle. Stamkos always will wear the A while Thompson and Carle will switch off -– Thompson on the road and Carle at home for the first half of the season, and vice versa the second half. … Clearly there will not be a captain controversy when the next one is named as Cooper said he was impressed during training camp with the leadership qualities Stamkos showed. “Stamkos will be extremely capable of taking over,” Cooper said. … Cooper still expects either Lindback or Bishop to play two of the three games on the road trip but called that plan “flexible," and added, "It’s like being day-to-day." … Bishop said he doesn’t read anything into Lindback starting the season opener. “It’s just one of those things,” he said. “You’re not starting tonight, but you might start tomorrow night. It’s not one of those things you can dwell on. It’s a long season, a lot of games. There’s always factors the coaches have going into games. You can’t do anything about it. It’s out of your control. The only thing you can do is play well when you get a chance to play.” … Wing Alex Killorn, who played four years at Harvard, said he’ll have at least 20 friends in the stands and wouldn’t be surprised if he got more ticket requests this afternoon. “Just shut off the phone,” he said. … Sustr certainly has impressed the Lightning staff. “At some point you’ve got to dip your toes into the pool,” Cooper said. “He did get the tease of two games at the end of last year, so that benefited him. Ultimately, in the end, it was kind of a big picture thing. He came into camp. He wanted a spot and he earned it. It’s hard to take him out. Also, the fact that he’s right-handed gives us a little more balance. He’s going to have to get his experience somewhere. Might as well throw him in against the Bruins.” Sustr didn’t seem fazed. “I’m not going to change my style of play. Play the way you are and it usually works out.”