For Lightning's Cory Conacher, game in Toronto like coming home
Lightning rookie Cory Conacher was a huge Maple Leafs fan growing up, not surprising as he lived in Burlington, Ontario, which is just 25 miles to the south. So, playing tonight against the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre will be a huge moment for the left wing, who said about 100 family and friends will be at the game.
"It's very cool," Conacher said after the morning skate. "It's going to be very exciting and nerve-wracking."
Conacher, 23, who leads all rookies with 21 points and 14 assists, said 62 guests will be in the gondola that hangs over the ice at the arena. The rest will be scattered through the stands.
Lightning star Steven Stamkos, also from the Toronto area, had some advice for Conacher: do not let teammates talk you into leading them onto the ice for pregame warmups.
"I learned the hard way," he said.
The first time as an NHLer he played in Toronto, Stamkos was at the front of the line as the Lightning took the ice. But his teammates, as a joke, stayed behind as Stamkos skated alone until he realized what was happening. As for the game, he had an assist.
Conacher already has memories of the Air Canada Centre, where he said he watched and rooted for current Lightning assistant Steve Thomas, who played for the Leafs from 1998-2001. One Christmas, Conacher said, his father gave him a log in wrapping paper. Seemed weird until he noticed the Maple Leafs tickets buried within the paper.
"My best Christmas present," Conacher said.
Conacher has slowed a bit offensively since getting five goals and 12 points in his first seven games. In 22 games since he has two goals and nine points. He has zero goals and three assists in his past 10 games.
But coach Guy Boucher said Conacher is probably a better player.
"He's getting much better defensively," Boucher said. "He's progressing as an NHL player. We know he can get points but right now, if you want to win on a consistent basis, players have to be good defensively. He's still a young guy. He's relentless and he wants to learn. That's what I like. He's going to keep on improving."
Other stuff from the morning skate: Left wing Ryan Malone, hurt during Monday's game with the Flyers by a check from Philly's Zac Rinaldo, is on injured reserve and out indefinitely with a left shoulder injury. Further examination is needed before determining whether Malone might need surgery. ... Pierre-Cedric Labrie takes his place in the lineup. ... Mathieu Garon gets the start in net even though Anders Lindback looked good in Monday's 4-2 victory over the Flyers and in his past five starts has a 1.81 goals-against average and .941 save percentage. But Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher is sticking to his plan to not overwork Lindback, which he admitted he did earlier in the season. Lindback, while saying, of course, he wants to play every game, also said, "I accept what the coaches are doing. I just have to keep proving I can play good every game and maybe in the future I'll get more games. That's the way it goes. It's up to me to stay consistent. ... Defenseman Victor Hedman, who missed almost half of Monday's game with the Flyers after taking a hit from Philly's Zac Rinaldo, will play against Toronto. Hedman said holding him out of the game was "precautionary" and whatever the upper-body injury was is "not a big issue." ... Defensemen Brian Lee and Marc-Andre Bergeron are scratched. ... Wing Ben Pouliot, who tonight will miss his ninth game with a right shoulder injury, might be back in the lineup by Saturday's game at Ottawa, Boucher said. "He's on the verge," the coach said. Pouliot said he is mostly healed though there are still things he needs to do on the ice that are "still uncomfortable." That said, he added after the morning skate, "Today was my best day." ... Kind ofunder the radar in Monday's win over the Flyers was defenseman Matt Carle playing 30:06 of ice time as he made up for the loss of Hedman. It was the seventh time Carle has played more than 30 minutes in a game, but the first time when the game did not include overtime. "I certainly slept pretty well the last couple of nights," Carle said, laughing. Seriously, though, he said you don't even notice playing so many minutes while it is happening. "You get into the flow of the game and let your body take over," Carle said. "You try not to over-exert yourself, take short shifts, manager your game, but like I said, you get caught up in the moment."