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'Good chance' Drouin returns Wednesday

The Lightning could get a boost for Wednesday's game against the Ducks as there's a "good chance" wing Jonathan Drouin will return to the lineup. 

Drouin has missed the last six games with an undisclosed injury, but skated on a line with Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov Tuesday. Drouin was also on the second power play. 

"Feel way better," he said. "Game time decision."

Coach Jon Cooper said the rest of the injured players - Cedric Paquette (upper body), Tyler Johnson (undisclosed), Ondrej Palat (left ankle) were all doubtful for Wednesday. All skated in regular jerseys, including Palat, who was in first full practice since Nov 7 injury. He's missed just over three weeks of a 3-5 week timeframe. 

Paquette is closest, but not quite ready, targeting this weekend's games. Johnson looks like he's battling a lower body injury, not skating with the same speed or power. Cooper said he's not getting worse, but unlikely to play Wednesday. Brian Boyle missed practice, with Cooper saying he's under the weather and will be fine for Wednesday. 

Cooper said Ben Bishop will probably start Wednesday. He shut out the Ducks in the last meeting in Tampa. 

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Podcast: Pierre McGuire says Stamkos contract can be 'problem'

NBCSN hockey analyst Pierre McGuire said he's seen most of the Lightning games this season.

"A big fan of the way they play," McGuire said.

While McGuire is more widely known by most hockey fans for his role between the benches for NBCSN broadcasts, he's spent three decades in the NHL, including serving as an assistant coach on the Penguins back-to-back Stanley Cup teams in the early 1990s.

For this week's "Lightning Strikes" podcast, McGuire tackled a number of different issues facing the Lightning. McGuire said while Tampa Bay fans shouldn't "panic" after its slow start, captain Steven Stamkos' contract saga could become a "problem," and the Lightning needs to be careful how it handles Jonathan Drouin.

I'll also answer your questions on who might the Lightning have to lose if Stamkos re-signs, and what regulars have stepped up the most during the recent rash of injuries.

(Click below to listen).


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Johnson could return tonight: 'I want to be better'

Center Tyler Johnson could return to the lineup tonight, giving the Lightning a boost against the Kings.

"We're better team with Johnny on the ice," coach Jon Cooper said. "He's playing this week at some point, hopefully it's tonight."

Johnson (upper body) said he's feeling good, and him playing after missing three games is up to the coaches/doctors.

"It's always hard to miss games," Johnson said. "But it's kind of nice to have a break in a way too, I feel a bit refreshed and ready to go. Watching the team battle like they have, it lights a fire under everyone. I want to be part of that."

When Johnson is back, he hopes to improve on a slow start to the season, just three goals and seven assists in his first 19 games. Johnson had 29 goals last season, his first All-Star selection, before racking up 13 in the playoffs.

"I can definitely play better, you always can," Johnson said. "I feel like we've gotten some chances, just didn't bury it. But at the same time, you can always create more, can always do more. So I want to be better, I'm not at the level I want to be at yet, but hopefully I can get there soon."

What's been missing? …

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Lightning getting healthier, Johnson close to return

The Lightning looked a lot healthier in Tuesday's practice, with Tyler Johnson (upper body), Jonathan Drouin (undisclosed) and Cedric Paquette (upper body) all participating in regular-colored jerseys.

Johnson, who has missed the last three games, appears the closest to returning, skating with Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov today. Johnson seemed optimistic about playing Wednesday against the Kings, saying it depends on what the trainers/coaches think.

"I feel good, getting better," Johnson said. "It's up to them."

Coach Jon Cooper didn't offer an update, or speculate on their status, saying they're all "day to day." Drouin and Paquette have been cleared for contact, though it doesn't look like they'll be ready by Wednesday. Drouin skated on a line with Brian Boyle and Erik Condra, Paquette mixing in. Drouin said he's feeling better but "not where I want to be."

Drouin has missed the last three games, after missing five earlier this season with a lower body injury. Asked what his frustration level is, Drouin said, "High."

"It's not been the year that I wanted," Drouin said. "It's been frustrating, nothing you can do about it." …

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Lightning send down Blunden, Angelidis, Witkowski

With wing Ryan Callahan back, and Tyler Johnson close, the Lightning reassigned some of its depth back to AHL Syracuse Sunday.

Defenseman Luke Witkowski and forwards Mike Angelidis and Mike Blunden were sent to Syracuse.

Callahan (lower body) returned to the lineup Saturday, with Johnson (upper body) potentially able to come back by the team's next game, Wednesday against the Kings. For now, forwards Joel Vermin and Jonathan Marchessault remain with the Lightning, but their status will depend on the recovery of wing Jonathan Drouin (undisclosed) and Cedric Paquette (upper body), who continue to skate but are not cleared for contact.

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Ducks happy for Lauer to land with Lightning

With Lightning assistant Brad Lauer set to coach against the Ducks tonight for the first time since Anaheim fired him in the offseason, he said there's no bitterness in how it ended.

"I had a great four years there, we did some special things, had a special group," Lauer, 49, said. "I enjoyed it, was great for my career as a coach, good experience. I don't really have anything bad, negative to say. Our business is a business and changes are made, and you live with them, you get better as a coach and as a person and you move on."

Nobody was happier to see Lauer land with the Lightning than Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau.

"You hate to lose anybody at any point in time, whether it is yourself or another coach on the staff," Boudreau said. "But good people, you reallly like to see them get right back in the door. He wouldn't have gotten that opportunity if he wasn't a real good person or real good coach."

Boudreau and Ducks star Corey Perry raved about Lauer's communication skills and work ethic. "When you had a question, you could always go to him and he'd have the answer," Perry said. …

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Birthday boy Bishop starts in net; Callahan game-time decision

Lightning goalie Ben Bishop turns 29 today, and there's nothing he'd like more than another win to celebrate it.

Those victories have been hard to come by for Bishop, a victim of hard-luck despite playing some of the best hockey of his career. Bishop has a 2.18 goals against average and .920 save percentage, but is only 7-7-2 due to the Lightning's lack of scoring.

But Bishop hasn't let the losses, including a recent five-game streak, get to him mentally.

"It's different if you're losing games 5-4 and wer'e scoring four goals, that's a different story," Bishop said. "But you've got to stick with it. I'm a big believer in the law of averages, and I think it's going to balance out there eventually.

Bishop credits the defense playe in front of him, blocking shots and not allowing many rebounds. "I'll put our defense up against any defense in the league." And Tampa Bay will need to be stout defensively against the resurgent Ducks, who have won six of nine and racked up 40-plus shots in back to back games.

"They're playing their best hockey," coach Jon Cooper said. …

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Podcast: Meet new Lightning assistant Brad Lauer

Brad Lauer works on several aspects of the Lightning's game, including the power play.


Brad Lauer works on several aspects of the Lightning's game, including the power play.

There aren't many new faces on the Lightning this season, but one of them was behind the bench in assistant coach Brad Lauer.

Lauer, who spent the previous four years as an assistant in Anaheim, works on several aspects of the team's game, including the power play. He's a veteran of more than 300 NHL games, coming up with the Islanders after their run of four straight Stanley Cups before joining a Pittsburgh team that had Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr.

In this week's "Lightning Strikes" podcast, we caught up with Lauer to talk about his emotions heading into Saturday's game against the Ducks, which let him go in the offseason. We also discussed some of his favorite Hall of Fame teammates, as well as the time he was traded for fellow assistant Steve Thomas.

I also answer your questions on the Lightning's scoring slump, Steven Stamkos' contract and the Jonathan Drouin saga.

(Click below to listen).


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Lightning roster shuffle continues

If Ryan Callahan can't play tonight, you'd think Mike Angelidis, pictured, gets a shot, as the Lightning would have to account for Callahan's penalty kill minutes.


If Ryan Callahan can't play tonight, you'd think Mike Angelidis, pictured, gets a shot, as the Lightning would have to account for Callahan's penalty kill minutes.

The shuttle from AHL Syracuse to the Lightning continued on Thursday.

With Tampa Bay banged-up, potentially missing five regular forwards tonight against the Rangers, it called up center Mike Angelidis and defenseman Luke Witkowski from Syracuse. Defenseman Matt Taormina was returned to the Crunch.

Wing Joel Vermin had been recalled Wednesday night, and could make his NHL debut tonight. "It's a dream come true," Vermin said. "I couldn't believe it." But veteran wing Ryan Callahan (lower body) participated in today's morning skate and will be a game-time decision, coach Jon Cooper said.

Center Tyler Johnson (upper body) skated before the practice in a red non-contact jersey, but he's out tonight and probably questionable for Saturday. Jonathan Drouin (undisclosed), Cedric Paquette (upper body) are also out. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said Paquette is on injured reserve so he won't be able to return until after Saturday's game, but they're "encouraged" by his progress.

"Everyone is improving slowly," Yzerman said. "Taking it a day at a time." …

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Vermin getting called up, could make NHL debut Thursday

With injuries continuing to mount for the Lightning, it has turned into AHL Syracuse South.

And the latest callup from Syracuse will be wing Joel Vermin, who could make his NHL debut Thursday against the Rangers.

Vermin, 23, a seventh-round pick in 2013, has been playing well for the Crunch, with three goals and seven assists in 12 games.  Vermin, at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, joins forwards Jonathan Marchessault, Mike Blunden and defenseman Matt Taormina, who have all been called up since late last week.

Vermin's callup was sparked by the fact wing Ryan Callahan is day to day with a lower body injury and is doubtful for Thursday's game. Jonathan Drouin (undisclosed), Tyler Johnson (upper body) and Cedric Paquette (upper body) are also doubtful.

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Injuries continue to mount for Lightning

Ryan Callahan is considered doubtful for Thursday's game against the Rangers.


Ryan Callahan is considered doubtful for Thursday's game against the Rangers.

Veteran wing Ryan Callahan didn't practice today, and is considered doubtful for Thursday's game against the Rangers.

Join the club. 

Tyler Johnson (upper body) and Cedric Paquette (upper body) are both out Thursday, coach Jon Cooper said. Jonathan Drouin (undisclosed) and Callahan are most likely out. That means Tampa Bay, down to 10 healthy forwards, will likely get another callup from AHL Syracuse after the Crunch's game tonight. 

"Injuries are mounting," Cooper said 

Jonathan Marchessault, Mike Blunden and Matt Taormina, recent callups, stepped in Monday against the Panthers and played well. If another forward is added, it could be Joel Vermin, Tye McGinn or Jeff Tambellini. 

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Lightning's Johnson, Paquette and Drouin out tonight

Tyler Johnson got hurt Saturday taking an elbow to the face by David Bolland.

AP photo

Tyler Johnson got hurt Saturday taking an elbow to the face by David Bolland.

The Lightning will be without three regulars tonight, as forwards Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Jonathan Drouin are all out with injuries. 

"We're really banged up right now," coach Jon Cooper said.

Jonathan Marchessault, Mike Blunden - called up Sunday from AHL Syracuse - will be in the lineup. So will defenseman Matt Taormina, who was called up Saturday as Tampa Bay will go with seven defenseman. "They're the only healthy guys we have," Cooper said.

Cooper said he thinks Johnson, Paquette and Drouin will be "okay in the short term," with hopes they'll be able to return by Thursday's game against the Rangers. But that remains to be seen.

Johnson got hurt Saturday taking an elbow to the face by David Bolland late in the second period. He returned to the game in the third, but did not skate Sunday and didn't make the trip to Sunrise. Cooper said he's not concerned it's a concussion. "He's got our chiropractor working on him," Cooper quipped. …

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Lightning recall Marchessault and Blunden from AHL

The training room at Amalie Arena was a busy place Sunday, a few forwards missing from the Lightning's optional practice.

And Tampa Bay will bring up some insurance for Monday's game against the Panthers, recalling forwards Jonathan Marchessault and Mike Blunden.

It's unclear which specific players might be questionable for Monday, but center Tyler Johnson was banged up late in the second period of Saturday's game, though returned later in the third period. He did not skate at Sunday's practice. Neither did Cedric Paquette, whose last shift came with 10 minutes left in the third.

"We'll see in the A.M.," GM Steve Yzerman said.

The forwards that were skating included Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan, Vladislav Namestnikov, Alex Killorn, Valtteri Filppula, Nikita Kucherov and Brian Boyle.

Defenseman Victor Hedman also did not skate.

The Lightning was carrying just 12 forwards and seven defensemen, so had two roster spots available.

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Lightning make fan's 'dream come true'

Jake Warner, 17, left, Steven Stamkos (middle), Zach Warner (right). Jake, who is having left leg amputated soon due to rare bone cancer, had a make-a-wish moment with Lightning hosting him as special guest Saturday

Photo courtesy of Warner family

Jake Warner, 17, left, Steven Stamkos (middle), Zach Warner (right). Jake, who is having left leg amputated soon due to rare bone cancer, had a make-a-wish moment with Lightning hosting him as special guest Saturday

Though Jake Warner, 17, lives in Raleigh, N.C., he's a huge Lightning fan, going to several games when his family vacations in Clearwater. 

"The only time I get to see them play is when we come down here or they're up in Carolina kicking (the Hurricanes) butts," Warner said.

With Warner facing an unimaginable moment in eight days, having his left leg amputated under his knee due to a rare bone cancer, the Lightning lifted his spirits Saturday in a make-a-wish-like moment. Warner got to sit on the bench during the morning skate, took a tour of the lockeroom and met several Lightning players, as well as GM Steve Yzerman. He wore a signed Steven Stamkos jersey, collecting a few sticks as souvenirs.

"A dream come true," Warner said.

Warner grew up playing lacrosse and hockey, a left wing and center. "I'd be the person you put on (penalty kill)," he said. "Because I was one of the fastest skaters. I'd get in everyone's business and annoy people." …

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Nesterov could stay with Syracuse through next week

Defenseman Matt Taormina wasn't expecting to get called up by the Lightning Friday.

"I was shocked," Taormina said.

But with the Lightning wanting to get defenseman Nikita Nesterov some more playing time with AHL Syracuse, Taormina, 29, was brought up, partly as insurance as the seventh defenseman. With a healthy defensive core, Nesterov has played in just six of the first 18 games. It's possible Nesterov will stay with the Crunch through next weekend.

Either way, Taormina was excited to be back in the NHL, his first calll-up since December 2013, when he played in seven games for Tampa Bay. Taormina said he's much more confident than he was then, tallying five points in 10 games with the Crunch. "It's been a while," Taormina said. "It's been a year and a half. It's nice to get recognized and have the opportunity to come up. I don't know how long I'll be here, I just have to take advantage."

The Lightning lineup is expected to be the same as Thursday's win over the Flames, with goalie Ben Bishop making his second straight start. …

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