Injuries force Namestnikov into prominent role in debut
Tonight at the Tampa Bay Times Forum will be quite an occasion for Vlad Namestnikov, and not only because he will play his first NHL game for the Lightning.
The injury to Valtteri Filppula, who will be sidelined three weeks with a non-displaced fracture of his right ankle, means Namestnikov, the No. 27 overall pick of the 2011 draft, comes into the game as Tampa Bay's second-line center.
He also gets to play against the Red Wings, the team which he idolized growing up in the Detroit area and for which his uncle, Slava Kozlov, played.
"Growing up in Detroit and having them be my favorite team, it's just really special," Namestnikov said of his first game.
Smoothing the transition for Namestnikov -- who was called up Friday from AHL Syracuse where he had 13 goals, 30 points in 31 games -- will be his reunion with Crunch linemates J.T. Brown and Nikita Kucherov. Lightning coach Jon Cooper hopes the line's chemistry translates to the NHL.
Cooper, who coached Namestnikov last season at Syracuse, said he is most interested to see how the player's speed translates to the NHL.
"He can play the game at a pretty high speed skill-wise," Cooper said. "The one thing is how the battles are going to turn out in the corners. He's pretty shifty in those areas. He's got a a lot of gamer in him. He doesn't shy away from any of those areas that are colored blue. You can't have enough of those guys."
As for why Namestnikov was called up instead of Brett Connolly, who seems to have turned his season around, Cooper said it was because Namestnikov is a natural center while Connolly can play center but is a natural wing.
"Posotion probably separated that in the end," Cooper said.
"I'm just going to try to go out there and play a simple two-way game," Namestnikov said, "make simple plays and help the team win."
Other stiff from the morning skate: With Ben Bishop hurt, though apparently not seriously, Cooper said he will wait until after warm-ups to decide on his goaltending tandem. Cedrick Desjardins said he has been told he will either start or back up, which means it all depends on how Bishop feels to determine if Kristers Gudlevskis is a backup or scratched. ... Desjardins has a fond memory of playing for the Canadiens against the Red Wings in a 2008 exhibition game at Joe Louis Arena. It was Desjardins' first NHL game. He entered in the third period as a replacement for Carey Price and said he stopped Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa, Tomas Holmstrom and Ville Leino in a shootout to give Montreal the win. "I still have the puck," Desjardins said. "It's a good memory." ... What is Cooper going to do during the Olympic break? "I'm going tostep away for a week and decompress a little bit," he said, "as I've recommended a lot of the guys do." ... The Lightning's Olympians -- Gudlevskis (Latvia), Sami Salo (Finland); Ondrej Palat and Radko Gudas (Czech Republic), Marty St. Louis (Canada), head athletic trainer Tommy Mulligan and equipment manager Ray Thill (United States) -- will fly to Atlanta Sunday morning to catch an NHL charter Sunday night to Sochi, Russia. ... Richard Panik, who is playing for Syracuse and will play for Slovakia, will charter out of New York. ... Filppula, who was to play for Finland, said he will stay in Tampa during the Olympic break and rehab his ankle.