Kucherov ready to return, Bishop to play whole game
Wing Nikita Kucherov was back at Saturday's morning skate, and plans to play tonight in the exhibition finale against the Panthers, which is an encouraging sign for the Lightning.
Kucherov had suffered a lower-body injury early in Thursday's 3-2 win over Dallas, briefly trying to test it before leaving the game for good. He said there's still some pain, but it shouldn't hold him back heading into the season.
"I felt like I couldn't play because my leg wasn't good, so that's why I decided to not force it," Kucherov said. "I'm just glad it wasn't a knee or something else."
In other injury news, center Cedric Paquette continues to be sidelined with a left foot injury suffered last Saturday in Dallas, but Cooper said the gritty forward will return to full participation in Monday's practice in Estero. And there's no concern over Paquette's injury impacting the start of the season. "I wouldn't think so," Cooper said.
*The Lightning should have most of its regular lineup in tonight in Sunrise, including goalie Ben Bishop, who will play his second straight full game. Bishop, who stopped 23 of 25 shots in Thursday's game, will then have played in 2 1/2 games this preseason, one more than last season.
That means the Lightning has apparently seen enough from its two candidates for the backup spot, Kevin Poulin and Kristers Gudlevskis. "We've got options with our backups, but our main focus is getting ready for Philadelphia (season opener)," Cooper said.
Poulin, 25, claimed off waivers Sunday from the Islanders, only played half of an exhibition for Tampa Bay this week, an admittedly "weird" relief stint in Johnstown where he allowed two goals, one shot from behind the net banked in off him. "I was excited, but stressful," Poulin said. "Cold coming in, it's a new team, that's why I was so excited and stressed."
It still appears likely that Pouliin, who is waiver-eligible, would make the opening night roster, with Gudlevskis playing in AHL Syracuse, with the option of either of them filling in for Bishop when needed. The Lightning could also survey the waiver wire on Monday.
*Though Cooper insists not to read too much into line combination in camp, they've remained pretty consistent, with Steven Stamkos centering a top line with Jonathan Drouin and Ryan Callahan. The Triplets - Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat - have been together of course. And when it comes to the third line, the trio of Alex Killorn-Valtteri Filppula-Erik Condra has looked pretty good.
"I have actually liked them," Cooper said. "They haven't played a lot together, but they've generated together. A pretty responsible line, lot of hockey sense on the line. You've got to start somewhere, but I've kind of liked the chemistry those guys have had."
The fourth line has typically had center Brian Boyle playing left wing, with Mike Angelidis (or Vladislav Namestnikov) and J.T Brown.