Sami Salo returns to the lineup tonight against the Oilers
After missing four games with an upper-body injury sustained Dec. 23 against the Panthers, Lightning defenseman Sami Salo returns to the lineup tonight against the Oilers.
Salo skated in the morning with Victor Hedman. To make room for Salo, it appears Mark Barberio will be scratched.
"Oh, gosh, you get 1,000 games (actually 841) worth of experience," coach Jon Cooper said when asked what Salo adds to the lineup. "You get another right-handed shot out there. You get a wily vet, and you can't have enough of those guys on the back end."
That back end has been pretty good for Tampa Bay, which enters Sunday third in team defense, allowing an average 2.22 goals. A lot of things go into that. Goaltending has been terrific and Cooper has gotten the players to buy in to a five-man defensive sensibility.
But a young defensive group that includes Victor Hedman, 23; rookies Andrej Sustr (23), Radko Gudas (23) and Barberio (23); and Pierre-Philippe Cote (15 NHL games), and you have a pretty good story.
"It's great to see," Salo said. "The organization has a lot of future in these young guys and they've shown in this year. They've grown a lot in the time they've been here. It's promising for the organization, fo sure."
And just as captain Marty St. Louis, 38, gets energy from playing with younger players, so does Salo, 39.
"For sure, they bring a lot of energy to the table," Salo said. "For sure it brings me energy to see how hard they play and how fast they are and how they've grown during the year."
Other stuff from the morning skate: The Lightning is going for its sixth straight road win tonight, which would be its longest since it won six straight from Jan. 8-Feb. 7, 2008. ... Left wing Ondrej Palat has two goals, four assists in a five-game points streak. The rookie best for this season is six by Winnipeg's Mark Scheifele. ... Ben Bishop gets the start in net. ... Other scratches are forwards Tom Pyatt and B.J. Crombeen. ... A lot has been made about rookie Nikita Kucherov's goals in consecutive games, but not a lot has been said about his defense. The right wing is plus-8. Kucherov said he took seriously a conversation he had with Cooper that his defense will determine how long he stays in the NHL. "So I decided to myself I wanted to stay here a long time. I want to play here," "Kucherov said. Interestingly, Kucherov said he gets almost as much satisfaction as making a good defensive play as scoring a goal. "I never knew that before," he said. "When you back check so hard and you help your defensesman stop the puck and tke away the puck, you're feeling good." ... An interesting take by Cote on the difference between the AHL and NHL. "It's not as rough as the AHL," Cote said of the big league. "Everybody is trying to make it up in the AHL, so any hit that is a little harder than usual you'll have someone on your back. Everyone is trying to prove themselves." ... Speaking of the Lightning's stellar team defense, Tampa Bay enters Sunday with five of the top-10 rookies in plus-minus: Barberio and Palat tied for fourth at plus-11; Kucherov and Tyler Johnson tied for eighth at plus-8 and Sustr 10th at plus-7. "There's a good chance you'll have that when you have so many rookies in the lineup," Cooper said, and added, "For me, it's a team stat. If your guys are a plus it means your team is doing well, and we'll take that."