Tonight's game vs. Florida 'pretty pivotal,' coach Cooper says
With just 17 games left in the regular season and Tampa Bay just four points ahead of the ninth team in the Eastern Conference -- the top eight make the playoffs -- Lightning coach Jon Cooper said tonight's game against the Panthers is "pretty pivotal."
"We're running out of games," Cooper said. "Now, all of a sudden we have games in hand, and this is a game in hand."
It also is against a Panthers team that is on a 3-10-0 streak, has allowed 116 road goals, worst in the East and has the worst power play and penalty kill in the league. Tampa Bay is not doing much better at the moment. The Lightning is on a 3-8-2 streak and is on a 3-for-37 streak on the power play, 1-for-16 in its past seven home games.
That is why Cooper said, "You can put a junior team up to play us now and we definitely wouldn't overlook it. That's definitely not an issue."
The issue for Cooper has been some loose play in the defensive zone. Tampa Bay has allowed an average 3.3 goals during its skid. For the season it has allowed an average 2.6.
"Our problem has been we used to give up two (goals) and win the game," Cooper said. "Now, we're giving up three and losing the game. You want to give up three goals a game, it's hard to throw wins together. That goal difference is hamstringing us."
"We need to play a little bit smarter all around, and I think that will help us," Cooper added. "It starts from the goalie on out. He has to keep making the saves. We have to make them be able to see the pucks, clear rebounds. We have to be responsible back there. That's what we haven't done. We haven't been as responsible in our D zone as we have in the past."
Other stuff from the morning skate: As expected, Ben Bishop gets the start in net. ... Cooper said captain Steven Stamkos will start the game at right wing on a line with center Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn. It might not stay that way but, "We'll see how things go," Cooper said. The coach said the shift was "not necessarily" to take some pressure off Stamkos right leg (he has played three games since missing four months with a broken tibia). But Stamkos on Wednesday said that was part of it. "It's not just for Stammer, it's for other guys, too," Cooper said. "Everybody is worried about Stammer, Stammer, Stammer not scoring, what about (Teddy) Purcell, (Nikita) Kucherov, (J.T.) Brown? Those guys have to get going. We have to find combinations and get that part of our game going. We don't want to be a one-trick pony. We need to get scroring from other players. It's a balance from everything. ... Defensemen Radko Gudas (left leg) and Sami Salo (lower body) said they are good to go tonight. ... Give a nod to center Tom Pyatt who plays his season-most ninth straight game tonight. Between injury and being a healthy scratch, Pyatt has played just 17 games. He has two goals, six points and has an even plus/minus with an average 12:16 of ice time. Most important, though, he has won 51.6 percent of his faceoffs. "Not the year I was dreaming about during the summer," Pyatt said, and added, "When you just get in once in a while it hard to play with confidence. Now, I feel like my game is getting better every game. I hope it continues."