Thursday, April 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Cooper greets mistakes with second chances

After Radko Gudas made a third-period, defensive zone blunder that led to the winning goal in the Maple Leafs' 3-2 victory Tuesday over the Lightning, the rookie defenseman got an earful from coach Jon Cooper.

But instead of being berated, Gudas was encouraged.

"He was like, 'Don't worry about it. Play your game, and you're back out there,' " Gudas said Wednesday of Cooper's pep talk. "It's, obviously, a big confidence-builder."

Cooper even put Gudas on the ice for the game's final 1:38 as Tampa Bay pushed for a tying goal.

"He's been a really good player for us, so you don't want to sit here and say, 'Get to the end of the bench,' and have a pity party for him," Cooper said. "Get back out there and try to help us get that goal back. That's how we do things."

That is because Cooper isn't interested in coaching through fear. He doesn't want players so worried that mistakes mean a loss of playing time that they get overly cautious and lose their competitive edge.

The concept applies to any player, but it is tailor-made for a roster with six rookies and 10 players with fewer than 100 games of NHL experience.

By no means is this a get-out-of-jail-free card. As Cooper explained, if a player is making the same mistakes over and over, there have to be consequences. And, certainly, Cooper will watch for repeat offenders tonight against the Senators at Ottawa's Canadian Tire Centre.

But for isolated errors of commission — that is, errors committed while trying to make plays — a pat on the back is better than a kick in the rear.

"When mistakes happen, sometimes players get down on themselves," rookie defenseman Mark Barberio said. "For a coach to get down on you, too, maybe it snowballs. But when you have a coach that wants you to forget about it, wants you to move on and you know he's going to put you back out there, you play a little more confident.

"And it's not just with Coop. It's all the coaches," Barberio added. "As defensemen, we work a lot with (associate coach) Rick Bowness. When you make a mistake he says, 'All right, the mistake has been made, but there's nothing we can do. Let's move on and we'll look at it later.' You hear those words, it helps you refocus and get back into the game."

And that brings us back to Gudas, who was left on the ice Tuesday in the third period against Toronto after his intercepted backhand pass led to James van Riemsdyk's winning goal with 4:03 remaining.

He also was on the ice to finish the game when Tampa Bay pulled goalie Ben Bishop.

"This is a game of mistakes," Cooper said. "Gosh, I make mistakes coaching. But it's one of these situations, we're not going to sit here and penalize guys."

"He just wants me out there to make sure I play my game," Gudas said. "Obviously, in the back of your head it would be nice to do something to make up for your mistake. You still don't want to get out of position. The mind-set is the same as if the mistake didn't happen."

That is exactly the point.

. Tonight

Lightning at Senators

When/where: 7:30; Canadian Tire Centre, Ottawa

TV/radio: Sun Sports; 970-AM

Key stats: The Lightning has won four of its past five against the Senators but has lost three in a row at Ottawa. … Tampa Bay is 1-5-3 at Ottawa since 2008-09. … The Senators' 88 goals allowed at home are second most in the East. … Ottawa has the league's worst home power play (11.8 percent). … The Senators' Erik Karlsson entered Wednesday leading league defensemen with 50 points. … Lightning D Mark Barberio has four goals in his past four games.

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