VANCOUVER — Coach Jon Cooper did not want to be overly dramatic in discussing the Lightning's next eight games.
"It's an 82-game season," he said.
But considering the games will be played in 14 days and seven are on the road, starting tonight against the red-hot Canucks at Rogers Arena, Cooper had to admit, "This will test us."
"This stretch isn't our season by any means," Cooper said Tuesday. "But this is a stretch where … we can't let this unravel what we've done. We've put ourselves in the mix. We don't want this stretch to take us out of the mix."
Cooper actually considers the eight games — including Jan. 9 against the Capitals, a home game sandwiched between four- and three-game road segments — as one trip.
"It's in our building but you still have to travel to get there and travel somewhere else afterward," Cooper said. "So, for us, this is an eight-game road trip."
Here is how the Lightning (23-12-4), which entered Tuesday second in the Atlantic Division and third in the Eastern Conference, is approaching the 8,392-mile trek over four time zones:
• It flew to Vancouver two days before tonight's game to, as Cooper said, get acclimated to the three-hour time change and to practice at Rogers Arena to "get a feel" for that as well.
• The measuring stick will be "more points than games," Cooper said. So in four games in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg before facing the Capitals, Tampa Bay wants at least five points.
Even so, captain Marty St. Louis said, "You can't look at the big picture. You've got to break it down, try to prepare yourself for the next game."
• Rest will be used as a weapon. "Do we practice between games? Do we have off?" Cooper said. "We have to get a feel for how we're playing and our energy level. This is where you hope with our experience as a staff we can get a feel for how guys are."
The Lightning is starting to get healthy as left wing Ryan Malone (ankle) and defenseman Eric Brewer (upper body) are cleared to play. But in going 0-1-1 after the holiday break, Tampa Bay has played poorly.
Turnovers have been a problem, and the team's on-ice structure has been what St. Louis called "a little bit reckless, a little bit pond hockey-ish."
"We've got to look at it as kind of an eye-opener," goaltender Ben Bishop said of the 2-1 shootout loss to the Canadiens and 4-3 loss to the Rangers. "If we just come and play we're not going to win games. We've got to come and compete and play our system like we did before; just showing up is not going to get us any points."
The key, right wing Teddy Purcell said, is "to get off to a good start. If you get off to a good start that helps your confidence. You feel good about yourself."
How the Lightning is feeling about itself after this eight-game stretch might be a good indicator of where the season is headed.
"It's going to be a good measuring stick," Purcell said. "Hopefully, we come out on top."
NOTES: Defenseman Sami Salo (upper body) skated Tuesday with a red no-contact jersey and will not face the Canucks, the team for which he played nine seasons before signing with Tampa Bay in July 2012. … Left wing P.C. Labrie cleared waivers and was sent to AHL Syracuse.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.