TAMPA — Lightning G Ben Bishop said he is getting bumped and stick-jabbed by opposing players more than he can recall.
One of the hazards of playing well, Bishop said; teams are trying to get him off his game. But coach Jon Cooper said harassing goaltenders in the crease is a "potential league issue."
And Cooper admitted one reason hard-hitting D Jean-Philippe Cote, 6 feet 2, 212 pounds, was called up from AHL Syracuse is to help protect Tampa Bay's goaltenders.
"He's not going to be confused with … any of those fleet-of-foot, power-play guys. That's not what he's here for," Cooper said. "He's here to defend. Keep the puck out of the net and punish opposing players who come anywhere near our goaltender."
"He's the most precious player we have on the ice," Cote said of the goalie. "For the D it's no-touch territory, I would say."
Cooper wondered about the rules that protect goalies from being hit when they roam from the crease but allow them to be bumped or harassed in the crease.
Bishop said he was whacked behind the head in Sunday's win over the Red Wings without a penalty. In Tuesday's shootout win over the Islanders, a major scrum developed when Thomas Vanek kept jabbing at Bishop after he covered a puck.
"And it's happening all over the league," Cooper said. "I don't think you can alleviate the problem, but maybe you can make guys think twice when you're a hard team to play in front of your goaltender."
And that is one aspect of the game at which Cote, 31, signed Wednesday to a two-year, two-way contract, thrives.
"I truly believe if ... the opposing team knows it's going to be a battle and they'll think twice before coming closer to the goalie," said Cote, who has 35 penalty minutes in 19 games this season for Syracuse and was suspended two games for elbowing to the head. "I try to make it as hard as possible for them to feel comfortable on the ice."
COTE'S DEBUT: Cote, who previously played eight NHL games for Montreal during the 2005-06 season, got his first NHL point on his first shift Thursday with a secondary assist on Alex Killorn's first-period goal.
Cote, who went 2,875 games between NHL starts, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, had two hits in 9:43 of ice time.
"He made great outlet passes. He was poised under pressure," Cooper said.
HEDMAN RETURNS: D Victor Hedman played Thursday after missing six games with an unspecified lower-body injury. He had an assist, two blocks and was plus-2 in 20:48 of ice time.
PYATT PROGRESSING: F Tom Pyatt, out 32 games because of a broken collarbone, should be ready Saturday, Cooper said.
ROSTER FREEZE: No trade or waiver moves until Dec. 28. Emergency recalls are permitted.
ODDS AND ENDS: D Eric Brewer got his 250th career point with an assist on Richard Panik's goal. … Prospect Jonathan Drouin is an alternate captain for Canada at the world junior championship. … D Mark Barberio and LW P.C. Labrie were scratched.