Saturday, January 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning's Filppula stands on own with hot start

TAMPA — The goal Valtteri Filppula scored during Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Penguins at the Tampa Bay Times Forum wasn't his most artistic — Alex Killorn's shot deflected in off Filppula's leg — but it added to his hot start.

His four goals are tied with Steven Stamkos for the Lightning lead. He is plus-3, has won 56.4 percent of his faceoffs and is averaging 20:08 of ice time.

It all prompted Stamkos to recently say of the former Red Wings center, "It's a shame when he was in Detroit with (Henrik) Zetterberg, (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Nicklas) Lidstrom all those years because not a lot of people talked about him. But he's getting a chance to show what he can do, and it's impressive."

"I guess I've got to give him some money after this for saying that," Filppula said. "It's always nice when your teammates appreciate you. I don't know what to say to that. You try to do the best you can, and sometimes it goes your way."

Filppula's start has been the best way to stifle the narrative that sprouted over the summer after he signed a five-year, $25 million, free agent deal: that he was a replacement for Vinny Lecavalier, whose contract was bought out in June.

As much as Tampa Bay's brass disputed that — pointing out that Filppula, with more defensive awareness and better puck control, plays a completely different game — the connection with Lecavalier was tough to shake.

That is, until Filppula, a mainstay on the power play and penalty kill during the Lightning's 3-2-0 start, showed his stuff.

"I'm sure he came in with a little weight on his shoulders," coach Jon Cooper said. "The comparisons were unfair. It's funny because a lot of those questions were asked the whole preseason, and now … I don't hear the questions anymore. That's a tribute to how well and how hard Val has played."

FIGHT TIME: D Victor Hedman is not one to often drop the gloves; his bout Thursday against Buffalo's Steve Ott was his fourth fight in five NHL seasons. But to be better prepared, Hedman has gotten pointers from teammates B.J. Crombeen, Pierre-Cedric Labrie and Keith Aulie.

"That's really helpful," Hedman said, "not because I'm going to drop the gloves very often but to stick up for teammates and stick up for yourself. I'm willing to do that. It's good to know you have that in your bag and know what to do."

HOME COOKIN': The game against the Penguins is part of a seven-game homestand that includes the past five Stanley Cup winners: Pittsburgh (2009), the Kings (2012) on Tuesday, the Bruins (2011) on Saturday and the Blackhawks (2010, 2013) on Oct. 24.

As much as the opponents is how Tampa Bay will react to the extended period at home.

"You just don't want to get complacent," Stamkos said. "Sometimes you're here and you get into your regular routine. Sometimes it's nice to get with the guys on the road and change it up."

That said, "Me, personally, I love playing at home," Stamkos added. "There's a reason it's called home-ice advantage. You take full advantage of that when you can."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected] View his blog at lightning.tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @LightningTimes.

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