In the 15 games Jon Cooper coached the Lightning last season after he was hired in late March, only one team, he felt, "completely outclassed us," and that was the Penguins in a 6-3 loss April 11 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
"And it could have been 16-3," Cooper said. "So, this one I've been looking forward to since the schedule came out just in the sense that it's another measuring stick game for us. This is the cream of the crop in the Eastern Conference. I know it's really early, and I don't know how much you can take from it, but on the personal side and for our team, we want to see where we're at, and to me, we need to hold our own against teams like this."
The Lightning is 3-1-0 and has won three straight, but the task certainly is easier said than done. Here is Cooper's take on the Penguins, who enter the game 3-1-0 and in first place in the Metropolitan Division:
"You talk about balance, they've got it all the way though their lineup, the Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. There's two names that to me are synonymous with Marty St. louis and Steven Stamkos. But they've got the goaltending, they've got big strong mobile D, they play a really fast game so you have to be able tp keep up with these guys. They're not so much a D-to-D, regroup, slow it down; they're a the puck goes in and the puck goes 200 feet right away.
"The problem is it doesn't really matter how they play when they have such talented players. You go down through their lineup, their speed, their skill and the fact that they've been there before. They've won before as a group, so those teams are tough to play against. We're going to have to be able to keep up with them that's a big thing. I believe we've got enough team speed to keep up with them but when they start roaming around the offensive zone and playing that fast game, we just have to be there to stop them."
"If we're playing fast and they're having to try to keep up with us a little bit that will be a good sign. But for us, if that's the case then it will be a really good hockey game. Now it will come down to which team won that extra battle, which goaltender made that extra save and it will be a lot of fun for the fans in the building tonight. But if two good teams are playing the way they want to and play their style, those games are close. You just got to hope you worked hard enough to get those extra breaks to turn the game your way."
Other stuff from the morning skate: Ben Bishop, out for tonight's game, confirmed he was hurt Thursday against the Panthers while trying to stop Jonathan Huberdeau's goal early in the third period. He said there was some contact and his right leg was jammed. But he worked for about 20 minutes on the ice before Saturday's morning skate and was happy with his mobility. If things continue to progress, he said, the plan is to be good to go for Tuesday against the Kings. ... As expected, Anders Lindback will get the start in net. ... Defensemen Keith Aulie and Mark Barberio are scratched.