Joe Smith, Times Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 1, 2014 8:39am
For the Lightning, one of the biggest questions heading into camp was the health of goalie Ben Bishop, who underwent right wrist surgery in April.
But Bishop, the Vezina Trophy finalist, was encouraged how he felt Tuesday after playing his first full preseason game, a 5-1 win over the Stars in Dallas. Bishop stopped 21 of 22 shots, saying his wrist was "not an issue."
"This whole game, I felt like it was midseason," Bishop said. "So it was good. I'm ready to go."
After veteran Evgeni Nabokov starts Thursday's preseason game in Sunrise, Bishop is expected to split Saturday's presesaon finale with Nabokov, his last tune-up before the regular season opener Oct. 9 against the Panthers.
Coach Jon Cooper is happy with how Bishop has looked, pointing out it's a good sign the goaltender is playing the puck so much.
"It's his confidence with the puck now, he's jumping out to make plays, where we could all see the last couple months last year, he wanted to touch the puck but he couldn't," Cooper said. "That hurt his game a little bit. So when you have the puck-playing ability to keep a lot of forecheckers honest, it can do some things that helps our d-core out. If we can spend less time in our zone, it's that much better. and that's what Bish's puck playing abiility will do for us. It's great to see him looking confident and pain-free when he's playing the puck."
Cooper was overall pleased with Thursday's preseason game, especially in holding a strong offensive Stars team to just 22 shots. The Lightning didn't play with C Steven Stamkos, RW Ryan Callahan, D Victor Hedman, D Anton Stralman, LW Brenden Morrow and D Matt Carle, but the young players stepped up.
Those that have impressed in camp continued to do so, including C Jonathan Marchessault (assist, five shots), Vladislav Namestnikov (two assists) and Cedric Paquette (goal, assist). "Guys are making it tough on us," Cooper said.
Right wing Brett Connolly got his first goal of the preseason. Though he doesn't have the stats he did last preseason, Connolly is playing better, Cooper says, a more well-rounded game. So are Nikita Kucherov and Richard Panik.
The Lightning will practice today in Estero at 1:15, which is open to the public, before playing against the Panthers Thursday in Sunrise.