BRANDON — The Lightning won't return to Amalie Arena until Thanksgiving Eve because of a road trip that will provide a good test in the second month of the season.
Much of that has to do with who Tampa Bay will play.
"You've got (Nashville) ahead of us, you've got Pittsburgh who has a couple cups, you have an upstart Buffalo team that's playing outstanding, so there is a lot of different type teams we are playing," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
First, Buffalo on Tuesday. The Sabres sit in the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference with 20 points. Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner lead Buffalo with 19 points each. Overall, the Sabres sit in the middle of the league in goals for and against, power play and penalty kill.
Then, the Lightning heads to Pittsburgh for a game against Sidney Crosby and Co. on Thursday. The Penguins hold the No. 10 spot in the Eastern Conference as of Monday. Their penalty kill ranks sixth and they have scored the seventh most goals in the league.
The Lightning won't leave the state for its next game with a matchup against Philadelphia. Claude Giroux's 22 points rank among the top 10 in the NHL and lead a Flyers team that holds the No. 7 spot in the Eastern Conference.
Closing out the road trip: A visit to face Nashville, who defeated the Lightning 4-1 earlier this month and sits in the top spot in the NHL.
"Anytime you're on road trips like this, you try to get wins early, especially that Buffalo game," forward Ryan Callahan said. "Try to get points. Stack them up. As the road trip goes on, it definitely gets harder and harder to win some of those games."
But as the road trip goes on, there will be a new twist. It's one the Lightning players like, too. Their dads will join the team for the games in Philadelphia and Nashville.
"There's camaraderie, there are laughs," Cooper said. "Everything that goes with that. And just the mere fact that the guys are pretty fired up to play in front of them. There is always a renewed focus when the dads jump on board."
With that renewed focus, the Lightning will look to avoid a blowout loss to cap the road trip similar to the loss in Arizona on an otherwise strong first road trip in October.
After missing Saturday's game, Adam Erne skated in practice on Monday at the Ice Sports Forum. Defenseman Anton Stralman, who also missed Saturday's game, did not. Cooper said the Lightning is hoping Stralman will be able to play during the four-game road trip.
Ondrej Palat, who has not played since the October road trip, watched part of Monday's practice in a black hat and a blue T-shirt.
D pairings without Stralman
The Lightning continues to shuffle lines with the return of Victor Hedman and the absence of Stralman. The Lightning rolled out the following pairings in practice:
Dan Girardi — Victor Hedman
Ryan McDonagh — Slater Koekkoek
Braydon Coburn — Mikhail Sergachev
The return of Hedman
The Lightning can win without defenseman Victor Hedman. It proved as much as it won five of seven games while Hedman went to injured reserve with an upper-body injury that he suffered against Vegas.
But there's nothing quite like the lineup includes Hedman, the league's top defenseman in 2017-18. Saturday's game against Ottawa provided that reminder.
Examples: When Hedman scored as he skated past multiple defenders. Or the crowd chanting his name during the game.
The Lightning didn't go on to win the game, but that did little to dampen the Lightning's excitement to have its top defenseman back in the lineup.
"He's a huge part of our team," Coburn said Monday. "He's a huge part of our identity. He is a guy that just does so many things so well. He is the fastest guy out there. He is in every play. He is defending every puck. He is kind of an omnipresent person out there. And he's a leader in our dressing room, so to have him back is really good."