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Lightning enjoys spirited practice in preparation for Sharks

Tampa Bay focused on speed with one game left before its bye and the all-star game.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy works to make a save during third-period action against the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday at Amalie Arena. The Lightning hosts the San Jose Sharks Saturday. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy works to make a save during third-period action against the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday at Amalie Arena. The Lightning hosts the San Jose Sharks Saturday. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Jan. 18, 2019

The Lightning, known for its speed, put on a dizzying display of skating skill during a Friday afternoon practice at Amalie Arena.

The coaching staff would have liked to have seen more of that skill in the team’s 4-2 loss to Toronto Thursday night.

We just wanted to be fast today," first-year assistant coach Derek Lalonde said. "We think we’re a little slow with our regroups, a little slow in the neutral zone. We’re a fast neutral-zone team. There are times when we’re fast, and there are times when we’re really fast.

“Last night, I thought we were a little slow, and that was a point you saw in our practice: a lot of regroup, a lot of second puck, a lot of quick. We want to be overwhelming on teams. When we’re playing well, we’re overwhelming.”

The Lightning brought an intensity to the practice and to Thursday’s game as it finds itself with an interesting two-game homeswing before it enters its bye week and the all-star break. Both the Maple Leafs and Saturday’s opponent, San Jose, are among the league’s best. Lalonde said the players geared up for the game.

“It felt like a little bit of a challenge, where we are in the standings,” Lalonde said. “In fact, we know Toronto is a (Stanley) Cup contender. The last time we played them — despite winning — they whipped us. We didn’t feel good about our game the last time we played them.

"I thought we took the challenge (on Thursday), and some of our guys elevated. I thought, for the most part, it was a pretty good game for us.”

Lalonde, who addressed the media — instead of head coach Jon Cooper — after Friday’s practice, said the Lightning’s goal is to hone its quality start into tip-top playoff form. He added that in the game against Toronto and the Jan. 13 loss to the New York Islanders, the opponents delivered playoff performances as teams bring their best against the Lightning, the NHL team with the league’s best record.

Note: Lalonde said forward Tyler Johnson is day-to-day after suffering a lower-body injury in Thursday’s game. He exited in the second period and didn’t return. Look for him to be out until after the all-star break.