TAMPA — Ryan McDonagh knew the first thing to look for when the Lightning’s training camp schedule was released: scrimmage days.
“They’re huge,” McDonagh said Wednesday after an informal scrimmage. “The coaching staff knows it’s one thing to practice drills and have a lot of time and space. It’s another being in a game situation where you don’t have as much time and you have to think quick.”
The defenseman said scrimmages are a good checkpoint to see where the team is in its training, especially since there isn’t much time before the first return game, July 29 against the Panthers, part of the exhibition schedule for the Stanley Cup qualifiers.
McDonagh said he liked the effort in the informal scrimmage, adding the team kept things pretty clean and didn’t let many sloppy plays creep in.
“Those are where you have to make your adjustments and make your strides,” he said. “There’s nothing like five-on-five. You can’t emulate it in any kind of drill.”
Coach Jon Cooper said he was also pleased with the team’s initial scrimmage and doesn’t expect much to change Monday during the first of two Blue and White intrasquad games at Amalie Arena. Cooper said he expects all the players, including the AHL callups, to get in some reps, however, he doesn’t expect the team to play 20-minute periods and there will not be NHL referees officiating.
“We’ve had quite a few practices now, and I think the guys want to be in a little more gamelike situations,” Cooper said Sunday. “We’re going to try to replicate that as much as possible ... and for the most part, we’ll try to give it a game-feel.”
Here are some things to think about ahead of Monday’s Blue and White game:
Special teams will get their reps
Since Wednesday’s scrimmage, the team has spent a good portion of their practice sessions working on special teams, especially the power play.
Special teams are one of the elements that McDonagh said can take a little bit more practice to get back into shape coming off a long break.
On Sunday, the team used the same two units for the power play and switched up the units on the penalty kill.
Defenseman Victor Hedman and forwards Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn and Brayden Point made up the first power-play unit, while the second unit consisted of defenseman Mikhail Sergachev and forwards Pat Maroon, Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat.
The penalty kill switched up from unit to unit over the span of six run-throughs on Sunday. However, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow made an appearance in three of those run-throughs, while McDonagh and Erik Cernak made an appearance in two.
Who’s going to play?
Captain Steven Stamkos has been slowly working his back back from a leg injury he sustained in voluntary workouts during the season shutdown.
On Saturday and Sunday, he skated with his normal power-play unit during training camp. But when more physical drills followed, the forward left the ice.
It’s unlikely Stamkos will make a full appearance “until he’s fully ready,” Cooper said.
Cedric Paquette missed his third straight day of training camp Sunday. The forward was banged up in Wednesday’s scrimmage and while he finished the practice, he did not make an appearance with the veteran group on Friday or Saturday.
Paquette, however, did skate with the AHL callups Sunday morning, the team said.
The coaching staff also made some minor adjustments to the groups, sending forward Mitchell Stephens to train with the callups while requesting forwards Mathieu Joseph and Alex Volkov train with the veterans group, which has practiced separately since Friday).
With Cooper expecting everyone to get some decent reps in the Blue and White game, it’s likely fans will get a better look at the callups in action. It will also help coaches evaluate them better.
Goaltenders facing gamelike shots
It’s only practice, but Andrei Vasilevskiy, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender, still shakes his head when a puck slides past his pads and into the goal.
There’s only so much gamelike environment that a practice can create, especially for a goaltender who has been in the Vezina conversation for three straight years.
Nevertheless, an intrasquad scrimmage that can mimic the unpredictability of a game can be helpful for Vasilevskiy and backup Curtis McElhinney ahead of the exhibition game against the Panthers.
How can I watch?
The Lightning will broadcast Monday’s Blue and White game, set to start at 4 p.m., on their website and the Fox Sports Go app, which is free to download on Apple or Android devices.
The team is planning a 30-minute pregame show, starting at 3:30. Analyst Brian Engblom and play-by-play broadcaster Rick Peckham will call the game. Play-by-play announcer Dave Mishkin and analyst Phil Esposito will handle the radio broadcast off the Lightning’s Power Play channel, which can be heard on the iHeart Radio App.