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Home sweet home: Lightning back at AMALIE following extended road swing

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When the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Vancouver Canucks Thursday at AMALIE Arena, it will have been 21 days since the Lightning last played a non-exhibition home game.

"Three weeks between home games is a lot," Bolts head coach Jon Cooper admitted after his team returned to practice at the home rink on Wednesday.

Tampa Bay played just three home games in the month of January, game No. 2 and No. 3 broken up by the mid-season, week-long break. Following their final home game of the month on January 18, the Bolts embarked on a four-game road trip, came home briefly for the All-Star Break - or non-break for the Lightning's All-Star representatives - then went back out on the road for another four games through Western Canada for their lengthiest trip distance-wise of the season.

"It was definitely long," said Lightning defenseman

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, who missed the last three games of the Western Canada swing with a lower-body injury but practiced again without limitations Wednesday and will be a game-time decision for the Vancouver game. "…It takes a toll. It's a lot of travel, but it's part of the game. A lot of teams are dealing with that. Not a bad record after those eight games but didn't finish too well. We need to have a good first game here playing at home tomorrow."

 

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Girardi on Injury Status

 

  • 02:59 • February 7th, 2018

 

The start and the finish to the road trip weren't what the Lightning had hoped for, but they mixed some solid performances in between. After starting in Minnesota with a 5-2 loss, their season-long third-straight defeat, the Bolts won a pair of tight contests at Chicago and Nashville before routing Philadelphia in the final game before the All-Star break.

Tampa Bay dropped a 3-1 decision to Winnipeg to start its Western Canada swing, scored 11 goals combined to down Calgary and Vancouver but finished the trip with a clunker, getting blitzed 6-2 by Edmonton, tied for the largest margin of defeat the Lightning have suffered this season.

The Lightning won five games and tallied 10 of a possible 16 points over the eight-game road trip. In the past, Cooper has stressed if you collect more points than games on the road, it should be considered a success.

The Bolts did that, but still, the finish in Edmonton left a bitter taste in their mouths.

"Overall, I think we're happy with the points we got, but I think our game is something we want to come back to and play more consistently in our game and try and eliminate some of the opportunities we gave up," said Lightning defenseman

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, who returned to the Bolts' lineup in Winnipeg after missing the previous five games with a lower-body injury. "I think that was shown in that (Edmonton) game. It wasn't sharp enough. We gave them room, way too much time and space with the puck. And it obviously cost us the game."

So, with the most difficult portion of the 2017-18 schedule in the rear-view mirror, the Lightning should be feeling pretty good about themselves right? After all, they still lead the NHL for wins (36), points (75) and points percentage (.708) and remain in first place in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference by three points over Boston.

 

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Cooper | Post-Practice

 

  • 07:04 • February 7th, 2018

 

Not so fast, Cooper says.

"To be honest, we're not out of it yet," he said. "…You look at the rest of February, there's more road games than home games. So we're not near out of this yet. And then we have a tough back-to-back where we play at home Buffalo (Feb. 28) and then we go to Dallas (March 1). So that's tough. Once that hits, then let's kind of evaluate where we are. Has this been a grind? It has been, there's no question. But, you know what? A lot of teams go through this. It's probably a little different for us because we're kind of an outlier city in the sense that we have to travel over a division to get to our division. But in the end, we've kind of been used to that. We know what's expected of us in those situations. But regardless, it's tough on the guys. So far, we've got a little bit above .500 record on this stretch here and hopefully here we can get a little bit of rest, rest our bodies, get to sleep in our own bed for a little bit and that will help us."

The good news for the Lightning is once they make it through the rest of February, they play nine of their 14 games in March at home. Three out of four games in April come at AMALIE Arena.

It's just a matter of surviving February until they get to that home stretch.

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Much is being made about how the Lightning have fared on this most recent extended road trip....and granted, when they have looked bad, they have looked REAL bad..... but fact is, 8-game road trip, and they went 5-3-0?

Hell, I'll take that all day every day.
 

I am not saying the team doesn't have some concerns it needs to address (I think the team could probably use another solid veteran defenseman, maybe a top 9 forward too), but I think the cause for "alarm" in Tampa Bay is a bit exaggerated at this point.

 

That all said, it would be nice to see the Bolts play from the comfort of their home arena for a bit.

Even with the nice 5-3 recent road trip, I am betting guys on the team are road weary. 

That is just something to be expected no matter who the team is.

 

Some relatively new faces in the lineup for the Bolts at Amalie tonight?

Matthew Peca (who was pretty darned good on the road trip), and Adam Erne, who, if he can play his rugged power forward style at a quick pace at the NHL level, can likely spell the Bolts' need for another forward via trade.

 

Getting another D-man and shoring up the penalty kill, however, would remain priorities.

 

Nucks at Bolts tonight.

Go, Lightning GO!

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