The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Playoff-starved Lightning look for improved defence to make a big difference this season

  • Print

TAMPA, Fla. - Jon Cooper's message to the Tampa Bay Lightning is simple. If you hope to make the playoffs, play better defence.

No team in the NHL allowed more goals over the past two seasons than the 425 yielded by the Lightning, who dismissed former coach Guy Boucher and hired Cooper as his replacement last March.

Cooper went 4-8-3 over the final 15 games of last season and is working on changing the mind-set of a team that's thrived on the scoring prowess of young Steven Stamkos and two holdovers from Tampa Bay's only Stanley Cup championship, Martin St. Louis and the now departed Vincent Lecavalier.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to open up the stat pack and see," Cooper said. "We are the only team to give up more than 400 goals the past two seasons, and we have to shore that up."

With an eye on building for long-term success, general manager Steve Yzerman bought out the contract of Lecavalier this off-season.

The 38-year-old St. Louis and Stamkos remain, though, are finishing one-two in the NHL scoring race during last season's abbreviated 48-game schedule.

St. Louis had 17 goals and a league-leading 43 assists for 60 points. Stamkos was second with 57 points, including 29 goals, and says it's important that everyone buy in to what Cooper is preaching.

"Marty and I finished one-two in scoring last year," the 23-year-old Stamkos said. "It's great, but we don't make the playoffs."

With St. Louis and Lecavalier key roles, the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004. The team has missed the playoffs five of the past six seasons.

One of the reasons has been inconsistent goaltending, a trend that Cooper and Yzerman hopes will end with 6-foot-7 Ben Bishop and 6-6 Anders Lindback handling the duties this season.

___

Five things to know about the Lightning, which has been in the playoffs just three times in the decade following their Stanley Cup title.

GOODBYE CAP: The first overall pick in the 1998 NHL draft, Lecavlier spent the first 14 seasons of his career with the Lightning — most them as team captain. Buying out his contract will free $54 million in salary cap space over the next seven years. The team will miss the former goal scoring champion's leadership and experience. The talented forward, who signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Flyers, has 874 career points, including 383 goals and 491 assists.

ALL IN: Cooper is focused on improving all aspects of the defence. One of the keys figures to be the development of Bishop and Lindback, young prospects acquired through trades. Bishop appeared in nine games, going 3-4-1 with a 2.65 goals against average last season after being obtained from Ottawa in a trade last April. This is Lindback's second season in Tampa Bay since being acquired from Nashville in June 2012. He appeared in 24 games, going 10-10-1 with a 2.90 goals against average a year ago. Cooper knows, however, the team also have to play better in front of them. "You can't rely on your goaltender to make every single save," the coach said.

EARLY TEST: Tampa Bay plays seven of its first 10 games at home, but the bad is the season starts with road trips to defending Eastern Conference champion Boston, Stanley Cup champion Chicago and Buffalo. The extended homestand that follows also features dates against Bruins, Blackhawks and Sabres, as well as tough matchups against Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.

NEW NEIGHBORHOOD: The realigned NHL has the Lightning in the Atlantic Division, along with Boston, Detroit, Montreal Toronto, Buffalo, Ottawa and Florida. That means a lot more travel than usual, considering the intrastate rival Panthers are the only division opponent situated within a two-hour flight.

WHAT'S LEFT: At 37, St. Louis won the Art Ross Trophy for the second time, becoming the oldest player to receive the award. He's beginning his 13th season with the Lightning, and the natural question is how much does he have left at 38. The Lightning is counting on the answer being plenty.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Bowman talks "job number one" in News Café interview

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Jia Ping Lu practices tai chi in Assiniboine Park at the duck pond Thursday morning under the eye of a Canada goose  - See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge Day 13- May 17, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Goose sits in high grass near Marion Friday afternoon for cover -See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge- Day 18 - May 25, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Should Premier Greg Selinger resign?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google