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Slater Koekkoek recalled by Lightning

The Lightning, in need of a boost on the blueline, recalled defenseman Slater Koekkoek Monday night.

Koekkoek, 22, should be available for Tuesday's game against the Islanders in Brooklyn. It's just a matter of if he gets a chance to play.

Koekkoek, the former first-round pick, made his first opening night roster this season, but was a healthy scratch the first three games. The Lightning sent him down so he could get playing time, as opposed to being in the press box in the NHL. Koekkoek played well for the Crunch, with two assists, and a plus-3 in five games. Mat Taormina was called up in Koekkoek's place, but never appeared in a game while up.

The Lightning has lost three consecutive games, and giving up so many odd-man rushes and breakaways are a big reason why. With Koekkoek, Tampa Bay could go with seven defensemen, or Koekkoek could take a spot in the lineup at times from Nikita Nesterov. Koekkoek appeared in 10 playoff games last summer, a minus-1, with coaches trusting him in key situations.

Koekkoek, a left-shot and gifted skater, should get his much-awaited opportunity.

 

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Cory Conacher reassigned to AHL Syracuse

Cory Conacher was reassigned to AHL Syracuse today.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Cory Conacher was reassigned to AHL Syracuse today.

Lightning forward Cory Conacher said he planned to play Saturday's game in New Jersey as if it was his last game in the NHL.

Well it was, at least for now.

Conacher was reassigned to AHL Syracuse today, and is expected to play for the Crunch at Wilkes-Barre. Conacher was called up Friday when Nikita Kucherov (upper body) was day to day with an upper body injury. Conacher played Saturday, with one shot in 13 minutes of ice time.

With Conacher getting returned, it could mean one of a few things. Either the Lightning is planning on playing 11 defensemen and seven forwards tonight against the Rangers, getting defenseman Matt Taormina in his first game since his call-up a week ago.

Or... it means either Ryan Callahan (hip surgery) or Kucherov is ready to return tonight. Callahan certainly appears close, the Lightning having targeted the end of this road trip for his season debut. It'd be fitting considering he's a former Rangers captain.

"I'm pretty much back to normal now," Callahan said. …

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Nikita Kucherov feeling 'much better,' unsure on return

Nikita Kucherov, who suffered an upper-body injury in Thursday's 3-1 loss in Montreal, had a red no-contact jersey on, but is feeling better.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Nikita Kucherov, who suffered an upper-body injury in Thursday's 3-1 loss in Montreal, had a red no-contact jersey on, but is feeling better.

It was an encouraging sight for the Lightning with wing Nikita Kucherov popping out on the ice near the end of Saturday's morning skate.

Kucherov, who suffered an upper-body injury in Thursday's 3-1 loss in Montreal, had a red no-contact jersey on, but is feeling better. But he said he was able to everything on the ice, including shooting and stickhandling, in a post-skate workout with wing Ryan Callahan.

"He looked good," Callahan said. "Really good, actually."

Kucherov won't play Saturday against the Devils, and it's still a question whether he'll be able to return by the time this six-game, 11-day road trip ends Tuesday in Brooklyn against the Islanders.

"Could is the word. Can he? I'm not so sure," coach Jon Cooper said. "But I know he's feeling much better today... It's not a good situation, but let's just hope it's only a couple games or maybe one game."

Kucherov suffered what is believed to be a shoulder-area injury in the first period Thursday, losing his edge and sliding into the boards. Though Kucherov didn't play the final two periods, he didn't worry about it being a long-term injury, officially listed as day-to-day. …

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Nikita Kucherov considered day-to-day

Nikita Kucherov left the Bell Centre Thursday night looking a lot like he did when he arrived.

There was no noticeable limp, no brace tucked over his suit. Asked if he was okay, the 23-year-old Russian politely nodded.

And it certainly looks like the Lightning caught a break, with Kucherov officially listed Friday as day-to-day with an upper body injury. It's uncertain what his status will be for Saturday's game against the Devils. The Lightning recalled forward Cory Conacher from AHL Syracuse just in case.

But it could have been a lot worse, the Lightning appearing concerned after Kucherov was unable to play the final two periods of Thursday's 3-1 loss to the Canadiens. There's no specifics on the injury, which is believed to be in the left shoulder area. Coach Jon Cooper did say it was not a concussion.

If Kucherov does miss some time, the Lightning (5-2-0) is confident it can find a way.

"It's never fun to see guys not finishing games," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "We'll see what the status is. Guys have an opportunity to step up and play more minutes. We've been through this before. That's what we've been known for the last few years, guys step up when other guys do down." …

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Lightning Strikes! podcast: Ben Bishop

Ben Bishop laughs while on the ice for a practice early this month at Amalie Arena.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Ben Bishop laughs while on the ice for a practice early this month at Amalie Arena.

Joe Smith breaks down the beginning of this road trip — and an interview with Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, who talked about losing his two front teeth in Toronto and his best start of the season.Full Story

Ben Bishop to face first-place Canadiens

Lightning goalie Ben Bishop loves playing at the Bell Centre.

And facing Carey Price.

Bishop gets to do just that tonight as he's starting against the first-place Canadiens. Montreal (6-0-1) is playing in a back-to-back, having beaten the Islanders in Brooklyn Wednesday night, but saved it's top goalie, Price, for tonight.

"I enjoy this building, it's always fun when you get to play against the best in the world in Carey Price,' Bishop said. "I enjoy that challenge"

Price, who missed most of last season due to injury, was expected to give the Canadiens a boost. And Montreal also re-shaped its roster this summer, trading defenseman P.K. Subban to Nashville for Shea Weber. Andrew Shaw and Alexander Radulov were also added.

"It's going to be two good teams going at it," Bishop said. …

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Cooper: Plan, not performance, determines starting goalie

Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy gets the start tonight against the Senators, his second of the season.

Coach Jon Cooper said it's just part of the plan to get Vasilevskiy more playing time, and nothing to do with the performance of starter Ben Bishop, who has allowed 11 goals in three games, including four apiece in two.

"In the time I've been here, I don't think I've ever sat here and said, 'This goalie is playing this way' and I decide not to play him," Cooper said. "Over time the last couple years with Vasy, we've tried to slowly put him in. We're trying to get him minimum one game a week and this is the game."

Cooper said the Lightning's goaltending has been "great," noting how unlucky the team has been with bad bounces and deflections, including a weird carom off the zamboni door in Colorado's fourth goal Thursday. "I've never seen anything like this," Cooper said. "Look at three-quarters of the goals against us have touched us last before going into the net."

Cooper has said ideally Bishop would make 50-plus starts this season, Vasilevskiy around 30.

 

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Guy Boucher not seeking 'revenge' against Lightning

Guy Boucher said he's asked often, both by media members and people in the street, whether he's circled Saturday's game against the Lightning on his calendar.

Boucher, fired by Tampa Bay in 2013 after four seasons as head coach, is in his first year with Ottawa.

The simple answer? Not at all.

"Maybe it's the distance of the years, I'm very calm and almost cold about it," Boucher said Friday in a news conference in Ottawa. "I don't know how to explain it. It's been too long. I guess if it was last year, or two months ago, and it was all the people I worked with, all the players I had, but I only coached two players. That's it."

The only two Lightning players who have played for Boucher are captain Steven Stamkos and defenseman Victor Hedman. Boucher took over in 2010-11, GM Steve Yzerman's first head coaching hire. And the Lightning reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final in 2011, losing to eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston. Boucher was 97-78-20 overall. …

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Koekkoek sent to Syracuse so he can finally play

Slater Koekkoek was reassigned to AHL Syracuse on Wednesday.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Slater Koekkoek was reassigned to AHL Syracuse on Wednesday.

D Slater Koekkoek was reassigned to AHL Syracuse on Wednesday for the purpose of getting him playing time after being a healthy scratch in the Lightning’s first three games.

“Yes, there’s no question,” coach Jon Cooper said. “Can’t have a young guy sitting up there in the stands waiting for his chance when he has opportunities to play games, so this should never be taking as a demotion because it’s not. It’s a free move to get somebody games. That’s what we want.”

Syracuse plays Friday at home against Utica and Saturday at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The Lightning begins a six-game road trip through the Northeast on Saturday night at Ottawa. That means Koekkoek will not be far from the team should the Lightning want him back.

To take Koekkoek’s spot on the roster, the Lightning recalled D Matt Taormina from Syracuse. Taormina played in 12 games with the Lightning over the past four seasons. He has played in 59 career NHL games.

“It was kind of a shock, but just going to come up and if they need me to go, I’ll be ready to play whatever they want me to play,” Taormina aid. “I’ve been here a while now so I know what to expect.”

  …

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Lightning ranked No. 1 franchise in sports by ESPN

Lightning owner Jeff Vinik chats with Jackie Dry of Brooksville after autographing her jersey during Fan Fest.

LUIS SANTANA | Times

Lightning owner Jeff Vinik chats with Jackie Dry of Brooksville after autographing her jersey during Fan Fest.

Since owner Jeff Vinik bought the Lightning in 2010, he's said his goal was to make it a "world class" organization.

And on Thursday, the Lightning received a significant validation in its growth, ranked the No. 1 franchise in all of sports in ESPN the Magazine's annual rankings. The rankings measure all 122 teams in the four major pro sports leagues based on categories that "matter most to fans." Tampa Bay was voted No. 1 in sports when it comes to owners and players showing appreciation to fans. Other factors include on-ice success, affordability of tickets, fan experience, front office (getting the most out of money you spend).

The Lightning was No. 3 last year, and No. 85 in 2009, the year before Vinik bought the team.

"That 100 percent starts at the top," coach Jon Cooper said of Vinik. "That's a heck of an accomplishment."

The Bucs were ranked No. 73, the Rays No. 90.

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Slater Koekkoek reassigned to AHL Syracuse

With the Lightning playing just two games in the next five days, this gives Slater Koekkoek an opportunity to get top minutes for the Crunch this weekend.

DIRK SHADD | Times

With the Lightning playing just two games in the next five days, this gives Slater Koekkoek an opportunity to get top minutes for the Crunch this weekend.

Defenseman Slater Koekkoek, a healthy scratch the first three games, was reassigned to AHL Syracuse Wednesday.

Matt Taormina has been called up, and is expected to be available for Thursday's game against the Avalanche.

This appears like a move to give Koekkoek a chance to play. Despite making his first opening night roster, the former first-round pick hasn't appeared in the last four games, including the preseason finale. Nikita Nesterov has been the sixth defenseman.

And with the Lightning playing just two games in the next five days, this gives Koekkoek an opportunity to get top minutes for the Crunch this weekend. Coach Jon Cooper had said today with the Lightning winning three straight to start the season, "there hasn't been much reason to change things up."

"We'll find a way to get guys in," Cooper said. "It's tough the beginning of the year, because we haven't had the back to backs. Not that you want back to backs. But we've played fairly well, actually we've played better than fairly well. There are a lot of games coming up on the road trip, five games in eight days, so I'd imagine our lineup will change." …

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Lightning Strikes! podcast: Interview with Brayden Point

Brayden Point is the 27th player to score a shootout goal before his first NHL goal.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Brayden Point is the 27th player to score a shootout goal before his first NHL goal.

Joe Smith breaks down the start of the Lightning season and interviews rookie Brayden Point, who has had a whirlwind week since making his first opening night roster, in our latest Lightning Strikes! podcast.

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Brayden Point picks up another big 'first'

It's been a whirlwind week for Brayden Point, who made the Lightning opening night roster despite entering his first full pro season.

DIRK SHADD | Times

It's been a whirlwind week for Brayden Point, who made the Lightning opening night roster despite entering his first full pro season.

With Tuesday's game on the line, the Lightning-Panthers showdown lasting until the sixth round of a shootout, coach Jon Cooper turned to rookie Brayden Point on the bench and told him it was his turn.

"I've watched him do it in practice," Cooper said. "So that was good enough for me."

As Point hopped over the boards, he smiled at linemate, veteran Valtteri Filppula, who smiled back, which calmed the 20-year-old down. Point used his trademark speed on the attempt, keeping goalie James Reimer on his heels.

"Coming in, you have an idea of a few moves you want to do," Point said. "You look at where the goale is, his feet, and decide."

Point used his quick release to beat Reimer below his glove, resulting in the game-winning goal of a 4-3 shootout victory.  "Pretty cool," Point said."Obviously getting the opportunity is awesome."

It's been a whirlwind week for Point, who made the Lightning opening night roster despite entering his first full pro season. He picked up his first NHL point Saturday with an assist on the game-winner. Point collected that puck, planning to give it to his billett family (the Hudson's in Moose Jaw). He didn't, however, get this puck. …

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Lightning 'deflated' when Jonathan Marchessault picked Panthers

Jonathan Marchessault, right, congratulates Colton Sceviour after Sceviour scored Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings.

AP photo

Jonathan Marchessault, right, congratulates Colton Sceviour after Sceviour scored Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings.

When Jonathan Marchessault became an unrestricted free agent in July, the Lightning made a pitch to keep the forward.

In fact, Marchessault, 25, said Tampa Bay offered a similar two-year, one-way contract to what the Panthers did. 

"It wasn't about money," he said.

It was about a chance to play. And Marchessault saw more potential in the Panthers, signing a two-year, $1.5 million deal. Marchessault might have been right, entering Tuesday's game at Amalie Arena as Florida's leading scorer (four points), while playing on a top line with future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr.

“I knew I was on a team (in Tampa Bay) that was hard to break into the lineup," Marchessault said. "They have such a good team and (the forwards) have been playing three years together. That was a big part of changing teams so I have a better opportunity.’’ …

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Short shift Q&A with Lightning's Slater Koekkoek

Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek had a blast doing a Q&A with fans on Twitter during training camp. So we thought we'd give it a shot, tackling several topics with the 22-year-old.

Times: How did you get the name Slater?
Koekkoek: My mom drove by "Slater Excavating," it was a gravel pit. She liked the name. Everyone always comes up to me and asked if my parents were "Saved by the Bell" fans. It was not that.

Times: So you're not a "Saved by the Bell" fan?
Koekkoek: I loved Save by the Bell. It was one of my favorite shows before school. And Slater is my favorite character.

Times: Why did you pick No. 29?
Koekkoek: Two times nine is 18. My birthday is Feb. 18, my mom's is May 18. A bunch of other stuff from my family has happened on the 18th. But Mr. (Ondrej) Palat took 18.

Times: Favorite TV show?
Koekkoek: Lost. I just re-started Dexter though. I like that one too.

Times: Top movie?
Koekkoek: Probably "The Dark Knight Rises."

Times: I know you have many superstitions. Any interesting ones?
Koekkoek: I don't like saying any of them because then I have to switch them. A lot stuff, order of equipment. Everyone always laughs at me, but I have to nap with the curtain's open. I don't like darkness.

Times: You don't need a "night light" do you?
Koekkoek: No, oh no.

Times: Favorite sport other than hockey?
Koekkoek: Fishing. I love fishing, one of my favorites. Anytime I can go I try to go. I brought all my fishing gear.

Times: Most famous person you met?
Koekkoek: I met (producer) Jerry Bruckheimer. At the time, I didn't really know who he was. But you see how many movies he makes, it's pretty cool.

Times: Band you'd like to be on stage with?
Koekkoek: That's a tough one. I saw Dierk's Bentley this summer, I'd love to be on stage with him. But maybe AC/DC.

Times: Any musical talent?
Koekkoek: I tried to learn guitar once but I gave up. I failed drums in grade 7 in school? I got moved to the concert bells.

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