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Tuesday, Mar 20, 2018
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Jon Cooper: Early-season adversity a good thing

Lightning coach Jon Cooper can't predict exactly how tonight's game in Buffalo is going to work out.

But after a day off Sunday, and Monday's spirited practice, Cooper is encouraged with how his team is handling its first slump of the season. Tampa Bay (16-5-2) has lost three of four, including back-to-back games for the first time this season.

Nobody likes to lose, but this stretch might help the Lightning remember the process in how it rose to the top of the standings.

"Do you want adversity? Probably not," Cooper said. "But is it a bad thing? Probably not either. You have to learn from these. So many things went right for us that some things came a little bit easy for us. I believe we earned those breaks, but it might be a little time now where things aren't coming easy for us to reset and figure out why we got those breaks and get back to that."

It helps the Lightning is facing Buffalo, a team it has had a lot of success against in the recent past. Tampa Bay is 8-1-1 in its last 10 against the Sabres. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is 5-1 in his career against Buffalo, Nikita Kucherov has his best career plus-minus (plus-12) against them.

It's a tough task for the Sabres (6-14-4), which are sitting at the bottom of the East.

"They're the top team in the East, and it's a terrific challenge for our group, where we sit and where they sit," said Sabres first-year coach Phil Housley. "They've lost their last two so I'm sure they're going to be addressing some situations in their lockeroom."

On Point

Sabres veteran Ryan O'Reilly didn't know too much about Lightning Brayden Point before the two were teammates for Team Canada at the World Championships in May.

But it didn't take long for Point to catch O'Reilly's attention.

"I saw him after a couple games and am like, 'This kid is the real deal,'" O' Reilly said. "He's a really good all-around player, works hard, really intelligent. I was really impressed."

High praise

While Kucherov and Steven Stamkos receive most of the hype regarding the team's top line, wing Vladislav Namestnikov doesn't get enough credit around the league, according to NBCSN's Pierre McGuire, who will be broadcasting Wednesday's game against Boston.

"He reminds me of (Igor) Larionov," McGuire said. "(Namestnikov) plays a lot like Larionov. That's unbelievable praise, as Larionov was one of the smartest players ever."

Nuts and Bolts

The Lightning held a very optional skate, with only backup Peter Budaj, J.T. Brown and Mikhail Sergachev skating. Vasilevskiy is expected to start, with Brown – who missed the last two games – a game-time decision, Cooper said. So either the Lightning goes 11/7 or puts Brown on a line with Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn.

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Jon Cooper: Early-season adversity a good thing