RALEIGH, N.C. — One month and 12 games into the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning have exceeded expectations.
With eight wins and 16 points, Tampa Bay is tied for third in the Eastern Conference.
But that doesn’t mean the Lightning are one of the top teams in the league. After all, through seven games last season, Tampa Bay was 6-1 and looked like one of the top teams in the league before it all unraveled and the team finished 28th in the league standings, making a coaching change along the way.
“It’s not like we are sitting here thinking we are the best team in the league,” center Steven Stamkos said. “We want to be, but we have a lot of work to be that.
“We are not satisfied. We are sitting (near) the top of the standings, but it’s not like we are sitting here having that feeling that we are the best team. We have to earn that by being consistent, and it’s done by playing like that for the full year. We know what happened last year and the way we started, so we have to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
One of the challenges to finding consistency is avoiding those dips during the season that can lead to losing streaks. Heading into today’s game at Carolina, Tampa Bay has not lost consecutive games. Coming off Tuesday’s loss in New Jersey, the Lightning hope to continue that early-season trend.
“That’s the mindset that we have going to the game that we never lose two in a row,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “That’s a pretty great mindset to have that after we lose a game, we never lose two in a row, so we are going to keep that up going into (today) against Carolina. We want to make this an excellent road trip, and to do that, we need to win the next one and it’s going to be huge for us.”
Though it’s early in the season and the schedule has yet to kick into high gear, one of the strengths of the Lightning appears to be a resilient attitude and a strong penchant for responding well to adversity. Whether the team has blown third-period leads, suffered a last-minute loss, fallen behind by two goals in a game or just flat-out lost, the Lightning have put it behind them and moved forward.
“I think part of what has gone on is the guys don’t like to lose, so you like to have that inside,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “They’ve just responded and recognize what went wrong, why did we take a step back and then we take two steps forward.
“I think, as a group, what we’ve just talked about is we need to keep munching points. And this group, they’ve responded to every challenge.”
Cooper hopes to kick-start that process by getting back to playing a game that utilizes the team’s speed, something it failed to do in the loss to New Jersey.
“If we don’t do that consistently with the potential players that we have, it is frustrating,” right wing Teddy Purcell said. “It is early (in the season), but it does stink to have two days off to kind of sit here and think about (Tuesday’s) loss. But we had a good practice and want to get back to that speed game, that quick game.
“Hopefully we can apply that to (today’s game).”
CALLED UP: The Lightning recalled RW Brett Connolly from Syracuse of the American Hockey League on Thursday, and he is expected to join the team for today’s game at Carolina. Connolly, who tied for the team lead with four goals during the preseason, started the season in the AHL, but was called up for one game earlier this season. In six games with Syracuse, he has one assist, but general manager Steve Yzerman noted Connolly has played well “even without putting up numbers.”