The preseason for the Tampa Bay Lightning is now in its final week. Only three games remain before the regular season begins on October 6.
Tonight, Tampa Bay has a rematch with rival Florida at the BB&T Center in Sunrise. The Panthers beat the Lightning on Sunday at Amalie Arena, 4-2.
The Lightning bench will be less crowded during tonight’s game. On Monday, the team re-assigned 12 players to minor league affiliates. Eleven of those players went to Syracuse in the American Hockey League, while 2016 first-round draft choice Brett Howden was assigned to Moose Jaw, Sask. of the Western Hockey League.
For Lightning Coach Jon Cooper, the reduced roster gives him the opportunity to get more ice time for the regulars. He says preparations for the regular season now begin in earnest.
“It’s time to get some chemistry, and we’ll see who’s working with who and try some different combinations,” Cooper said after Tuesday’s morning skate. “The pre-preseason’s over now and this is when teams are beginning to gear up for the regular season, so this should be a good one tonight.”
Statistics are meaningless through the early part of training camp. Through the first four games, 44 players, including two goalies, have been on the ice for Tampa Bay.
The Lightning’s two biggest stars, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, have each played in only one of the four games. Both should see action on Tuesday.
While the Panthers are a big rival for the Lightning, the two teams may start getting sick of each other. After Tuesday’s game, the Lightning will stick around and play the Panthers again in South Florida on Thursday.
After finishing the preseason in Nashville on Saturday, Florida returns to Tampa to begin the season a week from Friday. The two teams then head to Sunrise for the Panthers’ home opener the following night.