While much has been made about the Tampa Bay Lightning’s star-studded trio of Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, rookie Cory Conacher is starting to emerge as another dangerous option.
The 23-year-old center looks to continue his impressive play Friday night as the Lightning open a season-high five-game homestand against the undefeated Ottawa Senators.
After opening 1-3-2 last season, Tampa Bay (2-1-0) is off to a solid start thanks to a combined 14 points from Lecavalier, Stamkos and St. Louis. That production shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but Conacher’s team best-tying five points have given the Lightning an even bigger lift.
Conacher scored his second goal of the season Tuesday in a 4-1 win at Carolina.
“He’s young and a he’s a smart kid, and honestly, what I like is that he’s committed defensively,” coach Guy Boucher told the team’s official website. “He’s got the offense, but I like his backcheck and he blocks shots and that’s why he gets ice time. If he didn’t do those things, he wouldn’t be getting ice time.”
Boucher also had high praise for Lecavalier, who after posting a goal and an assist in Saturday’s season-opening 6-3 win over Washington, set up a pair of scores against the Hurricanes.
“He’s doing it all right now, and I’ve been here for three years now, and this is the best I’ve ever seen him,” Boucher said of the veteran center, who will be honored Friday for playing in his 1,000th game four days earlier against the New York Islanders. “He’s leading as a captain and he’s doing it with the winning things, not the flashy things.”
The Lightning now turn their attention to the Senators (3-0-0), who completed a home-and-home sweep of Florida with Thursday’s 3-1 road win. Defenseman Erik Karlsson scored the go-ahead goal 8:28 into the second period after intercepting a cross-ice pass in the neutral zone and firing one past Jose Theodore.
“I haven’t seen too many people get from the blue line at a dead stop to the hash marks and shoot the puck in the net like that in a real long time,” coach Paul MacLean said. “I thought, that’s what makes you a Norris Trophy winner – the ability to sometimes make something out of nothing.”
Besides Karlsson’s impressive efforts, Craig Anderson came up big again with 25 saves. The veteran goaltender, who’s started all three games thus far, has compiled a 0.79 goals-against average and two shutouts in winning his last five starts against Tampa Bay.
Although Mathieu Garon made 35 saves in his season debut Tuesday, Boucher is expected to go back to No. 1 netminder Anders Lindback. The Sweden native is 1-1-0 with a shaky 3.51 GAA.
“Garon played great, but right now we’ve got a young goaltender in Lindback who we want to build up,” Boucher said. “He’s a young guy and he’s played well, so we need to get him some minutes. The situation is we want to give (Lindback) an opportunity to grow, and Mathieu is a professional and understands that.”
Lindback will need to be wary of Jason Spezza, who’s recorded 18 goals and 41 points in 30 career games in this series. He scored an empty-netter Thursday.
Off to its best start since opening 5-0-0 in 2007-08, Ottawa’s success shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to Tampa Bay, which was outscored 19-6 in losing all four meetings in last season’s series. The Senators are 33-8-3 with one tie against the Lightning since April 2000.