TAMPA, Fla. – Nobody was quite sure what to expect when the NHL returned from the lockout and the schedule makers were forced to jam a 48-game schedule into 99 days.
Check that. We were awaiting long injury lists to eventually develop.
In the case of the Florida Panthers, it has happened sooner rather than later. Following a busy start to their season, the Panthers are already limping – they were without forwards Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg, Sean Bergenheim, Marcel Goc against the Ottawa Senators during Thursday’s 3-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators – forcing major line shuffling from coach Kevin Dineen.
“I saw the effects of three (games) in four days and that happens in a regular season, let alone to start the season with five in eight,” said Dineen. “It was something that we kind of knew we were going to have to keep an eye on and it reared its ugly head. Call it conditioning. Call it game shape, the schedule has something to do with it.”
It’s something the Senators – and their fans – should be aware of. The Senators completed their first back-to-back of the season here Friday and will complete a stretch of three games in four days Sunday afternoon at Scotiabank Place against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
And there’s little rest from there. They’ll play a rare back-to-back on home ice next Tuesday and Wednesday – against Washington and Montreal – before playing in Carolina next Friday.
The Senators were in relatively good shape going into Friday’s game, with only Guillaume Latendresse nursing a minor, undisclosed injury. It’s inevitable, however, that the team’s trainers will be getting busier and busier as the effects of the game schedule add up.
VINNY WONDERS WHERE THE TIME HAS GONE: Way, way back Vincent Lecavalier might have become an Ottawa Senator. During the 2001-02 season, speculation was rampant that Lecavalier would be coming to the Senators as part of a major deal involving Radek Bonk.
Yet 10 seasons later, with a Stanley Cup title in his back pocket, the player who former owner Art Williams referred to as “the Michael Jordan of hockey” on draft day in 1998, is still in Lightning colours. Lecavalier was toasted for his 1,000th game with Tampa in a pre-game ceremony Friday. Technically, he was playing in Game 1,002 – the Lightning were on the road for the milestone game – but that didn’t spoil the party for Lecavalier.
“It’s definitely a great honour, just to be part of this organization for so long,” said Lecavalier. “I’ve been through up and downs and we won a Stanley Cup (in 2004). Tampa really feels like home for me. I go home for the summer (to Montreal), but when I come back here, it feels like home. The fans have been great to me, the entire community, right from the beginning.
“From 1998 to now, the fan base has got bigger and bigger every year.”
Lecavalier’s friends and family were in attendance for his big night, as were Enrico Ciccone and Dan Cloutier – close friends to Lecavalier during his early years in the NHL.
Looking back, he wonders where the time has gone, but recalls conversations from veterans in his early years.
“Wendel Clark told me ‘it’s all going to fly by’. The next thing you know, I’m 32 years old. It has been a fun ride.”
It has gone by in a flash. A Lightning flash.
THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT: The Lightning’s two new stars – 6-6, 210-pound goalie Anders Lindback and 5-8, 179-pound Cory Conacher – don’t exactly see eye-to-eye, but they figure to be key in Tampa’s success.
Conacher has come out of nowhere in the hockey world – Canisius College in the Atlantic Hockey Association – to become an early candidate for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. Conacher, 23, was undrafted, but the bloodlines run deep. He’s related to Lionel Conacher.
Meanwhile, the starting netminding job is Lindback’s to lose. Lindback, previously a back-up to Pekka Rinne in Nashville, was acquired in a June trade. As a former Western conference goaltender, he isn’t too familiar with the Senators. Except, of course, for fellow young Swedes Erik Karlsson and Jakob Silfverberg.
Lindback and Silfverberg played junior together and the Tampa goaltender went on an on in describing how Silfverberg carried Brynas to a Swedish Elite League title last season. “He’s a great player, really skilled and when he gets a chance to settle in here, he’s going to be fantastic.”
BOROWIECKI GETS HIS CHANCE: Rugged Senators rookie defenceman Mark Borowiecki, who played in his third NHL game and made his season debut against the Lightning, says he was always a fan of tough stay-at-home defencemen growing up, following their careers closely. What you might not have known is that Borowiecki was a high scoring forward until his bantam and midget years. “I was always a pretty strong skater, I guess that was one of the reasons, but a lot of young kids are like, they want to be goal scorers.” So, who made the decision to move him? “I want to say, maybe, Randy Sexton,” said Borowiecki, referring to the original Senators founder, who also coached minor hockey in Kanata.
AND THE MAGIC NUMBER IS?: Lightning coach Guy Boucher has done the research on scoring chances over and over again. When Tampa gives up more than 12 scoring chances a game, they’re almost assured to lose. On the other hand, if the number is below a dozen, Tampa will skate away with two points….About those opening night free beers at Scotiabank Place: The Lightning were selling $1 hot dogs and $2 beer at the Tampa Times Forum Friday.