GLENDALE, Ariz. — Picture a hockey team as a group of rowers in a boat. When one of them goes down, somebody else steps in to grab the oar to make sure everybody remains pulling in the same direction.
Even if one of those seats used to be occupied by one of the strongest rowers in the boat.
That’s the mentality the Lightning have assumed in the absence of Steven Stamkos heading into tonight’s game against the Phoenix Coyotes.
“It’s been said many times that no one can replace Stammer. That’s impossible,’’ center Nate Thompson said. “But we are still a team. You win and lose as a team, and I think the last two games we have really responded.
“We’ve played the right way and it takes everyone. Guys are stepping up, whether it’s (Ryan Malone) getting the goal in Montreal or Val (Filppula) picking up a couple of goals (Thursday). Guys are contributing, whether it’s in little ways, things can add up. And we are doing that right now and we have to continue to do that.’’
In the two games since Stamkos went down with a broken leg, the Lightning have responded with a pair of victories.
On Tuesday in Montreal, the Lightning swarmed the Canadiens for most of the game, firing a season-high 45 shots on net, and if not for the play of Carey Price in net for Montreal, a shootout would not have been needed to pick up the two points.
On Thursday against Anaheim, though the Ducks were clearly not at their best, Tampa Bay was and it showed in a 5-1 victory.
“The train does not come off the tracks, it just keeps going with different passengers,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “That’s kind of where we are at, and you can say whatever you want. ‘Rally the troops’ or pick any cliche you want to use, but I’m feeling pretty good about our group. And for two games, anyway, we have proven that regardless of who is in there, the train keeps on going.’’
That was apparent to Cooper in the game in Montreal, which took place a little more than 24 hours after Stamkos went down with a broken leg. Whatever emotions anybody on the team might have experienced Monday night were not apparent when the puck dropped the next night.
“Guys were not looking down the bench to say, ‘We’re OK, 91 (Stamkos) or 26 (Marty St. Louis) will take care of this eventually.’ Everybody kind of took ownership from the morning skate right on down to the game. It was we are up next and it’s time to do our job,’’ Cooper said.
“And that’s what I felt has gone on ... the team took ownership of themselves, every single line. It was great to see.’’
But that is in the short term. The trick is to find a way to sustain that mentality and success moving forward because though the expectation is Stamkos will make a return at some point this season, there’s a good chance that won’t be until after the Olympic break in February.
“In the short term I’m sure they’re going to be fine because everybody overachieves,’’ Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said. “What’s going to happen is the long-term effects. When you lose a great player, you are losing a big part of your team. Like I said, usually for short periods of time they usually can overcome it through emotion, through adrenaline, through young guys getting more the opportunity.
“But if you didn’t miss him, then really he is not as great as you think and we all know Steven Stamkos is one of the top three players in the NHL.’’
In the eight periods since Stamkos was injured, Tampa Bay has registered double digits in shots six times. The only two times without reaching 10 shots on goal came in the final two periods on Thursday, when the Lightning had built a substantial lead against the Ducks and managed the game differently. And in the past two games, the opposition has been kept under 26 shots on goal in regulation time.
That mentality and a trust in the structured system the team plays allows a belief that the boat — or train — will continue to move forward as the season goes along.
“We are playing our system, we are confident in playing the game we need to play, we play fast and we want to wear teams down,’’ Thompson said. “We know when we play that way, and are getting results, it brings you a lot of confidence.
“When you have that combination and everybody is on the same page, the goalie is making saves, it’s fun.’’