ST. PAUL, Minn. — The clock is ticking on Steven Stamkos for his possible participation at the Olympics, which get under way this week in Sochi, Russia.
The first hockey game will take place Feb. 12, so there is about 10 days to decide whether Stamkos is going to be able to play for Team Canada — and if he will even be a part of the roster. Stamkos has said he wants to be able to play in a game for the Tampa Bay Lightning before deciding whether he is well enough to make that happen.
With three games left for Tampa Bay before the break — Tuesday at Minnesota, and home games against Toronto and Detroit on Thursday and Saturday — the deadline is closing in quickly.
So when the Lightning hit the ice for practice today, Stamkos figures to take more contact to test his right leg and how it responds.
“Basically I’m going to have to make a decision: Am I ready to play at that level?’’ Stamkos said. “Some guys are saying, ‘You look pretty good out there.’ (But) I don’t feel where I need to be in order to play in a game yet, but it’s getting there.’’
That’s the feeling around the team’s decision-makers, as well.
“I think he is getting closer,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said, before cautioning, “I think in all of our minds we are trying to push him further ahead than he really is, but if you look at the medical reports, he is so far ahead of what any medical doctor would say you should be right now.
“So I think we should look at it that way. Is he going to be ready for the Olympics? Well, he’s already been a superhuman to get to the point where he is right now. I don’t know if he will be ready for the Olympics. We all hope he is, but the fact that we are having a conversation and talking about it is pretty remarkable.’’
Penalty kill uptick: After allowing 13 power-play goals in 37 penalty kill attempts during a 10-game span from Jan. 5-Jan. 23, Tampa Bay’s penalty kill has turned its fortunes around in the past four games.
The Lightning have killed off 12 consecutive power plays in the past four games, while scoring three short-handed goals in that span.
That included a key penalty kill late in Saturday’s game at Montreal, when Eric Brewer was called for interference with 65 seconds left in regulation, and carried over into overtime before Tampa Bay pulled out the victory.
“We’ve just been way more dedicated the last four games that we kill these penalties,’’ D Victor Hedman said. “Blocking shots, dedicated to those details that are going to win hockey games.’’
It all comes down to those details getting back into the Lightning’s special teams unit.
“I think we really went back to the fundamentals,’’ C Nate Thompson said. “You have to do the right things and I think the biggest thing is communicating, so everyone is on the same page. Everyone is talking out there and then the rest is just little things. We are winning faceoffs, we are blocking shots, we are getting in lanes, doing the little things that you have to do to be able to do well on the PK.’’
First-timer: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Thompson became the first player in franchise history to record a multi-goal game in which he scored all the team’s goals, including the overtime winner when he netted his second of the game with 24.1 seconds remaining in Saturday’s 2-1 victory against Montreal.
Thompson is the second player to accomplish the feat this season, joining Montreal D Andrei Markov, who had both of the Canadiens’ goals in a 2-1 overtime victory against Chicago on Jan. 11.