TAMPA — An important date on a calendar often finds a red circle surrounding the day. For a player traded from one team to another, the first meeting with the former team tends to end up with red ink around it.
Even if that date is more than a year later.
That day for Anders Lindback comes tonight, when Tampa Bay hosts Nashville in the first meeting between the teams since the goaltender was acquired by the Lightning from the Predators on June 15, 2012. And indications are Lindback will get the chance to start against his former team.
“Of course it’s special playing against teammates,’’ Lindback said. “For me, obviously, I want to get in and play as much as I can. And it would be nice to play against them, but I do think you just try to approach every game the same and be at your best level all the time.’’
Lindback has yet to establish himself as the No. 1 goalie Tampa Bay envisioned when it gave up two second-round picks and a third-round selection in the 2012 draft. A high ankle sprain set him back midway through the lockout-shortened season last year, while Ben Bishop, acquired from Ottawa in April, has taken hold of the top spot this season for the Lightning.
“It’s been a little up and down,’’ Lindback, 25, said of his two seasons with Tampa Bay. “In some ways I feel that I’m a way-better goalie now than I was when I got here. It’s a little frustrating right now, because I feel like I’m really getting better every day and I want to get in there more.
“But, obviously, Bish is playing unbelievable. So, it’s a tough situation again for me. I’m just trying to look for every opportunity to prove myself.’’
The lack of playing time for Lindback is more a testament to Bishop’s play this season than any sort of admonishment of Lindback. His numbers are not completely indicative of how he has played this season.
In 10 games, including eight starts, Lindback has a 2-6-1 record with a 3.12 goals-against average and .883 save percentage. Hardly flattering numbers, but in those eight starts they are slightly better, with a 2.78 goals-against average, more than one-third lower than his overall goals-against mark. In those eight starts, Lindback faced Boston twice, San Jose and Pittsburgh.
“People do look at wins and losses and statistics like that, and the one thing about Lindback is he has given us a chance to win every night,’’ Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “We have all the confidence in the world in Anders, and if we didn’t have that confidence we would not play him.’’
Lindback has also been hurt by a lack of goal support from the team in front of him.
In his eight games, and taking empty-net goals out of the equation, he has received a total of 13 goals of support, an average of 1.63 per game. That compares to 2.73 per game when Bishop is in goal.
Tampa Bay has been shut out twice with Lindback in net and has been held to one or no goals in five of those eight starts.
“I just have to focus on my part of the game, and I can’t really change the way the game is going to end up,’’ Lindback said. “All I can do is just try to focus on my thing and stop the puck and help the guys in the defensive zone.
“Obviously, it gets frustrating, but I have to look beside that and just try to focus on my part of it. But I am a big believer that if you play well, you do the right things, that with time the right numbers and the wins will be there.’’
Cooper equated it to a team that is playing well, but not finding the right results. Eventually things begin to turn around.
“The one thing about this is what comes around goes around, and I truly believe that you make your own breaks. And Anders is making his breaks,’’ Cooper said. “Anders has played too well not win games, and eventually the numbers are going to turn for him.’’
The Lightning signed veteran defenseman J-P Cote to a two-year, two-way contract on Wednesday and called him up from Syracuse of the American Hockey League. He is expected to make his Tampa Bay debut tonight against Nashville.
The 6-foot-3, 213-pound blue-liner last played in the NHL in 2005-06, when he appeared in eight games with Montreal. The 31-year-old has played on an AHL contract in the Lightning minor-league system for three seasons and was a member of the 2011-12 Calder Cup championship team in Norfolk.