With the lack of training camp and exhibition games, and only a week of practice to get ready for the regular season, many are wondering what kind of hockey we will see when the puck drops in just over a week. Sure there will be some rust, but there will also be urgency with the shortened schedule. With this season resembling more of a sprint than a marathon, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos believes the intensity will be a lot like a playoff game right from the first faceoff.
“For sure,” Stamkos said. “Usually this time of year, you are in the playoff push mode. You don’t have that first quarter, first half of the season to get into things, to get your feet wet a little bit. It’s going to be go right from the beginning. You can’t afford to lose a couple games in a row and still expect to make a late push. There just is not that much time left. I would say that assessment is right on.”
So how does a player like Stamkos, who has never experienced a season like this, prepare for what is ahead? That is where Gary Roberts comes into play. Stamkos, who trains with Roberts in the offseason, said Roberts was key in getting him prepared for what faces him in the months ahead.
“It was good to have someone like Gary who has been through the lockouts before,” Stamkos said. “He was pushing us but he knew where the line was. Obviously we are going to playing a lot of hockey in a short period of time. We didn’t want to burn ourselves out. We just went through a whole summer of very tough training in order to prepare for the season and I felt great. And then when the lockout came, you just have to try to maintain those gains you made over the summer but at the same time stay fresh for the season. There is a lot of hockey to be played and we have to make sure we are ready and the body is feeling good.”
With such a short time to prepare for the season, teams that made a lot of changes in the offseason may be at somewhat of a disadvantage in terms of lack of practice and game time to prepare for the season. It takes time to learn a new system and develop chemistry with new teammates. For the Lightning however, the forward group has been together long enough that there may be an advantage in terms of chemistry right from the beginning of the year.
“We are hoping,” Stamkos said of a possible advantage for the forward group. “There are a lot of teams that have a nucleus of guys that have been together. For us, especially our forward group, for the most part we have been together for four years now and comfortable and able to get some chemistry out there. You can just tell in practice and scrimmages there are some nice plays being made, so that is a positive for us. Even the new guys we brought in, they are good veteran solid, solid NHL players. They have been through every situation before. We are excited, we are a confident group. We just have to make sure that translates to wins on the ice.”