TAMPA, Fla. - The Tampa Bay Lightning return from the NHL's 6-day COVID-19 shutdown with a roster much smaller than their last game. Just 19 players were on the ice to practice, including Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, who are still on injured reserve.
With head coach Jon Cooper still in quarantine, the job of getting this team ready to play is in the hands of assistants Jeff Halpern and Derek Lalonde. It's a challenge.
"I had a little talk with our leadership group today, just reminding them, don't let things get loose," said Lalonde. "Obviously, we are out a couple coaches. We don't have NHL goalies for practice the last two days. It's easy to subconsciously get a little bit loose and they did a really good job."
Lightning goalies Andrei Vasilevskiy and Brian Elliott are among the six players out due to COVID-19 protocols, leaving the team to practice with their 50-year-old goalie coach Frantz Jean and the league's emergency goalie, Kyle Konin.
The NHL has just made a rule change to allow up to six players to be called up from the minors. With COVID problems at the Syracuse team, the Lightning are not exactly sure who they will have in goal against the Canadiens on Tuesday night.
"I believe Syracuse has had some issues with the COVID protocol on the front end of the break," said Lalonde. "I still think that's a fluid situation."
The pandemic has already led to 64 cancelations in the NHL and cost players the Olympics in February. Even with so many star players out of the lineup, the Lightning's captain, Steven Stamkos feels the NHL games need to go on.
"We've been told to prepare to play," said Stamkos. "I don't think a lot is going to change here moving forward for the next couple weeks."
Tickets for Tuesday night's game against Montreal are selling for as much as $550 for a game missing star players.
So what's the message to the Lightning fans that are expecting to see the team that has one back-to-back Stanley Cup titles?
"Unfortunately that's the world we live in right now," said Stamkos. "We've seen some teams in Canada that have reduced capacity with no fans and with 50% fans. At least they're getting a chance to come to the games and watch and support us. We're grateful for that. Teams have been going through this. We for whatever reason hadn't really got hit that hard up until this point. We've had the majority of our full lineup in. We've been missing Point and Kuch all season. So that's two star players that they haven't been able to see. I think Point hopefully will be back soon and Kuch will be soon, so hopefully that will lessen the burden of not being able to watch some other guys."