|Winless Red Wings face rugged test at Lightning|
TAMPA, Fla. -- While the Tampa Bay Lightning wait for All-Stars Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov to find an early-season groove, they have others who can carry the load.
The Detroit Red Wings, meanwhile, are just trying to find any kind of a spark to get their season moving in the right direction as they enter Thursday's game in Tampa.
Last season, the Lightning bolted to the top of the standings behind the play of Stamkos and Kucherov -- Stamkos had 24 points in October while Kucherov had 13 goals. In the opening four games this season, the duo has combined for just one goal and four assists.
But Tampa Bay's scoring depth runs deep. Tyler Johnson, coming off a hat trick performance in Tuesday's victory against Carolina, and Brayden Point -- both former All-Stars -- have provided an offensive boost to give Tampa Bay three victories in four games to start the season.
A reunion of Johnson with linemates Ondrej Palat and Kucherov -- who set the league on fire in 2014-15 -- has helped boost the Lightning offense.
"They're unbelievable players. I love playing with them," Johnson said of being back with his linemates. "It kind of just makes the game easier, it kind of slows it down, we get some opportunities. I think as everything progresses, we're going to get a little bit closer and closer and be able to work and kind of progress on a few things and I think we can be better.
"Hopefully we can just continue to work on things and work on video and just be on the same page here."
The Lightning are also close to getting back veteran forward and alternate captain Ryan Callahan, who underwent shoulder surgery in May and was expected to be out until mid-November. But Callahan was cleared for contact two weeks ago and is ahead of schedule.
Tampa Bay cleared a potential roster spot for Callahan by placing Cory Conacher on waivers -- and later signing him to a one-year, one-way contract extension that carries a salary cap hit of $700,000.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said on Wednesday that Callahan could return to the lineup by Nov. 1, though he hinted Callahan may be ready before the team returns from its upcoming five-game road trip that starts Saturday in Minnesota.
The Red Wings, meanwhile, are off to their worst start since 1985-86 with an 0-4-2 record. Detroit is coming off a 7-3 loss to Montreal on Monday, and on Wednesday claimed forward Jacob De la Rose off waivers from the Canadiens. He will join the team once his visa situation is cleared up.
Detroit is looking for any sign to help inject some life in a proud franchise that is down to start the season.
"You can't let your body language be the first thing that other players notice because they are going to jump all over it," Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin told the Detroit Free Press. "We have to pick ourselves up. Truly the next shift is the most important after a goal and we need to get the puck back and back in their zone and have a productive shift where we are changing the momentum back in our favor. Don't get frustrated."