By Ryan Adams

Morning practice was almost exclusively focused on special teams Monday morning at Amalie Arena. Different matchups, line pairings, etc were what coaches were looking very closely at, as well, as the team prepares for a crucial week of the pre-season. This time next week, the team will be cut down to it’s final 23 players so these final three exhibition games are key for players on the brink of a roster spot.

“I think everybody’s earned a right to be here,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said Monday morning after practice wrapped. “There’s spots open. I think the guys in there know it. There’s competition we have with other teams in this league but their is also competition in this locker room.”

By next week, the Bolts and their fans will know who will be dressing for the first game of the season against the Florida Panthers on October 9, hence why this week is so important. Coach Cooper stressed just how crucial it is to have the right guys in place and start the season strong.

“The start of the season is unbelievably important,” Cooper said. “You can’t fall out of the race early. You’re not winning the Stanley Cup in the first two weeks but you’re building to make the playoffs.”

The team heads down to Naples Monday for their annual week in Estero. Some would think of it as a vacation away from the distractions and a good time on some beautiful golf courses. Cooper wants the team to enjoy themselves but was also very serious about it being important in other ways.

“The family right now for this week is our team,” said Cooper. “It’s gotta be a total focus on hockey.”