Lightning visit Canadiens minus Hedman

The Tampa Bay Lightning, missing Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Victor Hedman, will try and hang onto first place in the Atlantic Division when they face the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Saturday.

The Lightning (8-3-1) are 1-2-0 since Hedman sustained an upper body injury when he was hit by Ryan Reaves of the Vegas Golden Nights a week ago. Hedman is not expected to return until next week.

In his absence, the Lightning lost to the Arizona Coyotes 7-1, defeated the New Jersey Devils 8-3 and lost to the Nashville Predators 4-1, the last two games at home.

Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek, a healthy scratch until Hedman was injured, has chipped in 15 minutes of ice time in the past three games to help the Lightning cope in Hedman’s absence. He scored the Lightning goal against the Predators.

“It felt good,” Koekkoek told the Tampa Bay Times. “I have a lot of people doubting me. A lot of people who don’t matter. It felt good for the people who do believe in me. My family, and the people who do matter.”

“For us as a group, we kind of had to re-group and think about what we wanted to accomplish out there,” veteran defenseman Braydon Coburn told The Times. “Heddy brings so many different things to the table. Nobody is going to replace him. For us, playing our own game and working together as good partner duos is what we tried to accomplish together. We work for each other, and I thought we did that.”

The Lightning will be looking to capitalize on the chances they generate against the Canadiens. They outshot the Predators 43-24, but only managed the one goal by Koekkoek.

The Canadiens (7-3-2) are in third place in the Atlantic Division and are coming off a newsworthy 6-4 home win over the Washington Capitals on Thursday.

Canadiens rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the No. 3 pick in last summer’s draft, scored the first two goals of his NHL career against the Capitals. His second goal tied the game 4-4 at 16:56 of the third period and then Canadiens forwards Max Domi and Joel Armia scored two seconds apart, an NHL record for two fastest goals by one team, to give the Canadiens the win. Armia’s goal was into an empty net.

“That was pretty crazy,” Kotkaniemi told NHL.com of the reception he got from the Canadiens fans. “I’ve never heard a crowd like that before.”

“For me, it was the first time I’ve heard the fans so loud,” Canadiens forward Nicolas Deslauriers told montrealcanadiens.com. “I’ve always said it’s fun to play here and that the fans are loud, but (Thursday) was something special. It gave us even more energy. That’s why we often say we have the best fans. Things can change in any game and we saw it (Thursday).

At the age of 18 years, 118 days, Kotkaniemi is the second-youngest player to score for the Canadiens (Mario Tremblay was 18 years, 75 days old when he scored his first goal for Montreal on Nov. 16, 1974, against the New York Rangers).

“I think he has a good attitude,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien told the team’s website regarding Kotkaniemi. “In some cases there are players that put too much pressure on themselves. It’s not the case with him. He’s a player with incredible skill and in the future will develop even more.

“He already has a certain obligation that comes with playing in the NHL and that’s to show up every day. He’s doing that. All we ask of him is to do it, so he just has to keep it up.”