Haven’t got time for the pain: Lightning trying to persevere
TAMPA, Fla. — Due to recent events, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s dressing room should have no shortage of gauze and good wishes for fast healing. Even a red cross painted somewhere nearby would be fitting.
This is the NHL, a league of hard knocks, a place where there’s no room for orange slices and juice boxes after the final horn. Blood, bruises and broken noses come with the territory.
By the most-grizzled of tough-guy standards, though, this run of bad health luck is rough.
“They’re going to be calling us the Syracuse Lightning pretty soon,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said last week, referencing the Bolts’ American Hockey League affiliate. “Literally, I think there might be more guys in the training room. We might have to move the locker room to the training room. It’s getting tough to see.”
Look at Tampa Bay’s injury list, and it’s easy to see how this is a problem. After a victory over the Ottawa Senators last Thursday, the Lightning had nine players absent because of various ailments: Steven Stamkos (fractured tibia), Ryan Malone (fractured ankle), Tom Pyatt (fractured collarbone), Brian Lee (knee), Pierre-Cedric Labrie (arm), Radko Gudas (upper-body injury), Eric Brewer (lower body), Victor Hedman (lower body) and Keith Aulie (fractured hand).
Stamkos, of course, is the headline absence. But each injury is a small dent that takes shine off the Bolts’ look.
Take Hedman, for instance, the Lightning’s best defenseman. He was hit into the boards against Ottawa, an injury that affects the Bolts’ ability to limit scoring when producing goals themselves is a concern without Stamkos.
The same night, Tampa Bay lost another defenseman when Aulie’s left hand broke after he hit Ottawa center Zack Smith. Last Friday, Aulie had surgery and a timetable for his return is unknown.
Yes, the Lightning have a surplus in walking wounded. But a silver lining has formed.
Gudas, a defenseman, returned Saturday and had one assist. Brewer, also a defenseman, skated more than 20 minutes against the Jets.
“It’s always hard to respond with injuries,” Gudas said. “Guys who haven’t played as much are going to have to step up. They are here for a reason. They know how to play hockey. We’ve got to play with the guys we have.”
Still, the lack of continuity is an issue. Cooper admitted as such when he said last Thursday, “It’s taxing. It’s emotionally and physically taxing.”
Injuries are part of life, but they hamper Tampa Bay’s increasingly limited offense. After becoming a mainstay in the league’s Top 10 scoring list, the Lightning rank 15th with 2.66 goals per game now. They have sunk to 24th in shots per game with an average of 27.7.
Compare those figures with last season. The Bolts ranked third with 3.06 goals per game, and they were 24th in shots with a 27.6 average.
Yes, injuries are a pain. But they’re no excuse not to improvise.
“Guys need to step up,” Lightning center Alex Killorn said. “There are a lot of young guys in the lineup. They’ve kind of transitioned seamlessly into the lineup. Everyone is trying to do their role and chip in.”
To have success without Stamkos, this must be a collective recovery. St. Louis leads the Bolts with 27 points, but Stamkos still stands as Tampa Bay’s top goal-scorer with 14. St. Louis has 12 and Valtteri Filppula 10, but no one else has more than Teddy Purcell’s seven.
Stamkos was the staple, the security blanket. He was the heartbeat of the Bolts’ offense, and with his absence and other gaps in the roster, others must create a higher profile for Tampa Bay to compete against Eastern Conference beasts like the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens.
“You play with unfamiliar guys all the time,” Cooper said. “It’s tough, because it’s tough to get synergy and chemistry with guys. … I’m not going to sit here and cry over spilled milk. Teams get hurt. We’re probably on the little extreme side.”
Extreme? Yes. A guarantee of failure? It doesn’t have to be.