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Lightning journal: Victor Hedman embraces more minutes on ice

By Joe Smith
DIRK SHADD | Times Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman (77) stands during the National Anthem before the start of the game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Kings D Drew Doughty, whom the Lightning faces tonight, logged more than 35 minutes in Tuesday’s game against the Ducks.

Senators D Erik Karlsson is another workhorse, often playing about half the game.

Does Lightning D Victor Hedman ever go to coaches and say, "I can do that, too"?

"I would never do that," Hedman quipped. "They know I want to be out there."

Hedman has been on the ice more than ever, entering Wednesday’s game against the Sharks averaging a career-high 25:51, ranking ninth in the league. The Sabres’ Rasmus Ristolainen entered Wednesday leading the league at 27:10.

Not only is Hedman’s average around 90 seconds higher than his previous best, 24:30 last season, but it’s more than the other defensemen with whom he was a Norris Trophy finalist last year, Karlsson at 25:37 and the Sharks’ Brent Burns at 25:07.

Hedman embraces the larger workload.

"My body feels great," he said. "This is what you work for every summer, to add more minutes to your game. But you’ve got to earn the right to play those minutes, and I take nothing for granted."

Associate coach Rick Bowness said Hedman’s increased ice time is based on a few things. There’s the increase in power plays this season, Hedman a regular on both special teams units. And Bowness said the Lightning wants to make sure either Hedman, Anton Stralman or Dan Girardi is on the ice with rookie Mikhail Sergachev.

Bowness said Hedman’s ice time is something they have to monitor over an 82-game season.

"You’ve got to get a feel when he’s on and when he’s not," Bowness said. "When he’s on, let him go."

Hedman, a combined minus-3 in his previous five games, knows there’s still room for improvement.

"I know I’ve got better in me," he said. "I want to play as good as I can. It’s still early, and the team is winning. But I still feel like I have a few more steps in my game."

Paquette close

C Cedric Paquette said he has thought a lot lately about whether his string of bad luck with injuries is finally behind him.

Paquette has missed 66 combined games the past three seasons, including the past 10 this season, though he is expected to return on this three-game road trip. His latest, undisclosed, injury, suffered Oct. 9 against Washington, came at a time Paquette was playing some of his best hockey, on a line with Gabriel Dumont and Chris Kunitz.

"I thought, at the beginning of the season, I played pretty much like I did three years ago in my first year," Paquette said. "It’s been tougher this year than last year, the year before, tough mentally. But what can you do, right?"

Slap shots

• G Andrei Vasilevskiy started Wednesday against San Jose. Backup Peter Budaj was expected to play tonight against his former team, the Kings.

• D Slater Koekkoek returned to the lineup, replacing Andrej Sustr, who struggled Saturday against the Blue Jackets (minus-2 in 3:45 of ice time). F Gabriel Dumont was scratched. J.T. Brown stayed in.

• F Erik Condra cleared waivers and returned to AHL Syracuse.

Quote to note

"This will be the biggest test of the year for us."

Coach Jon Cooper, on the three-game trip to San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim