Downie and Ohlund in, Mihalik up and the Tampa Bay Lightning goes with seven D
Lots of moving parts for the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday as it gets ready for the game with the very upset Sabres, but more on that later. Right wing Steve Downie (knee) is likely to play, but defensemen David Hale (right leg) and Kurtis Foster (head) will not. Defenseman Mattias Ohlund, who has missed eight games with a sprained left ankle is in as well as Matt Smaby, who has been a healthy scratch for the past four. Also, defenseman Vladimir Mihalik was called up from AHL Norfolk and will play as coach Rick Tocchet said the team tonight will play with seven defensemen and only 11 forwards.
Asked why that alignment, Tocchet said it was partly because he was not completely sure how effective will be Ohlund, who has said he still is in pain, and because Mihalik is a bit of an unknown factor. But also because, "We can't run into that Boston thing again."
Against the Bruins on Thursday, in-game injuries to Foster and Hale left the team playing with just four defensemen in the third period, a tough situation the coach does not want to repeat.
"It's more a safety net for us in case something happens," Tocchet said.
In fact, the first thought on Friday was that the Lightning would not make any call-ups from Norfolk. But after further consultations, the conclusion was that it was better to have an extra body. Mihalik, 23, was the choice after Lightning assistant Jim Johnson, who had been the Admirals' head coach, gave his input.
"He's made huge strides," Johnson said. "(Last) summer he put himself in the shape and the mind-set to have a good year."
Johnson said he paired Mihalik with Mike Lundin, when Lundin was with Norfolk, and Mihalik's game suffered a bit when Lundin was called up to Tampa Bay.
"When Mike left he had to fight through it a little bit because Mike took a lot of ice and a lot of pressure off Vladdy," Johnson said. "But Vladdy continued to grow, and the last month of the season, from there, he's been the best player on the ice in a number of games."
Mihalik, at 6 feet 7, 240 pounds, had two goals and 17 points in 70 games for Norfolk, and led all defensemen at plus-8. He also has something to prove to Tampa Bay brass as he is in the final year of his entry-level contract.
"I'm quicker, faster and smarter, more decisive too," Mihalik said. "I'm looking to make a step forward, and we'll see. I hope I make a good impression."
Other stuff from the morning skate: Antero Niittymaki makes his eighth start in the Lightning's past nine games. Niittymaki is 3-4-0 in that stretch with a 2.73 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage. ... Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was sour this morning talking about his team's 4-2 loss to the Senators on Friday. Buffalo could have clinched a playoff spot with a victory, but lost to Ottawa for the ninth straight time. So, Ruff had little good to say about his team's compete level, especially on the power play. In other words, Tampa Bay faces a very upset Sabres squad tonight. "They're a good hockey club, and I expect them to compete on the puck. They said a couple of guys didn't compete, so I expect those guys to play even harder. It shouldn't even be a warning to us. We should be ready to play. We need the points. ... Ruff lightened up a bit when he spoke about Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos, whom Ruff coached in last year's world championships. Ruff told the story about how he made the player named Player of the Game make a speech the next day at dinner to pump up the boys for the next game. Stamkos, who had a tremendous tournament, was named Player of the Game after the first game and was tapped to make the speech. "He caught me of guard," Stamkos said. Not only did Stamkos have to wing it, he was coming off his rookie season at a time and speaking to some established NHL players. "It was a little intimidating, but we had fun with it and got through it, a couple of shades of red later," Stamkos said. Asked what he said, Stamkos said he did not remember, but Team Canada teammate Marty St. Louis joked, "It was a sick speech. I wish he could make it again." ... Downie, after the morning skate, on the right knee that took the knee-to-knee hit Thursday from Boston's Dennis Wideman: "It's feeling pretty good, a lot better than it was two days ago." ... In an anonymous poll of NHL players administered by ESPN the Magazine, Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier was tied for second as the most overrated player in the league. The most overrated was Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo. Lecavalier was tied for second with defensemen Dion Phaneuf and Jay Bouwmeester, and pest Sean Avery. ... Assistant coach Johnson on his first month with Tampa Bay after being promoted from Norfolk to take the spot of fired coach Wes Walz: "You've got to give Tocc a little credit. It was a disruption for him, and he has to get comfortable with me and give it some time and see what i have to offer. Over the course of a month, he's had a chance to get to know me a little bit better on a personal level, too, and me to know them and me to understand the team and what they're trying to do and what they're trying to accomplish. I wasn't going to come in here and change anything. I was asked to come in here and help, and that's basically what I've done in any way they've asked."