The mettle of the Tampa Bay Lightning will be tested without three top-six forwards
First a bit of good news for the Tampa Bay Lightning. General manager Steve Yzerman said the feeling is Steve Downie's neck injury is not considered a long-term event, meaning the team hopes he will be back as soon as Sunday against the Wild. We'll see. And the Lightning could use the addition because with captain Vinny Lecavalier out with a nondisplaced fracture of his right knuckle and Simon Gagne also out with a neck injury, the team is down three of its top six forwards.
Yzerman said after the game that forwards Johan Harju and Marc Pouliot will be called up from AHL Norfolk. As good as those two are playing -- Pouliot has four goals, 18 points in 12 games; Harju has seven goals, 16 points in 12 games -- they cannot make up for what has been lost. There is the grit of Downie, the potential scoring power of Gagne, who, granted, had not done much in the six games he played but certainly has the skill to provide some offensive punch, and the developing all-around game of Lecavalier.
Vinny, with three goals and nine points in 14 games, may not have been scoring as much as anticipated, but both Yzerman and coach Guy Boucher said he has played exactly as they want.
"I think he's playing very well," Yzerman said recently. "He's doing a lot of little things that don't show up on the stat sheet, but he's competing hard at both ends of the rink. He's blocking shots. We're really pleased with his play. ... We're asking him to play a certain way. He's doing that. We talked before the season about trying to be the best all-around player. Whether he's getting 60 points, 70 points or whatever, we're more concerned about him doing things the right way, and he's doing that."
Anyway, back to the initial point. All of a sudden the onus falls even more on the role players. We know Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis are going to get their points. But it's players such as Ryan Malone, Teddy Purcell, Sean Bergenheim, Dominic Moore, Adam Hall, Dana Tyrell and Nate Thompson to chip in even more than they have. A few more goals from the blue line wouldn't hurt either.
The forwards have done good work so far. It has been a long time since Tampa Bay has had as much contributions from its bottom two lines. But there is an urgency now. Not only have the injuries hit top players, the team is in the midst of a stretch of 21 games in which 15 are on the road.
Without half of its two scoring lines, that road got a little longer. Given the attitude the players have shown this season, their willingness to battle, the challenge is not insurmountable. As Thompson said, "It happens to every team. Guys need to step up and pick up the slack. That's what we have to do."