Tampa Bay Lightning D Matt Smaby sprains ankle; more tests for LW Simon Gagne
The latest injury casualty for the Tampa Bay Lightning is defenseman Matt Smaby, who sprained his right ankle on Saturday in a soccer game between the players. It was a scheduled team activity, something coach Guy Boucher calls an "activation," which serves to get the players' blood flowing on a game day. Smaby said he simply rolled his foot over the ball.
It's unfortunate timing for Smaby, who recently got over a stomach virus and was scheduled to play Saturday against the Coyotes. "The black cloud followed me to Phoenix," Smaby said. "Hopefully, it's not that serious, just a couple of day deal, I hope."
The good news is the Lightning does not play again until Wednesday against the Ducks. That will give Smaby's ankle a chance to heal. The bad news is Tampa Bay now has to go with six defenseman for Saturday's game, instead of the seven coach Guy Boucher preferred. He wanted seven because he does not think defenseman Mattias Ohlund, who played pretty well in a limited role Wednesday against the Penguins in his first game of the season because of a knee injury, is yet in game shape.
That means the team will go with 12 forwards, meaning Blair Jones, called up Thursday from AHL Norfolk, will play.
The Lightning does a lot of these "activation" things. At Florida, for example, the players played something they called Ultimate Football, which was Ultimate Frisbee with a football. Boucher said he does not worry players can get hurt doing such activities.
"I had a guy last year who sprained a groin going down three steps out of his house," Boucher said. "If you don't get out of your house or don't get up in the morning, I'm pretty sure nothing is going to happen to you."
Simon Gagne injury update: He is in Tampa undergoing tests for what still, officially, is a strained neck. But it would be naive to assume Gagne, with a history of concussions, is not undergoing further tests to see if he has sustained another. Gagne, hurt Thursday when checked into the side boards by the Islanders' Michael Grabner, has pain at the base of the rear of his skull. His history of concussions was one of the red flags when the Lightning traded for him and his $5.25 million contract from the Flyers for defenseman Matt Walker, who, interestingly, also is out because of a hip injury. Gagne has had at least two MRI exams, and Boucher said there is no indication of a concussion. Still, the pain is not subsiding as fast as the team hoped. Hence the additional tests. Boucher said he hopes Gagne will join the team later this week.
"Right now, it's not getting better," Boucher said. "So, we don't want to do anything until we know what's happening. We know the neck is not progressing. It's taking more time than we think, so we want to make sure we're doing the right thing here."
Gagne will miss his fourth straight game Saturday against the Coyotes. He has zero points and is minus-8 in six games.
Other stuff from the morning skate: Dan Ellis gets the start in goal. ... Center Dominic Moore (groin) is out, meaning we could see a line that includes Jones and left wing Mattias Ritola. ... Teddy Purcell, who scored his first goal of the season Wednesday against the Penguins, is getting a shot with the first power play unit. Ryan Malone had been there in Gagne's absence. Boucher said it is not that Purcell is a better fit, but that he is a "different" fit. "I needed a right-hand (shot) and he's a guy who does really good on the power play," Boucher said. "We're going to throw something different at the other team. I think last game (against Pittsburgh), they were prepared for some of our stuff. I hate that." Purcell can't wait for the chance. "It's huge," he said. "That's going to increase my minutes and increase my chances to be successful." ... The Lightning is off to one of its best-ever starts, but has alternated wins and losses (including one in overtime) for six games. Boucher said he is not concerned. "It would concern me if we wouldn't be bouncing back," he said. "That would be annoying. The games, after we've lost, we've bounced back really strongly. But, you're right, we want to string a few (wins) together." ... Boucher also said he believes the team is beyond where he thought it would be at this point in figuring out his system. "They're buying in for sure," he said of the players. "You know the guys are buying in when you hear the guys talk on the bench and in the room and by themselves say the thing you would say. That's a very good sign. They hold each other accountable for what we're trying to do."