Tampa Bay Lightning, still dealing with injuries, recalls Blair Jones and Mike Vernace
Things were supposed to be getting better for the Tampa Bay Lightning, injury-wise. But some setbacks on defense and the continuing saga of Simon Gagne, who may or may not be joining the team shortly, forced the recall on Saturday of forward Blair Jones and defenseman Mike Vernace.
First the easy injuries:
Defenseman Matt Smaby, who rolled his right ankle playing soccer with teammates prior to the Oct. 12 game in Arizona, was put on injured reserve Saturday retroactive to the Nov. 12 game at Pittsburgh. So, even though Smaby is eligible to come off IR immediately, he said he believes he will be out at least another week to give the ankle a chance to rest and heal. Smaby has played three games since the original injury, and while he said it did not hinder him, it is not getting any better.
Defenseman Randy Jones also is questionable with a foot injury. Jones skated Saturday morning, but coach Guy Boucher said it will be a game-time decision if he will play.
As for Gagne, who will miss his 14th game with a neck strain, Boucher said he is ready to go except for a strange pressure Gagne has reported feeling in his forehead or sinus area. "No clue," Boucher said when asked what the pressure might be. "They're still looking into it. But in terms of energy, in terms of being ready physically, everything else, right now, is looking great, not good, great." In other words, Gagne might be ready for Monday against the Bruins at the St. Pete Times Forum, or he might not.
Other stuff from the morning skate: Mike Smith, off his impressive 11-save effort in Thursday's 8-7 victory over the Flyers, gets the start with the hope, by both Smith and Boucher, that the goalies can start putting together some consistency. The team, entering Saturday, was fifth in the league, allowing 27.9 shots per game, but last in the league with an .881 save percentage. ... There was a bit of a generation gap evident when Steven Stamkos was told that Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman compared Stamkos to Guy Lafleur and Mike Bossy because of Stamkos' pinpoint shot. Said Stamkos, "You just take it as a compliment, especially coming from someone of that stature. Scotty Bowman is one of the greatest coaches there ever will be in this game, so anytime you can take a compliment from him it's flattering, but I'm not going to be comparing myself to those guys. Those guys are legends for a reason. I'm just starting. They're a little before my time anyway. I grew up watching guys like Joe Sakic and Brett Hull and Steve Yzerman, but I obviously know the caliber of those players they compared me to. I'll take it as a compliment for sure." ... Stamkos was again surrounded by reporters Saturday, and Sports Illustrated's Mike Farber has shadowed him the past two days. How does Stamkos not buy into the hype? "For the most part, you hear about it and then it goes out the other ear. Whether it's positive or negative you don't want that to affect your game, and it's hindered a lot of people because they let it get to them. For me, I've got a pretty laid back personality. I take the punches as they role and kind of go with the flow. It's definitely flattering to hear those kinds of things, but I'm definitely a realist. You got to go out there and prove it game in and game out. Just because you had a good first 20 games of the season doesn't mean that you're going to be the best player in the world. it's about working into the team system and buying in, and I think I've been able to do that." ... Obviously, nothing has come of the low hit Flyers defenseman Andrej Meszaros put on Dana Tyrell. The Lightning wing said Meszaros hit him on the right knee, the same knee Tyrell had to have repaired with surgery in January 2009. But Tyrell said he didn't even think that he was hit on the same knee. "It's a dirty hit," he said. "I just hope I never get hit like that again." ... Lightning call-ups from Norfolk haven't had great success this season. James Wright was minus-2 in 4:36 of ice time Thursday against Philly and was sent back. Matt Roy has played 14 minutes in two games and is minus-2, and his bad turnover against the Kings led to the winning goal. Marc-Antoine Pouliot was minus-3 in 11:57 of ice time against the Penguins. At least Jones had two good games Oct. 30 and Nov. 3 against the Coyotes and Ducks before falling back in his next two games and being sent back to the Admirals. "I don't want to say they struggled," Boucher said. "I think it's an adaptation. It's the pace of the game. The American League is a hard-grinding league, so it's not the grinding of the game, it's the pace of the game. It's faster in the NHL. So, the same player who is used to playing a certain way and it's the same play but it's a lot faster, so he has to react a lot faster and sometimes he's a little fraction of a second behind." ... Interesting stat: The Lightning is 0-3-0 and outscored 16-3 in the final game of road trips of two or more games.