Victor Hedman benched, Mike Smith looks sharp in very busy morning for Lightning
Whew, you couldn't blink or you might have missed something at the Tampa Bay Lightning's morning skate. From personnel moves to injury updates, a lot was going on prior to the game with the Maple Leafs.
The biggest news -- beyond the addition of center Nate Thompson, picked up off waivers from the Islanders (see previous post) -- was the benching of rookie defenseman Victor Hedman. It sounds as if it will be for one game, and was characterized by coach Rick Tocchet as a way to give Hedman a chance to "catch his breath." Even Hedman, 19, said he could use the break.
"I haven't played well the last couple of games," he said. "It might be good for me to sit out one game and get right back Saturday (against the Thrashers). It's part of the process. I haven't been playing well. It's not like I've been happy about my performance either."
Hedman is minus-6 his past six games and has just two shots on goal in his past two.
"He's made a couple of mistakes at crucial times," Tocchet said. "I think now you get to the point where you're over-thinking, and he's not as aggressive because he's scared to make a mistake. Now you're caught in between. It will be a nice break for him. ... It won't be a long thing. He just needs to catch his breath is all."
Tocchet was asked if he believed Hedman might be suffering because of the grind of an 82-game NHL season. But Hedman pointed out that he has played just 47 games this season and his season in his native Sweden is 55 games.
"It's not a problem," he said.
Still, Tocchet said, "It's a heavy grind. I don't think he's hit the wall. Physically in practice and in games, he's still a stud out there. For Victor , it's more of a mental break, just a breath of fresh air."
Other stuff from the morning skate: Guess the scuttlebutt about defenseman Paul Ranger being close to returning was a false alarm. From the talk around the team a couple of weeks ago, it seemed like a sure thing, but GM Brian Lawton said, "We have nothing new to report this week on Paul ranger's status. We will offer an update when available, but feel it is best to let Paul inform us when he is ready to return." Ranger has been away from the team since Oct. 23 dealing with a personal matter. He has been a huge loss for the defense, which could use his experience and passing ability out of the defensive zone. ... Antero Niittymaki gets the start in net. Talk about a guy who needs a good game. The goaltender has been pulled in two of his past three. ... Looks as if defenseman Kurtis Foster will play forward tonight. With Hedman out, that will allow both David Hale and Matt Walker to get back in the lineup. Hale has been a healthy scratch the past six games. Walker has missed the past two. ... Mike Smith looked very sharp in net during the morning skate and said he should be ready to return "sooner rather than later." Smith has missed four games with a strained neck after being run over in a Jan. 12 game with the Capitals. Smith said he still has tightness in his neck. "The main thing is not to rush back," he said. "It's an important part of your body when you deal with your neck and your head. Like I said, last year I played (with an injury) a lot longer than I should have and missed a lot of hockey games last year. I wasn't going to let that happen." Of course, last season Smith was experiencing concussion symptoms. This season's injury is a strained neck. "He had a good session today," Tocchet said. "We worked him really hard. We'll see how tomorrow's practice goes, but he was looking pretty good." ... After Tuesday's embarrassing 8-2 loss to the Rangers and because the Lightning is facing a Toronto team coming off a depressing 4-3 loss to the Predators, Tocchet said he expects a "playoff atmosphere. It's exciting for us. ou want to see who shows up." ... Tocchet lavished more praise on Steve Downie, who has five goals, 11 points in his past 13 games and leads Tampa Bay at plus-6. "He's been something the last month. He's really coming on. He really works hard. The last month he's probably been our hardest-working guy. That was one thing I challenged him on. He wasn't the greatest focused practice player, and he's been one of our best practice players, and it's translated into games, so that's all to him." Tocchet also likes Downie's feisty but more controlled demeanor. "Frankly, when he's the first guys to forecheck, a lot of defense don't want to go back and get it. He's got an attitude we're trying to create here, and he's one of the guys who leads the charge in that."