PHILADELPHIA—It’s all about the depth. Nikita Kucherov may be the top scorer in the league and Steven Stamkos may be about to set the franchise goal record. But the depth is key for the Lightning.
Not many teams can lose their second-line center and sub in a player who has been on the wing all season. But Tampa Bay did that, moving Tyler Johnson to Brayden Point’s spot.
The Lightning made changes all through the lineup on Tuesday. All four lines, two of the three defenseman pairs and goaltender were all different from Monday night.
“It was a good sign for us that the depth of our team showed,” Ryan McDonagh said after the 5-2 win over the Flyers. “It’s a big strength of ours. We don’t want to change the way we play just because someone’s not in.”
Victor Hedman missed the game with a lower-body injury, after missing the latter two periods on Monday night. Cooper expects this to be “extremely short term.” Point sat out after missing a team meeting earlier on Tuesday. He will be back in the lineup for Thursday’s game against Buffalo.
“He’s not the first and he certainly won’t be the last to do it,” coach Jon Cooper said. “But we have a standard and no one’s above it. Pretty sure he won’t be missing any more.”
With Johnson in for Point, J.T. Miller moved back up to Steven Stamkos’ line where Johnson had been. Adam Erne moved to Miller’s spot on the third line.
Both Ryan Callahan and Danick Martel stepped in on the fourth line, as Mathieu Joseph was also unavailable. He was reassigned to the AHL to make space for Jan Rutta, who was recalled in Hedman’s absence.
On the back end, Anton Stralman returned to the lineup and played with Braydon Coburn, while Mikhail Sergachev moved up to play in Hedman’s spot with Dan Girardi.
“Our depth is one of our biggest assets,” Miller said. “Every team needs guys to step up. You’re not going to get it from the same guys every night. So that’s obviously a good quality to have.”
Johnson played center most of his career, until Point emerged as the go-to second-line center. So this wasn’t a major change for him, but he still hadn’t been in that role in a while.
It’s not a huge difference, particularly in the Lightning’s system, but it’s still not a change a coach can make lightly.
“The majority of our team has been asked to play in different positions, different roles,” Johnson said. “Even when you play with different players, you’re in a different role. I think it says a lot about our team that we have literally 20 guys that can really fit in anywhere. That’s really big when something happens and we’re able to fill there.”
In addition to the lineup changes, the depth scoring came up big for the Lightning once again.
Nine players made the scoresheet, and none of them were Kucherov. Stamkos didn’t score a goal. That’s OK. Mikhail Sergachev, Alex Killorn, J.T. Miller, Yanni Gourde and Ryan McDonagh all scored.
Louis Domingue is playing sporadically, but strongly. Not having played in nine days didn’t show as he improved his franchise record to 11 consecutive wins.
If the Flyers thought playing the Lightning without Hedman, Point and Andrei Vasilevskiy was going to make it easier, it didn’t.