Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Assessing Lightning's prospects with Stamkos out about 4 months

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The news on Steven Stamkos' injury couldn't have been much worse Thursday.

Stamkos, 26, is expected to miss approximately four months with a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee, which was surgically repaired Thursday by Dr. Robert LaPrade in Vail, Col. That means the Lightning's captain, top leader and goal scorer will be out until potentially mid March.

But there was a sense of calm and confidence in the Tampa Bay dressing room. There was no pity party, just determination to find a way to keep winning. The Lightning's goal is to make the playoffs so Stamkos has a chance to return for another Stanley Cup run.

"We know we can do this," coach Jon Cooper said.

"We're ready," center Tyler Johnson said.

The reaction isn't surprising considering the Lightning has been in this spot with Stamkos twice before. Stamkos missed 45 games in the 2013-14 season after breaking his right tibia, and Tampa Bay still reached the playoffs. Last season, the Lightning advanced two playoff rounds with Stamkos out with a blood clot, not to mention top-pair defenseman Anton Stralman, who had a fractured leg then and who is currently sidelined with an upper-body injury.

"You've got to take your head out of the sand, dig in your heels and march on," Cooper said. "Unfortunately, this happened to us before and the guys found a way, but we have to look at this as a challenge.

"Now everyone has to pitch in. Yes, we are going to miss (Stamkos) dearly, but our season's over by no means."

RELATED: It's impossible not to feel bad for Steven Stamkos, columnist Martin Fennelly says.

Reasons to believe in Lightning success

History: Don't underestimate the importance of the Lightning knowing it has won without Stamkos before.

"Look back three years ago (when Stamkos broke his right leg), I was a brand new coach, to watch your best player go down, you're wallowing in self-pity," Cooper said. "You're so uncertain about everything. Now it's different because we've been down this road. The more you're put in the situation, unfortunately, the better equipped you are to handle it."

The team knows it doesn't have to alter its system or structure in replacing Stamkos. Players have already seen their roles expand. Other veterans have adjusted their leadership roles.

DEPTH: Sure, Stamkos entered Thursday's game against the Sabres leading the Lightning in goals with nine. He's one of the best scorers in the league. But wing Nikita Kucherov, with 21 points, can carry a similar load. He's playing arguably the best hockey of his career. And as shown when Stamkos missed the first part of the playoffs last season, Kucherov can elevate his game; he had 11 goals and 19 points in 17 playoff games.

"You can see he's taken a step in all aspects of his game," Cooper said. "And now we need him to keep that going."

Also, Tyler Johnson, with just nine points and minus-6 in 17 games, said he wants to be better. Vladislav Namestnikov will get a shot at centering one of the top two lines. And don't forget wing Jonathan Drouin, who returned from injury Thursday.

PODCAST: The latest Lightning Strikes! podcast discusses how the Lightning will deal with Steven Stamkos' absence.

"Stamkos is a great player," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "But it's one guy in their lineup. They're deep. They know how to play and win without having your best guy."

Goaltending: With arguably the top one-two tandem in the league in Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Lightning will always have a chance to win.

Reasons for concern

Inconsistency: Even with Stamkos this season, the Lightning hasn't played with consistency or urgency. It has been plagued by slow starts, allowing the first goal in 10 of 17 games entering Thursday. Maybe Stamkos' injury will be the kick Tampa Bay needs to sharpen its focus.

Parity: The Lightning entered Thursday seventh in the Eastern Conference with 21 points. But it was just four points ahead of No. 13 Philadelphia. It was third in the Atlantic Division, seven points behind leader Montreal. One bad losing streak and Tampa Bay will have to fight its way into the playoffs again. "Twenty-nine other teams don't care who we have in or out," center Brian Boyle said. Said Cooper: "There's no guarantee."

Assessing Lightning's prospects with Stamkos out about 4 months 11/17/16 [Last modified: Friday, November 18, 2016 12:42am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. NFL commissioner, players' union angrily denounce Trump comments on national anthem

    Bucs

    SOMERSET, N.J. — The National Football League and its players' union on Saturday angrily denounced President Donald Trump for suggesting that owners fire players who kneel during the national …

    President Donald Trump walks off the stage after he speaks at campaign rally in support of Sen. Luther Strange, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Huntsville, Ala. [Associated Press]
  2. Matt Peca making case for Lightning spot

    Blogs

    Center Matt Peca said he didn't read too much into the fact he was the only Lightning player to appear in each of the first three exhibition games.

    But Peca, 24, loved it.

    Matt Peca won nine of 10 faceoffs Friday, a skill the Lightning badly needs.
  3. Bucs players respond to Trump comments on anthem protests

    Blogs

    President Donald Trump shared his thoughts Friday night on NFL players protesting during the national anthem, suggesting that NFL owners should "fire" players who kneel during the anthem in protest. His remarks are alreading drawing responses from many NFL players, including some Bucs.

    Bucs players Mike Evans and Jameis Winston stand with coach Dirk Koetter during the national anthem in a game played in San Diego last season.
  4. Rays morning after: Wilson Ramos showing glimpses of what's possible in 2018

    Blogs

    The real payoff for the Rays signing C Wilson Ramos last off-season will come in 2018, when he can play a full season fully recovered from right knee surgery.

    Catcher Wilson Ramos connects for a two-run single in the fifth inning against the Cubs on Sept. 20, 2017.
  5. Buccaneers-Vikings Scouting Report: Watching Kyle Rudolph, Adam Thielen and Everson Griffen

    Bucs

    No matter how much film we study, no matter how much data we parse, we just don't know how an NFL season will unfold.

    Four of tight end Kyle Rudolph's seven catches this season have come on third down, including this 15-yard touchdown in the Vikings' opener against the Saints. [Getty Images]