Thursday, June 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Glut of defensemen leaves Lightning with juggling act

BRANDON — You've heard the one about the difficulties fitting a square peg into a round hole?

How about wedging three players into one position?

That is the mind-bender that faces Lightning coach Jon Cooper every game when he decides whether Mark Barberio, Andrej Sustr or Keith Aulie will fill the lineup's final spot on defense.

"It's tough when they're giving it their all and battling as hard as they can in practice," Cooper said. "You know they can play in this league."

But with eight defensemen on the roster and six on-ice positions, Barberio, Sustr and Aulie compete daily for that last spot.

Barberio, 23, a rookie, is the incumbent, having played the past two games and four overall.

Sustr, 22, also a rookie, has played 10 of 14 games, though he was scratched in three of the past five. Aulie, 24, with 123 career NHL games, has played twice.

"It's not easy," Aulie said Wednesday at the Ice Sports Forum. "It's something you don't want to go through. But … all you can control is what you do on the ice. You work hard every day and hope you're bringing something that they want."

Even then, that might not be enough. Consider how highly the Lightning thinks of Sustr. As Cooper said of the 6-foot-8, 225-pounder, "There's not much not to like. He's hard to get around. He's confident. He sees the ice."

But he needs to get stronger and acclimate more to the speed of the game. So he was scratched in favor of Barberio for Friday's 3-0 win at Carolina.

Barberio played well in that game and in Saturday's 4-2 victory over the Blues, in which he got his first NHL point, an assist. Coaches don't like to tamper with a winning lineup, which is why Barberio, a lefty puck-mover, is expected to play tonight against the Oilers at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Aulie or Sustr could get in if Cooper goes with seven defensemen instead of the usual six. And with the Lightning (10-4-0) to play 12 games in 23 days, chances are injuries or simple rest and recovery will create openings.

Until then, "they understand we're going (well) right now," Cooper said, "We're probably not going to change things up much."

How did this glut happen?

Well, sending Barberio or Aulie to AHL Syracuse would mean first exposing them to waivers, and the probability is high both would be claimed. Sustr, signed in March out of the University of Nebraska-Omaha, forced his way onto the team with a strong preseason.

That said, each still is raw, so the rotation gives them opportunities to sit and regroup.

"And it keeps guys honest," Barberio said. "It keeps guys on their toes. It creates healthy competition. By doing that, we can be better players."

Aulie said he has seen situations where battles for playing time cause jealousy. That has not happened in this case.

"We don't want bad apples here," he said. "We don't want that negative-attitude stuff. Are guys disappointed when they don't play? Of course. At the same time, we're professionals."

"It's three guys competing for one spot on the roster," Sustr said. "You have to battle through it, work hard and earn your spot."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]

. Tonight

Lightning vs. Oilers

When/where: 7:30; Tampa Bay Times Forum

TV/radio: Sun Sports; 970-AM

Key stats: Lightning C Steven Stamkos has six goals, four assists in a six-game points streak. … Tampa Bay has killed 32 of its past 33 penalties. … With 10 points, the Oilers are at the bottom of the Western Conference. … Tampa Bay is 5-0-0 against the West this season. … Edmonton C Marc Arcobello entered Wednesday leading all rookies with 10 assists. … Oilers goaltenders are last in the league with a 3.76 goals-against average and a .875 save percentage.

Comments
Lightning’s Victor Hedman salutes survivors in Norris Trophy acceptance speech

Lightning’s Victor Hedman salutes survivors in Norris Trophy acceptance speech

The victims and survivors of three tragedies — the mass shootings in Las Vegas and at Parkland Stoneman Douglas High School, and the bus accident that killed 16 members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team — were a big part of Wedne...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Lightning’s Victor Hedman wins NHL’s Norris Trophy

Lightning’s Victor Hedman wins NHL’s Norris Trophy

Victor Hedman, a relentless part of the Lightning's push to the Eastern Conference final last season, was honored Wednesday night with the Norris Trophy, given to the NHL's top defenseman."To the Lightning organization, Mr. Jeff Vinik, Steve Yzerman ...
Published: 06/20/18
Lightning announce home opener: Oct. 6 vs. Panthers

Lightning announce home opener: Oct. 6 vs. Panthers

The Tampa Bay Lightning will announce their full 2018-19 schedule on Thursday, but the league announced each home opener Wednesday, with Tampa Bay playing host to the Florida Panthers at Amalie Arena on Saturday, Oct. 6.The Lightning will know their ...
Published: 06/20/18
Norris Trophy could be good consolation for Lightning’s Victor Hedman

Norris Trophy could be good consolation for Lightning’s Victor Hedman

Victor Hedman is talking from a hotel room in Las Vegas and admits he's a little jet-lagged."Actually, very jet-lagged," Hedman says.That's what happens when you take a flight from Sweden to the party capital of the world.But he knows exactly what he...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Mike Hoffman traded twice in wake of harassment, cyberbullying claims

Mike Hoffman traded twice in wake of harassment, cyberbullying claims

The Ottawa Senators traded winger Mike Hoffman on Tuesday, hoping to solve an ugly off-ice issue involving star defenseman Erik Karlsson and his wife. The Senators sent Hoffman to the San Jose Sharks, who then dealt him to the Florida Panthers. All t...
Published: 06/19/18
Salary-cap increase makes for ‘more fun’ NHL offseason

Salary-cap increase makes for ‘more fun’ NHL offseason

Thanks, Vegas. That’s what NHL general managers are saying this offseason after the Stanley Cup Final run of the expansion Golden Knights contributed to what’s expected to be a healthy increase for the salary cap. With elite center John Tavares, No. ...
Published: 06/19/18
Barry Trotz resigns as coach of Stanley Cup-winning Capitals

Barry Trotz resigns as coach of Stanley Cup-winning Capitals

Barry Trotz abruptly stepped down as coach of the Washington Capitals on Monday after failing to agree to terms on a new contract, a stunning move that left the newly minted Stanley Cup champions without a coach with the draft later this week and wit...
Published: 06/18/18
Lightning re-signs goaltender Eddie Pasquale to two-way deal

Lightning re-signs goaltender Eddie Pasquale to two-way deal

The Lightning re-signed goaltender Eddie Pasquale to a one-year, two-way contract general manager Steve Yzerman announced today.Pasquale, 27, split this past season between the Syracuse Crunch and Bakersfield Condors of the American Hockey League. He...
Published: 06/18/18
Lightning opens seven-game preseason schedule at home Sept. 18

Lightning opens seven-game preseason schedule at home Sept. 18

TAMPA — The Lightning will open its seven-game preseason schedule at home with a 7:30 p.m.  game Sept. 18 against the Carolina Hurricane, the team announced Thursday.That is one of three home games the Lightning will play in a preseason sc...
Published: 06/14/18
Lightning trades Peter Budaj to Kings, acquires forward Andy Andreoff

Lightning trades Peter Budaj to Kings, acquires forward Andy Andreoff

Sixteen months after acquiring Peter Budaj from the Kings, the Lightning today returned the veteran goaltender to Los Angeles.The Lightning traded Budaj for forward Andy Andreoff, general manager Steve Yzerman announced in a news release.Andreoff, 27...
Published: 06/13/18