TAMPA — These are difficult times for AHL Syracuse coach Rob Zettler.
The Lightning, with six players hurt, has pulled away his top two scorers, J.T. Brown and Nikita Kucherov, and grinder Dana Tyrell. It also has brought up and sent back down RW Brett Connolly and D Dmitry Korobov.
But Syracuse also is without C Vlad Namestnikov (broken wrist), D Nikita Nesterov (eye), RW Evan Rankin (leg) and LW Philippe Paradis (lower body).
Between Kucherov, Namestnikov, Brown and Rankin, that's 30 goals. With Syracuse's top offensive threat now D Matt Taormina, with 10 points, the Crunch ended a five-game losing streak Friday, 4-2 against St. John's.
Zettler is anything but rattled.
"We see it as a chance for the players to step up and take advantage of a great opportunity, just like the players who have been called up," he said. "We tell the guys, the game changes quickly day to day. You've just got to be prepared for the opportunity."
The best way to do that, Zettler said, is to maintain routines.
"You just need to continue to focus on the process," he said. "You always want to win games. Ultimately, that helps your development. But that doesn't happen unless you focus on the things that need to be done."
What Syracuse needs is to weather the storm until its own players and those on the big club start getting healthy.
"These things are all the things you talk about all year," Zettler said. "Now it's time for guys to take advantage of the opportunity."
CHALLENGED: The Lightning's Kid Line of C Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Richard Panik was matched Friday against the Penguins line of C Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis.
"Biggest challenge of my life," Johnson said.
Even though the line "lost" the matchup 1-0 as Kunitz scored in the first period after Panik's backchecking mistake, the all-rookie line did a fine job.
"We like the challenge," Johnson said. "We like to be relied upon a little bit. It's nice to know (Cooper) has faith in us."
"They made one little mistake, and they knew it," Cooper said. "I'm sure they'll know when you're playing against a world-class line like that there is no room for error. They did a hell of a job."
And learned something, too, said Johnson, who won 8 of 13 faceoffs compared to 6 of 17 for Crosby: "If you cheat one ounce, they're going to make you pay for it. It makes us better players. I'm definitely a better player at the end of the game than I was at the start playing against those guys."
MEDICAL MATTERS: Cooper said he is "surprised" D Radko Gudas (upper body) isn't ready. … F Tom Pyatt (collarbone) has said he believes he will be cleared to play by Tuesday at Columbus, but Cooper indicated more likely it will be Thursday at home against the Senators.
ODDS AND ENDS: In his past three games, G Ben Bishop stopped 104 of 107 shots. … Tampa Bay was shut out for the fourth time this season. … Tyrell got in his first game since being called up. … D Keith Aulie was scratched.