Saturday, December 16, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning soon to face dilemma over glut of healthy defensemen

TAMPA — When defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron returns from a back injury — and that is simply a matter of conditioning, coach Guy Boucher said — the Lightning will have a glut on the blue line that is a problem and an opportunity.

The problem: With Bruno Gervais and Brendan Mikkelson gaining confidence and playing time, Boucher, who likes to play seven defensemen, will have difficult decisions because he will have eight available.

The opportunity: GM Steve Yzerman will have organizational depth to manage, never a bad thing with the Feb. 27 trade deadline three weeks away.

It is interesting Gervais and Mikkelson are forcing the issue.

Gervais, 27, was a healthy scratch most of the season's first half but has played in 20 straight games. Averaging 13:29 of ice time, he has played more in six of his past eight games, has three goals and eight points for the season and is plus-1. Mikkel­son, 24, acquired Jan. 6 from the Flames for center Blair Jones, has zero points but is plus-3 and averaging 13:46 of ice time.

"Gervais is a smart guy. Mikkel­son is mobile and can move," Boucher said. "They're both heads-up. I'd say both are down-to-earth guys who actually are very calm about things, so they're calm about their tandem and what they need to do."

Bergeron, out nine games, has to perhaps stay out of the weight room, where he said his injury originated and where he was hurt last season. Then he vowed to be more careful.

"But it wasn't even heavy (weight)," he said of his recent workout. "It's unfortunate. I should have known better. But at the same time, you always do things with the right intentions, and sometimes the results are unfortunate."

RETURN: Rookie wing Brett Connolly was in the lineup for Saturday's 6-3 win over the Panthers after he was a healthy scratch Thursday against the Jets. Connolly played 7:10 without a shot. But he blocked a shot and on the same shift thwarted a scoring chance with a backcheck; that's notable because Boucher said Connolly's problems have been defensive.

Boucher compared Connolly's struggles with those of teammate Steven Stamkos and Boston's Tyler Seguin, both of whom were high first-round draft choices — Stamkos was No. 1 overall in 2008, Seguin No. 2 in 2010 — and flourished after being benched as rookies.

Connolly, 2010's No. 6 overall pick, said he skated with Seguin "a few times this summer."

"He was a guy who … struggled to play defense. I'm looking at the same thing this year," Connolly said. "I just can't be a one-way player. … If that means I have to play on the fourth line and not play as much and focus on the D zone, that's that. "

SILENCE: After Marty St. Louis did not speak to reporters pregame about his 900th NHL game Saturday and then had a hat trick, Stamkos said his teammate might be on to something: "You saw the results. Marty is a pretty superstitious guy. He knows his routines, what he likes to talk about, what he doesn't, so to each his own."

SCHEDULE: Tampa Bay, on a 6-0-1 run, finishes a four-game homestand Tuesday against the Kings before a trip to the Rangers, Buffalo and Pittsburgh.

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