TAMPA — Being a rookie in the NHL can be a roller-coaster ride. Just ask LW Jonathan Drouin.
Drouin, 19, started Thursday's game against the Sharks on the top line with C Steven Stamkos. Saturday against the Islanders, he watched from above as a healthy scratch.
C Cedric Paquette, who was a healthy scratch Thursday, took Drouin's spot in the lineup. Paquette scored in the first period, his fifth goal in five games since getting called up from AHL Syracuse. With the Lightning forward group so deep and getting healthier, coach Jon Cooper has said it has made for "painful" decisions on whom to sit when "nobody on our team has deserved to come out."
Drouin has one goal and seven assists in his first 12 games since making the jump from juniors this season. Cooper has liked his progress, especially away from the puck, but said he is still "learning the league." Drouin isn't the first teenage prospect, nor will he be the last, to watch a game from the press box. (Stamkos did, too, his rookie year.)
But Saturday's decision could have been more to get Paquette back into the lineup. Paquette has really impressed in his latest callup.
"(Drouin is) an unreal player. He's going to be a great player for us," Cooper said. "So is Cedric Paquette. So is whoever else is going to be scratched the next night. We've got depth up front, and sometimes these things are going to happen. (Drouin has) a bright future. Somebody has to sit out, and it was his turn in the bucket (Saturday)."
LINING UP: LW Ondrej Palat (lower body), who was a game-time decision, played. G Ben Bishop started his fourth straight game and 14th of the season. D Mark Barberio was also scratched.
STEPPING IN: Saturday marked four weeks since D Victor Hedman fractured a finger, and the Lightning is 10-3-1 without its top defenseman. "You've got big holes to plug and have got to find different ways to win," associate coach Rick Bowness said. "He's an elite defenseman now. You take his 25 minutes a night out — they are big, important minutes — and it affects … the minutes for the other guys.
"However, we are sitting where we are in the conference (second) and doing the same thing we did without (Stamkos last season while he was out with a broken leg), doing our best to survive and hang in there. … Has every game been a Picasso? Absolutely not. Have we played well enough to be where we are? Yes."
The Lightning entered Saturday having allowed 30 or more shots in five of its previous six games, a disturbing trend. Bowness said the solution starts with better puck management because turnovers lead to scrambling. "We've got to spend more time up in the offensive zone and spend a lot less time in our zone," he said. "We've got to battle harder to get pucks, win 50-50 battles."
ICE CHIPS: G Evgeni Nabokov, who spent the previous three seasons with the Islanders, said his favorite part about the time was the "unbelievable" guys in the locker room, how they handled the negativity of losing. When asked if he'd like to start Tuesday on Long Island, Nabokov smiled: "Absolutely."