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Lightning’s depth tested with injuries piling up

Tampa Bay will have to depend on younger players to help carry a heavier load.
The Lightning tested Corey Perry, pictured, on the top line with Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point at Monday's practice.
The Lightning tested Corey Perry, pictured, on the top line with Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point at Monday's practice. [ PAUL SANCYA | AP ]
Published Oct. 19
Updated Oct. 20

TAMPA — There wasn’t any doubt the Lightning’s depth would be tested after they lost so many players in the offseason. But no one thought it would be tested to such an extent so early.

Only four games into the regular season, two injuries have had a significant impact on the Lightning’s lineup.

On the blue line, Zach Bogosian is out for three to five weeks with a lower-body injury incurred in the opener against Pittsburgh, while Cal Foote won’t return any sooner than Saturday after offseason hand surgery.

What’s more, last season’s playoff scoring leader, Nikita Kucherov, is on long-term injured reserve after sustaining a lower-body injury Saturday in Washington.

With the loss of defenseman Luke Schenn and forwards Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde and Tyler Johnson in the offseason, the Lightning had to replace a depth defenseman, their entire third line and their fourth-line center.

They were counting on younger players, as well as offseason acquisitions Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Corey Perry and Bogosian (before he was injured) to help fill those roles.

But the injuries created new holes.

Even before the injuries, the Lightning were relying on rookies like Taylor Raddysh — who hadn’t played in an NHL regular-season game before the opener — or Boris Katchouk — who made his NHL debut against Washington — to fill out their fourth line.

The team’s forward depth was thinned further when it placed Alex Barre-Boulet on waivers before the opener in the hopes of assigning him to AHL Syracuse and bringing him back in a larger role down the road.

Barre-Boulet, a proven scorer in the minors who averaged 15:15 of ice time in 15 games after making his NHL debut last February, had more than enough experience to play with the Lightning. But he was claimed by Seattle shortly after he was made available.

“This (situation) really tests your depth in a year that we lost some depth,” coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s unfortunate sometimes how that works, but it’s an opportunity for Raddysh and ‘Bo’ and ‘Footer,’ when he gets back, to show us what you can do and what’s been your lifelong dream.”

Through four games, Raddysh (26:46 over three games) and Katchouk (15:07 in two) have played a collective 41:53. With Kucherov’s absence, they’re expected to see more time on the fourth line with Bellemare.

The Lightning already are having to make concessions elsewhere. On defense, Andrej Sustr has filled in for Bogosian in the third pairing with Mikhail Sergachev. Through his first three games, Sustr averaged 9:52 and blocked one shot.

On Tuesday night, the Lightning tried Perry on the top line with Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point, which forced Mathieu Joseph to take Perry’s spot on the third line.

Meanwhile, on special teams, Palat moved to the top power-play unit while Ross Colton joined the second unit, which could impact any potential time he could spend on the penalty kill.

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Still, it’s not a situation that is new to the Lightning. En route to the Stanley Cup in 2019-20, the team played most of the postseason without captain Steven Stamkos. Last season, the Lightning had to fight through the shortened, 56-game regular season to reach the playoffs without Kucherov, who was recovering from hip surgery.

The biggest question surrounding the team’s depth this season is its lack of NHL experience. But as Cooper pointed out, the situation gives younger players a chance to step up into larger roles at a critical time for the organization.

“Guys that maybe don’t play on that first power play or play first-line minutes are going to have to step up as well,” Killorn said. “ ... It’s not going to be one guy that’s going to have to fill that role. It’s going to be the collective, so we’re pretty positive we have the group that can do it.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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