With the Ducks on the road facing the league's hottest team, it appears they will get a boost on the blueline with the return of defenseman Sami Vatanen.
The 26-year-old Finn, who underwent shoulder surgery in late May, took line rushes alongside Jaycob Megna this morning at Amalie Arena in the team's morning skate. It comes two games after Hampus Lindholm made his season debut in Philadelphia.
If Vatanen plays, it comes at a good time. The Ducks are inundated with injuries up and down the lineup, but especially on defense with two regulars out for an extended period of time. Yesterday it was announced Cam Fowler would miss 3-7 weeks with a knee injury that occurred on October 20. Additionally, Kevin Bieksa has returned to Orange County for evaluation on a left hand injury suffered on October 24. Bieksa will be re-examined on Monday and a return timetable will be determined following that appointment.
"All we want Sami to do is come in and be a complement to our backend," Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said to reporters. "He's moving as well as he's ever moved. Hopefully he gives us the green light either tonight or tomorrow for him to come back into the lineup.
"When you have the opportunity to bring back veteran players who have played critical roles for you previously, it's always a welcome addition," Carlyle said. "What coach wouldn't want that? Your expectations have to be tampered somewhat when a guy hasn't had a training camp and he's been out for an extended period of time. He's put in a lot of work off the ice."
Ducks Executive Vice President/General Manager Bob Murray said during training camp in September the plan was to have Lindholm and Vatanen back by November 1, so according to that timeframe, both are ahead of schedule (if Vatanen plays).
Vatanen's presence could be felt immediately, especially on the power play. Though he isn't the most physically imposing player on the ice (he's 5-10, 187), Vatanen has a heavy slap shot that seems to get through traffic more often than not. In fact, of his 32 career goals, 16 have come on the power play.
No changes are expected in the crease for Anaheim. John Gibson, who has started every game of the season thus far, will likely get the call tonight. But with this being the first half of a back-to-back, we could see Ryan Miller make his first start as a Duck tomorrow against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Peter Budaj is the expected starter the Lightning. The veteran netminder has only appeared in one game this season, a shootout loss on October 17 at New Jersey. Andrei Vasilevskiy, meanwhile, has gone 9-1-0 in 10 games.
This is, without question, the biggest test for the Ducks thus far. The Lightning have speed and skill throughout its lineup, and it starts with its captain, Steven Stamkos. The 27-year-old center enters the game riding a season-opening 11-game point streak and leads the NHL in points (21, 4g/17a), assists and power-play points (9, 3g/6a).
Stamkos' linemate Nikita Kucherov leads the NHL in goals (12), ranks second in power-play points (8, 3g/5a) and also has points in 11 straight games (19, 12g/7a). Former Ducks left wing Chris Kunitz, who was a member of the 2007 Stanley Cup champion team, is in his first season with the Lightning. The 38-year-old forward is a four-time Cup champion, having also won it three times with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, 2016 and 2017.
"They put up some numbers, so you have to be aware when they're on the ice," said Ducks right wing Jakob Silfverberg. "You can't give them any room. If they have room, they're going to make plays. It's going to be a tough challenge. We need to be in their face and not give them the room they want."
Projected Line Combinations