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Burns: Jonathan Drouin shines in debut while injuries pile up for Bolts

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

Monday night’s game at Edmonton certainly had its share of storylines. Jonathan Drouin finds out a couple hours before puck drop he’ll make his NHL debut. Alex Killorn catches an edge in morning skate and crashes into the boards, causing him to sit against the Oilers and ushering in the Drouin era in Tampa Bay. Ryan Callahan disappeared sometime in the second period and wasn’t seen again, the Lightning later revealing Callahan had suffered an upper body injury.

So where does that leave us? Let’s try to dissect last night’s happenings.

1. This Jonathan Drouin kid is pretty good

Drouin wasn’t expected to feature against Edmonton after playing back-to-back nights over the weekend in Syracuse and spending all day Sunday traveling to Western Canada. But Killorn’s unfortunate practice malady – he’s day-to-day with an upper body injury – forced head coach Jon Cooper’s hand, and the 19-year-old former No. 3 overall selection in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft showed why Bolts fans were clamoring to see him.

Drouin was the fastest guy on the ice every time he was in the game. He skated circles – literally – around Edmonton’s defensemen. And his skillful stickhandling created a number of scoring chances for the Lightning, which they unfortunately were unable to take advantage of.

In one sequence during an early shift, Drouin weaved his way through the Oilers’ zone, holding onto the puck for over five seconds before putting a shot on net that was saved by Edmonton’s Ben Scrivens. Moments later, tracking back to play defense, Drouin was quickest to a puck along the boards and drew a penalty for the Bolts’ first power play.

"He comes as advertised," Cooper said following Drouin’s display. "He plays with speed, thought he controlled the game when he had it on his stick."

From last night’s performance, it’s easy to see why Drouin was rated the top prospect in the league by over the summer.

2. Injuries, it seems, will again be an ongoing theme for the Bolts this season

Lightning fans thought last year was rough when superstar center Steven Stamkos broke his leg and missed 45 games of the regular season and then breakout goalie Ben Bishop injured his wrist midseason, played hurt through the latter half of the schedule and was out for good after another injury during the last week of the regular season, derailing the team’s chances of a deep postseason run.

But, 2014-15 appears to be shaping up much the same way.

So far, through two games on its opening road trip of the season, the Lightning have lost standout defenseman Victor Hedman for four to six weeks with a fractured finger after Hedman blocked a shot with his right hand against Vancouver.

Killorn is banged up after falling hard in morning skate prior to the Edmonton game. And Callahan skated off in the second period against the Oilers and is day-to-day.

Add in the injury to Radko Gudas, who hasn’t played since a 7-1 victory over Montreal last Monday, and the Bolts are just searching for healthy bodies to finish out the road swing at this point.

One glimmer of hope for Lightning fans, however. None of the injuries appear to be season ending. Hedman’s could have been worse had the puck damaged ligaments rather than just breaking a bone. And the injuries are happening early in the season when they’re not as critical.

3. The Lightning have yet to string together consistent performances in back-to-back games

Part of this can be attributed to so many players missing from the lineup, disrupting any chance of continuity. But so far this season, Tampa Bay’s modus operandi has been to play well one game and come out flat the next.

A thrilling overtime victory in the season opener against Florida was followed by a shootout loss to Ottawa in which the Bolts were outplayed for large chunks of the game.

The Lightning score seven goals and demolish Montreal in game three but couldn’t find the net the next night in a 2-1 loss to New Jersey. 

And a gutty win over the previously undefeated Canucks in Vancouver was followed by an ugly loss in Edmonton to the Oilers, a squad that hadn’t won in five tries until beating the Lightning Monday night.

Tampa Bay will need to play with much more consistency if it fancies itself one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, which is what the pundits predicted this offseason. 

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