For the foreseeable future, the Tampa Bay Lightning will be without their captain and second-leading scorer Steven Stamkos.
The 30-year-old Stamkos had surgery Monday in St. Louis to repair a core muscle injury. He is expected to miss the next six to eight weeks while recuperating and rehabilitating.
While Stamkos was going under the knife, his Lightning teammates were 865 miles away at AMALIE Arena, practicing and preparing for a critical Atlantic Division matchup Tuesday against the Boston Bruins, critical in terms of the Bolts' chances of catching the Bruins for first place in the division.
Life, it seems, goes on without Stamkos.
The Lightning will never be able to replace Stamkos.
Monday, they set out to figure how they'll get by without him.
Video: Cooper on Stamkos injury and Goodrow
"Stammer has a certain skill set that's much better than a lot of other guys, especially in the shooting department," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper "Some minutes are going to have to be distributed a little bit to other guys, but as a team, if one guy comes out, it shouldn't affect the way we play. It shouldn't affect our mindset. It shouldn't affect the amount of penalties we take. It shouldn't affect the turnovers. We've got to keep playing the same way. That's the sign of a good team is that you can just continue on when you hit adversity like this. And so, that's what I'm looking for is for us not to change our mindset in how we have to play and how we have to win. We still have to defend. We still have to be good on special teams. We still have to do all these things. That's going to be the sign for me."
Saturday's 4-3 victory over the Calgary Flames was encouraging for Cooper and the rest of the Lightning. Tampa Bay scored a pair of power-play goals despite missing arguably its greatest power-play weapon in Stamkos' hammer from the left circle. The Lightning defended well except for a 52-second span in the second period when the Flames scored twice to cut the Bolts lead to a goal. And they were able to close out the victory with a smartly-played third period while holding the lead.
"For the most part I thought we handled that game really well," Cooper said. "But it was because we stayed the course for 60. That's how we're going to have to mask these players coming out, no different than McDonagh being out and Rutta. You've got to play the same way. That's what we have to do and that's how we'll continue to have success if we do."
Make no mistake, losing Stamkos will have an effect that will be felt throughout the lineup. Stamkos ranked second on the Lightning for goals (29) and points (66). He's the team leader for power-play goals. He's one of the Lightning's best face-off men, winning draws at a 54.3 percent rate while often getting the call to take the all-important opening draw on a penalty kill.
Plus, it's hard to quantify the leadership in the locker room the Lightning are losing without their captain.
Video: Pat Maroon on Stamkos Injury
"I think losing him is big, especially at the most important time of the year," Maroon said. "We're going to miss his leadership and obviously what he brings on the ice. He's the guy that kind of drives the bus for our team, on the ice, off the ice, in the locker room. When we heard the news, it's a blow to our team. That line was playing some really good hockey. They were kind of driving the bus for us, pushing our team forward. We're going to miss him. We're just praying for a speedy recovery, making sure he's healthy. When he gets back, it's a bonus for us."
In Stamkos' absence, Ondrej Palat moved up to the top line alongside Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov for the win over Calgary and scored one of Tampa Bay's two power-play goals. Mitchell Stephens was recalled from AHL Syracuse and will likely remain around until Stamkos is ready to return. In 35 games this season, Stephens has produced two goals and five points and has been effective playing a 200-foot game during his rookie season.
But it's going to take a team-wide effort to make up for the lost production with Stamkos out.
"Right now, we've just got to find ways to play without him," Maroon said. "I know it's hard, but it's kind of a next-man-up mentality. When you lose a player like that of his quality, you just manage it and find ways to still play the same way."