For the last month, Luke Schenn and Braydon Coburn have gotten to know each other quite well.
As Tampa Bay's healthy scratches, the defensemen were often on the ice well after the rest of their teammates had completed their morning skate or practice sessions getting extra work in with assistant coach Jeff Halpern, the two keeping their game sharp in case their number was called. They spent a lot of time on the road together, walking to games while the rest of the team warmed up and sitting together in various press boxes throughout the NHL.
Now, they'll be paired together when the Lightning host the New York Islanders Saturday night at AMALIE Arena in the final game of a three-game homestand for the Bolts.
With injuries Tuesday to Jan Rutta (lower body) and Thursday to Ryan McDonagh (lower body), the Lightning will lean on their reserve defensemen to step in and contribute while Rutta and McDonagh recover. And that could be a while as both aren't expected back anytime soon.
Video: Schenn on returning to the lineup
"That last road trip we were with each other every day," said Schenn, who will skate in his 750th career NHL game tonight. "You're kind of on the same program as him where you get to the rink early and you're kind of skating after pre-game skate and going to the rink basically just in time for warmups just before the game. It's a lot of good conversations. I told him this morning, 'If you had told me last Saturday we'd be playing together a week from now, it'd be hard to believe.' It's an opportunity for both of us. He played great last game, so just try to fit in and help the team any way we can."
Coburn filled in for Rutta in Thursday's 4-2 win over Pittsburgh, skating 15:57, his time on ice probably higher than planned because of the mid-game injury sustained by McDonagh. It was a successful return for Coburn, who partnered with Kevin Shattenkirk and contributed heavily, even getting a breakway opportunity, despite sitting the previous seven games.
"He looked great," Shattenkirk said. "I thought he was skating well. A lot of times, the toughest part is the speed of the game and making your plays on time. It seemed like he was ready right from puck drop. It's just a testament to him and staying patient and being ready when the time comes because it's tough for him to sit out like that. He's a professional and he treated it the right way and it makes our team better when our guys are all doing that."
The defensive pairings will be mixed up once again tonight when the Lightning host the Islanders after they had remained so consistent until the injury bug hit Tuesday. Erik Cernak moved up to the top pair with Victor Hedman. Mikhail Sergachev slid back into his familiar spot alongside Shattenkirk. And Schenn and Coburn skated together with Cameron Gaunce, recalled from Syracuse Friday evening, mixing in, his role that of an emergency fill-in should anybody get sick or injured before game time.
Video: Cooper on Bolts going for 6th straight
"I think as a whole group, we've kind of taken that upon ourselves to just play with whoever you're playing with and just play your best game," Shattenkirk said. "I think we're very predictable to each other. I think no matter who you're playing with, you know the automatic plays in our game are there and if you stick to them, you look great as a two-man pair."
Cooper said McDonagh will be out longer than the preferred day-to-day scenario, but his injury isn't a season-ender by any means.
"Hopefully in a couple weeks here we'll have some progress with him and we'll address it then," he said.
While McDonagh recovers, Schenn will take his spot in the lineup. He'll see his first action tonight since December 31, a 16-game absence.
"That's the thing about it is obviously it's a bit of a challenge being out of the lineup, but in saying that, you've got to hold yourself accountable and stay as ready as you can, put in the work before and after practice and hopefully get an opportunity and get in tonight," Schenn said. "I feel well and prepared and looking forward to it."