1. As of Wednesday morning, we do not yet know the severity of Steven Stamkos' injury, one he sustained last night during an innocent-looking play. During his postgame session, Jon Cooper indicated that, while he didn't have an update, this injury was nothing like Stamkos' broken leg injury in 2013. That's certainly one bit of good news.
Lightning fans also know that, no matter how long Stamkos may be out, the team has successfully navigated through this situation before. Not only did the Lightning do well in the 2013-14 season while Stamkos recovered from his broken leg, they also won two playoff rounds without him last year. And took three games from Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference Final before Stamkos returned for Game Seven.
It hasn't just been Stamkos, either. Anton Stralman also missed the first two rounds of the playoffs last year as he recovered from his broken leg injury. He's also missed the first two games of this current road trip - and the Lightning have won both. The team has dealt well in the past when other significant players have missed time: Ben Bishop, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, just to name a few.
How have they been able to persevere? It's not usually that one healthy player specifically fills the void left by an injured one, although that was the case in the Conference Finals last year when Andrei Vasilevskiy did step in for Bishop. More often, it's a collective group effort. Take Stralman's case, for example. Andrej Sustr has become Victor Hedman's defense partner, but the responsibility of accounting for Stralman's absence has fallen on all the defensemen. Nikita Nesterov, who has come into the lineup since Stralman got hurt, has filled Stralman's spot on one of the power play units (and contributed a key power play goal last night in Detroit). Sustr played 22:08 last night, nearly five minutes more than his season average. Hedman played 25:16, a slight increase over his typical time-on-ice. Jason Garrison and Braydon Coburn also played more than usual last evening - and Coburn missed a few shifts after blocking a shot in the second period.
Hopefully, the Stamkos injury isn't serious. But the Lightning already know how to win when key players are out of the lineup.
2. The line of Brian Boyle, Cedric Paquette and J.T. Brown has been outstanding in recent games. They are playing a north-south game, being physical, keeping pucks in the offensive zone, producing points and changing a game's momentum.
The unit found its groove in the third period of last Thursday's win over the New York Islanders at Amalie Arena. In that game, the Lightning had grabbed an early 3-0 lead, but the Islanders pushed back in the second period. New York scored once and had several other dangerous chances. Early in the third period, however, Boyle scored off a feed from Paquette, reestablishing a three-goal lead for the Lightning. That goal completely shifted the game's momentum and the Lightning controlled play for the rest of the frame. In particular, the line was especially dominant. The three players wore down the Islanders with long, relentless offensive zone shifts and nearly scored again.
The Lightning only tallied one goal in Saturday's loss to San Jose, but that line was on the ice for it. Paquette won a puck battle behind the net and forced the puck in front. After Martin Jones stopped Boyle's close range attempt, Stralman put in the rebound.
On Monday in Brooklyn, the Lightning and Islanders were scoreless with just over a minute left in the first period. Paquette set up Brown for a breakaway goal that broke the tie. Before the period ended, the Bolts had added another tally and took control of the game.
Then there was last night's contest. While the line didn't contribute any points, they provided one of the most important shifts of the evening. The Red Wings had netted two third period power play goals to erase a 3-1 Lightning lead and Detroit had all of the momentum. Henrik Zetterberg's tying goal occurred with 10:22 remaining. Over the next six minutes, the Red Wings pressed hard for the go-ahead score. But with four and a half minutes left, the Lightning got an offensive zone faceoff. Boyle won it cleanly and the Lightning were able to enjoy a strong shift in the Detroit end. Hedman put two shots on goal, Boyle had one and Paquette barely missed on a rebound. That sequence tilted momentum away from the Wings and set the stage for Kucherov's winning goal with 1:10 left.
There's a reason why Cooper is putting that line out to start periods. They are effectively setting a tone that the rest of the team can maintain.
3. According to Chris Johnston of Sportsnet.ca, NHL General Managers are exploring the possibility of using International Rules for shootouts. It's a matter they'll discuss more when they meet in March.
Both in International play and in the NHL, the shootout begins the same way. Each team selects three different shooters. The rules diverge if the shootout is tied after three rounds, though. In International play, one player may take multiple shots. Currently in the NHL, a player cannot shoot twice until all other skaters on the team have taken an attempt.
Most recently and notably, we saw the International rule during the 2014 Olympics, when T.J. Oshie took repeated shots and helped the U.S. beat Russia in one of the round robin games.
I was talking with Lightning goaltending coach Franz Jean about this potential change. Jean thinks that if the shift is made, teams will start looking in free agency for players who are really good in the shootout. A high percentage shootout scorer will give your team a chance to gain those valuable extra points that come with shootout wins. Also, there will be a "Keeping Up With The Joneses" component to it. If your opponent has a shootout specialist, you'd better have one, too.
Jean, who gathers information on opposing players and their shootout tendencies for Bishop and Vasilevskiy, also said that the best shootout players typically don't have a large bag of tricks in their arsenal. Instead, they have just one or two moves. But they are really good at executing those one or two moves. In other words, when facing a top shootout player, the goalie may know what's coming, but still may not be able to make the save.
That would make for an interesting dynamic during a shootout in which the same player is repeatedly taking attempts. If he has two moves, does he mix them up so as to keep the goalie guessing? Or, assuming one move is slightly better than the other, does he stick with the one that usually yields better results?
We'll see if the GMs do make this change. If so, it'd be an intriguing new wrinkle to the shootout.