Thursday’s victory against the Ottawa Senators was not just momentous because it ended a lengthy scoring drought or because they managed to do it with just five defensemen. It was especially significant because the way in which they won.
Outshooting Ottawa in the final period and extending their lead by two, the Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to be one step ahead of the Senators in the last 20 minutes and proved they can not only win games with a big scoring differential. They can win the close ones too.
“We came off a couple tough losses where we weren’t generating any offense to get a win,” alternate captain Matt Carle said. “To get a win and get a win like we did is a big confidence booster for us.”
Playing with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, the Lightning ended the night without two of those players – arguably their best defenseman Victor Hedman and Keith Aulie, who was being called upon to fill an everyday role on the blue line.
And while head coach Jon Cooper is “really feeling” for all nine members a part of the injury corps (discluding Mattias Ohlund), he has enjoyed seeing what it has brought out of those players still on the ice.
“When somebody goes down it hurts, but it’s another chance for players to prove they should be playing in the NHL,” Cooper said. “In a weird way it’s really pulled our team together. As much as it’s stinging now, we’re probably going to be a better team down the road.”
Amidst a depleted blue line Thursday, the defense did not just rise to the occasion of keeping the game in favor of the Bolts. The forwards also acknowledged that they needed to bear some of the responsibility, especially with their five on the backend that had to manage their time strictly.
“The forwards did a good job helping them out in the third period and playing defense so they didn’t have to play in our zone too much,” Tyler Johnson said. “Guys are going to be playing more minutes and in different situations and we did a great job with that last night.”
And when the injury bug eventually comes to an end, it will also make for some tough decisions from the coaching staff and management on what to do. According to Cooper the players who have joined the lineup are the reason why the Bolts’ heads continue to stay above water.
While three shutouts in five games was a clear indication for the need of the latest line shuffling, Cooper was asked what else helps you make the determination if it is needed.
“We put a bunch of skilled guys together and it created a little bit of puck possession, but it didn’t create scoring,” he said. “Then we looked for a little bit of balance. We added some sand paper on the line and I thought it’s really served us well.”
Though the scoring chances were not as high as they had hoped they would be, Cooper was pleased with the amount of quality shots that were taken.
ODDS ‘N ENDS
Defensemen Eric Brewer (lower body) and Radko Gudas (upper body) both practiced today and are expected to return to action Saturday night against the Winnipeg Jets.
Forward P.C. Labrie practiced for the first time Friday in a regular jersey after wearing a red, no-contact jersey prior. He has not yet been cleared to play.
Keith Aulie is out indefinitely with a broken hand (surgery Friday) and Victor Hedman’s lower body injury remains undisclosed, but he is now expected to miss at least week and then be re-evaluated.