Slowly but surely the Tampa Bay Lightning are adding the missing pieces back to their lineup. Though the Bolts may not peak until No. 91 is back, each return is a step in the right direction.
The unexpected absences have also sped up the growth of the youth that surrounds the team keeping the Lightning in the conversation.
On a two-game win streak, the Bolts currently sit at third place in the Atlantic Division, just five points behind the first-place Boston Bruins. They are also fourth in the Eastern Conference. Since Steven Stamkos was injured the Lightning have a 8-6-3 record.
HEDMAN TO PLAY
Defenseman Victor Hedman returns to the ice for the first time since December 5 against Ottawa. While missing six games was not “ideal,” the 6’6” towering blueliner said conditioning is not an issue.
“I want to go out there and play simple in the first period,” Hedman said. “I want to take the first 20 minutes to get my timing back.”
Continuing to move forward, despite some costly injuries, having Hedman healthy is another reason to continue to rally.
“He’s our best defenseman,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “He plays on the power play, the penalty kill and skates 25 minutes a night. We’re slowly getting healthy.”
BLUE LINE ADDS GRIT
His name entered the conversation during training camp and 31-year-old J.P. Cote knew a trip to the Lightning was possible.
“I’ve played in Europe, with teams that didn’t work so well and had no contract at the beginning of the year and you start to ask yourself some questions,” Cote said. “When I talked with [Steve] Yzerman [during camp] he said if a call-up comes they’d consider calling me, so it was something else to hold on to.”
There’s no mistake on why he’s here – to be a defenseman who keeps the puck out of the net at any means possible – according to Cooper and he’s been a teacher for teammates like Radko Gudas, whose style of play is comparable.
“We worked on hitting together,” Gudas said. “He’s a big physical player and he’s got some experience in the minors. Having us both out there tells other teams to watch out, somebody’s coming behind you.”
Cooper says they were looking for “a bit more bite” on the blue line when they signed and recalled Cote.
“Guys will think twice when their cruising in front of the crease because he’s a man and he’s not afraid of the game,” Cooper said. “We’ve had some situations happen in front of our net and hopefully he’ll help alleviate that.”
PYATT EYES RETURN
With a recent setback that made time start to drag, forward Tom Pyatt said “it felt good” to finally don a regular jersey (previously wore a red, no-contact jersey) during Thursday’s skate.
“I’m going to have to tell myself to slow down when I get out there because I’ll be really excited,” Pyatt said. “I’ve been out for so long, but it’s any minute now.”
Pyatt is not officially cleared to play, but has a good chance of being ready to go Saturday when the Bolts take on the Carolina Hurricanes.
TYRELL, TAORMINA HEAD BACK TO ‘CUSE
Forward Dana Tyrell and defenseman Matt Taormina each played in seven games during their stint with the Lightning, but were both reassigned to the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch on Wednesday.
The two hovered around an average of 10 minutes of total ice time per night.
ODDS ‘N ENDS
Netminder Anders Lindback will get the start Thursday versus his former team. Though Lindback has a 2-6-1 record in 10 games this season his numbers (.883 save percentage, 3.12 goals-against average) are not exactly vindictive of his actual play. Cooper says the Bolts need to try and average one more goal a game - a goal that’s been missing with Stamkos out - to help him get more wins.
Forwards Ryan Malone (broken ankle) and Stamkos (broken right tibia) continue to work on their recovery, as each skated prior to Tampa Bay’s morning skate today.