Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said Bolts defenseman Victor Hedman will not play in tonight’s matchup against the Buffalo Sabres at Amalie Arena.
Hedman took a hard hit against the boards during the second period of Thursday’s loss to Dallas and didn’t return to the game. Hedman is listed as day-to-day, and Cooper suggested Hedman is doing better than previously feared when the injury occurred.
“I don’t want to speculate how he’s going to be, but he’s feeling better,” Cooper said.
Lightning forward Alex Killorn, who missed Thursday’s game with an upper-body injury, said he’s “ready to go” against the Sabres, but Cooper wasn’t quite ready to insert him into tonight’s lineup.
“We’ll see how Killorn is in the warmups,” Cooper said. “If he’s ready to go, somebody’s coming out.”
With Hedman out and Nikita Nesterov suspended two games for boarding Dallas’ Curtis McKenzie on Thursday, Slater Koekkoek was recalled from AHL Syracuse Friday afternoon.
Koekkoek said he found out about his callup when Crunch head coach Rob Zettler called him into his office on Friday.
“I was smiling ear to ear,” Koekkoek said. “I didn’t think it was a bad thing.”
Koekkoek played three games toward the end of the 2014-15 regular season with the Lightning and made his NHL debut March 31 at Toronto.
Koekkoek has yet to play a regular season game at Amalie Arena, an experience he’s looking forward to.
“It should be exciting,” Koekkoek said. “My parents are actually flying in, so that’s really good.”
Koekkoek said he’s learned to play more responsibly since his last callup to the Lightning.
“People always described me when I was in Peterborough [of the Ontario Hockey League] of being an unleashed kind of stallion,” Koekkoek said. “That’s probably pretty accurate. I think I’ve kind of put the reins on a little bit, I don’t want to lose that ever, just kind of pick my spots a bit better.”
Cooper said he likes Koekkoek’s ability to skate out of trouble and that the 21-year-old first round draft pick (10th overall, 2012) just needs reps in the NHL.
“He deserves this opportunity,” Cooper said. “He’s done a great job (in Syracuse).”
The Lightning were beaten in the face-off circle by their first three opponents before outdueling Detroit and Dallas in their last two games.
The Bolts held a sizable 37-19 advantage over Dallas in the circle on Thursday.
In two days, the Lightning went from one of the worst face-off teams in the NHL to the ninth-best team in the league at 51.7 percent.
So what changed?
“The biggest thing I think is everything gets pinned on the centerman,” Cooper said. “…For every 10 faceoffs, five of them maybe are clean. Well, who’s getting the other five? Well, it’s their two buddies on the wing. The onus is on them to be in the battle, where to go, stick position, where you think pucks are going and we’ve concentrated on that more. We’ve put such an onus on the winger that I think they’re helping our guys out a little bit more.”