TAMPA -- Benoit Pouliot leads all Tampa Bay Lightning forwards with a plus-9 rating and has recorded three points (one goal and two assists) in the past three games he has played. Tom Pyatt ranks first among Lightning forwards with 33 blocked shots.
Both skaters, however, will be off the ice, scratched for the second consecutive game, when Tampa Bay faces the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Significant? Not to Lightning coach Jon Cooper.
"I wouldn't read too much into it about the guys that are scratched," Cooper said. "We're just caught between that, we're trying to win, we're trying to win, we're trying to win, but we are also trying to see what we have. What guys can handle this? What guys can play next year? It's tough to do; it's tough to balance."
Cooper, who took the helm of the Lightning on March 25, will be coaching in his seventh NHL game Thursday. Previously, he led the franchise's American Hockey League affiliate Syracuse Crunch, and when he scans his current roster he can see the names of eight players who spent time with him this season in Syracuse.
"You're not walking in the locker room and saying, 'OK, tonight we're going to play 10 AHLers and all these vets will be out,' but I've approached some of these guys and said, 'This is where we are at; this is an organization, this is for all of us.' So don't read too much into that," Cooper said. "We're just looking at different guys in different roles, and we don't think our team is losing that much of a step by playing some of the younger guys in the situations they are in. So it's just their turn in the fire right now. I know they don't like it, but they are being unreal soldiers. For right now, what we feel to win tonight and what is best for the organization in the future, this is what has to happen."
Some good news for the Lightning concerns defenseman Victor Hedman, who has missed three games with a lower-body injury. Hedman joined the team for the morning skate, which indicates his return to the lineup is near.
"I would hope by the weekend; definitely not tonight," Cooper said. "I would hope by the weekend he'll be ready. He's OK. It's a pain-tolerance thing with him. There is no structural damage or anything like that. He's imminent."
How much has losing the big defenseman meant to the club?
"Our defense has stepped up," Cooper said. "It's hard to pull out a 6-foot-5 skating defenseman who can add something to all over the ice, those guys are hard to replace."
For Pittsburgh, the good news is that defenseman Kris Letang, who has missed six games with a lower-body injury, is set to return Thursday night.
Chris Kunitz – Evgeni Malkin – Jarome Iginla
Brenden Morrow – Jussi Jokinen – Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke – Brandon Sutter – Tyler Kennedy
Tanner Glass – Craig Adams – Beau Bennett
Brooks Orpik – Mark Eaton
Douglas Murray – Kris Letang
Deryk Engelland – Matt Niskanen
Scratched: Dustin Jeffrey, Joe Vitale, Simon Despres
Injured: Sidney Crosby (broken jaw), James Neal (concussion)
Alex Killorn – Steven Stamkos – Martin St. Louis
Ryan Malone – Vincent Lecavalier – Teddy Purcell
Richard Panik – Tyler Johnson – B.J. Crombeen
Pierre-Cedric Labrie – Nate Thompson – Brett Connolly
Eric Brewer – Matthew Carle
Sami Salo – Keith Aulie
Mark Barberio – Radko Gudas
Scratched: Tom Pyatt, Dana Tyrell, Benoit Pouliot
Injured: Anders Lindback (ankle), Victor Hedman (lower body)