TAMPA -- Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman will be back in the lineup Thursday as the Lightning host the Ottawa Senators at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Hedman missed one game when he was hit in the leg with a puck during the Lightning's game Jan. 18 against the San Jose Sharks. That was one game too many for Lightning coach Jon Cooper.
"You miss a 24-minute [of ice time per game] defenseman that plays the whole 200 feet," Cooper said. "You take arguably the best defenseman off any team and it will leave a hole. When he is on the ice it is harder for teams to get into our zone. Just the way he can cut the ice down on teams and not give them space just because of his speed, and then we usually have the puck a lot more when he is on the ice, just in the sense that he retrieves it quicker and he's got that ability to jump into plays.
"He plays all situations for us, power plays and penalty kill, so it's tough when you miss guys like that."
Hedman is in the midst of his best NHL season with 10 goals and adding 16 assists. He has also developed into a huge defensive presence on the ice for Tampa Bay.
"He's playing better than when I first got here," Cooper said. "I'm going to be the last person to stand up here and say, 'Oh, it's because of the coaching staff, that's why he's playing better.'
"That's not what it is. It's probably a system that fits his kind of game and we're catching him at 23 years old with 300 games under his belt. He's slowly figured out the League and he's been pressed into situations too fast, but one of the things we did with him this year, he didn't play on the power play for the first 20 games this year. We spoon-fed him everything we need and then he just started rising above the rest and now you can't take him off the ice.
"Hedman has just come into his own. It's a tribute to him; he's weathered his ups and downs, he's weathered his critics. Coming in with the weight of being the second overall pick in the  draft, that weighs on you. Now he's earning everything and I think the sky is the limit for him."
Ottawa arrives playing some of its best road hockey of the season, collecting at least a point in each of its past five away games (4-0-1), including a 2-0 win against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday.
With that in mind Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said he is hesitant to make any lineup changes, which includes sitting defenseman Marc Methot for a second straight game.
"We're going with the same group that played in Washington and we look for a similar result here [Thursday]," MacLean said. "Methot appears to have recovered from the injury he had when he missed practice, but the team goes on the road and wins 2-0 and plays well, Patrick Wiercioch and Eric Gryba both played very well in the Washington game and deserve to play again after coming off the win."
Methot, who expressed surprise when he was scratched for the game in Washington, showed no such difficulty with the decision Thursday.
"I feel good," Methot said, "it's just their decision and I respect it. It's fine."
Here is how the lineups for both teams could look Thursday:
Zack Smith - Jason Spezza - Erik Condra
Clarke MacArthur - Kyle Turris - Bobby Ryan
Cory Conacher - Mika Zibanejad - Milan Michalek
Colin Greening - Stephane Da Costa - Chris Neil
Jared Cowen - Erik Karlsson
Chris Phillips - Cody Ceci
Patrick Wiercioch - Eric Gryba
Scratched: Marc Methot, Joe Corvo, Matt Kassian
Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Martin St. Louis
Teddy Purcell - Valtteri Filppula - Alex Killorn
J.T. Brown - Nate Thompson - Nikita Kucherov
B.J. Crombeen - Ryan Malone
Eric Brewer - Radko Gudas
Sami Salo - Victor Hedman
Matthew Carle - Mark Barberio
Scratched: Richard Panik, Jean-Philippe Cote, Tom Pyatt
Injured: Steven Stamkos (leg)