The Tampa Bay Lightning have been a strong team in the NHL the past couple seasons, dating back to the 2013-2014 season, after a two-year playoff drought. The success can be affiliated with many things. “The Triplets,” one of the most productive lines in the past couple seasons; the arrival of Jon Cooper from the AHL; the affiliation with the AHL squad, the Syracuse Crunch, and their success.
So many possibilities, but where are the Lightning this year? After three straight years of being in second place in the Atlantic Division, they are now fourth in the Atlantic (19-15-4) behind the Ottawa Senators, Boston Bruins, and Montreal Canadiens. They better watch out, though – the Toronto Maple Leafs are right on their heals.
The Bolts have suffered the curse that no team ever wants to endure. No, it’s not the mumps from the 2014-2015 season, when Sidney Crosby’s face was drooping in the locker room. But, it’s very similar: injuries.
The Lightning’s top stars have been hit hard, including captain Steven Stamkos. While many injuries on the team were considered day-to-day, numerous small injuries take out large portion of the roster. Luckily, many of the players are starting to return now.
Kucherov left a practice early in mid-December, and at the time, it was questionable whether it was an equipment issue or a lower-body injury. However, once Cory Conacher was recalled from the AHL, and Kucherov became a game-time decision, it seemed that Kucherov was dealing with an injury.
After a missed game on December 14, he became day-to-day with a still very vague lower-body injury. He finally joined the team in a morning skate on December 23 – a nine-day break.
He was finally put back in the lineup on December 28, in an overtime win against the Canadiens, in which he had two assists. While his injury seems to be over, it was a rough little stretch without him. His ability to rack up the points will hopefully help the Lightning get their season turned around.
This injury is a big deal for the Lightning. While any goaltender injury is a major one, this one especially hurts the Bolts. With a great goaltender line-up, between Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy, the injury now brings that two-man duo, to half of a great duo.
Vasilevskiy has been holding his own throughout Bishop’s injury, but losing such a great goaltender hurts. It can be implied that his backup has had a better season than him, but Bishop would still be needed as the backup, should Vasilevskiy be starting.
With a decent save percentage of .907%, that is still a decent amount of shots blocked, and is helping the Lightning stand where they are today.
There is a vague timetable of three to four weeks until Bishop returns, but until then, Vasilevskiy and backup Kristers Gudlevskis, who is from Syracuse, will tend the net – hopefully keeping the Lightning in the hunt for a Stanley Cup.
There are numerous day-to-day injuries, including one to a moral leader – Ryan Callahan. He had back surgery in the off-season, and with lingering affects, he’s been out for awhile. He’s only played in 15 games this season.
On January 1, Callahan skated with his team for the first time in two weeks. But, with his recent trial and errors, it can never be soon enough for Callahan to return to the lineup for the Lightning.
Vladislav Namestnikov, a young rising star in the NHL, also was battling a day-to-day injury. While he has returned, and results in a decently productive player coming back. With the return to the lineup, he should hopefully add to the goal total and bring the offense some life.
The Big One
The captain. A consistent producer. Steven Stamkos suffered a lateral meniscus tear in early November, resulting in a large break from hockey. He will approximately be out for a little more than two months, but this results in a huge hole.
With a return hopefully in the next couple months, hopefully in time for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Stamkos, who has 20 points (9 G, 11 A) in 17 games, can add a new spark to the Lightning offense.
With all of the injuries coming up, and while hopefully it should be the end of this major injury stint, the Lightning should be looking for the positive light at the end of this “plague.” Fourth place isn’t where they want to be. With the Metropolitan Division looking a lot stronger, the Lightning better hope for smooth sailing for the rest of the regular season.