Question of the Week is a weekly feature that poses a question to Raw Charge writers and other writers within the Boltosphere, discussing the ins and outs of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The injuries are starting to pile up, and it's only February. The defense is stating to get stretched a little thin, forwards are rotating into and out of the lineup, line combinations are getting juggled a bit. Which naturally leads some to ask the question, "How will this affect the team down the stretch?"
So we decided to ask our staff that very same question this week:
With injuries keeping some key players out of the lineup, possibly for weeks in the case of Ryan Malone, how do you think that will impact where the Lightning finish in the standings?
After the jump, the Raw Charge staff's answers.
So Malone is out… Center Nate Thompson has missed time, defenseman Mike Lundin is missing playing time, while defensemen Mattias Ohlund and Matt Smaby are playing injured.
This is certainly a test of depth for the Lightning, at least on the blue-line. Things have been questionable on the defensive end of the ice for a while (between goaltending and defensive play). Dwayne Roloson has turned into a stop-gap of sorts for the Bolts, but not a panacea. I think in a purely defensive standpoint, the Bolts can hold their own going forward.
At forward, it’s another story. I think Thompson’s absence has been greatly felt in quality and two-way play. It’s also stretched the Bolts defense (playing seven defensemen nightly). Compare that to Ryan Malone’s continuing injury situation (which had preceded his current abdominal/stomach injury) and how the Lightning were able to deal with that… Thompson just seems like a bigger loss, and the results of games without him have been closer with the outcomes more chancy.
Besides Malone’s injury, I don’t know if this will follow the Bolts for that long. I do know that additional wear-and-tear will show up as the season winds down. But unless there is a huge loss by the Lightning (Stamkos, St. Louis) I don’t see the team’s position in the standings falling or climbing much from where they are now.
I'm actually not too worried about how injuries will affect the team in the standings, because they've been dealing with different injury issues all season and have managed to keep piling up wins and points. I'm much more concerned about having a full roster come playoff time, when lack of depth can lose a series for you. We saw a good example this week against Philadelphia, who has crazy depth. The Bolts took them to the shootout, but if the game had continued through extra time as a playoff game would have, fortune would have favored the way the Flyers were still rolling, as opposed to the way the Lightning were scrambling.
With everyone healthy, the Lightning match up well against anyone in the conference. But missing a few keys pieces could cost them a deep run.
Don't Trade Vinny:
Honestly, with the stronghold Guy Boucher has on this team, and the level the players are buying in, I don't see the recent injuries having much of an effect on the team. They weathered what I would argue were bigger storms earlier in the season with Vinny and Gagne being out for fairly significant amounts of time. The only concern I really have is if Nate Thompson's injury lingers. He's really thrived this year, and I think provides a spark plug for the lower lines.
Bottom line is, the Lightning are finally getting consistent, prolific play from the bottom six forwards, and if that maintains, they can hold the fort while other guys get healthy.
Normally, I try not to answer a question like this with an intangible because often the only argument that can be made on its behalf is 'just because'. Malone has been a key contributor and there's no question that the Lightning are better with him than without him. However, after seeing how this team dealt with injuries to Lecavalier, Gagne, Downie and others while not only NOT losing ground, but actually moving up in the standings, I feel good about how they'll fare during Malone's absence...just because.
[Tuesday] Boucher said, "I always like the fact that you're missing guys, because it does give an opportunity for some other guys." We're missing guys now, but we were missing guys before, and the Lightning had the strength to battle through it. I don't think that the injuries will have a large impact on the final standings, instead it's just a part of what we've been working through all season.
And if Boucher likes it, can we really complain?
Even with the injuries plaguing the team, I don't think the Lightning will change their position in the standings too much since they are currently at the top of the Southeast Division. Even if they drop a lot of games coming down the stretch the most I see them is dropping down to fourth if Caps do really really well in the same stretch or to third if either Boston or Montreal suddenly starts doing a lot better than they have in their division. As long as the Lightning continue to play above average, I think Lightning will stay in pretty much the same spot going into the playoffs.
Make sure you check out the answers to the previous question, covering the whether the new All-Star Game format made it more relevant or not.