Ryan Callahan returned to the lineup while Tyler Johnson took part in the morning skate in a regular jersey indicating that he is close to returning to game action. With the improving health, that meant the Lightning could start returning players to a depleted Syracuse Crunch team.
TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have reassigned forwards Mike Blunden and Mike Angelidis, as well as defenseman Luke Witkowski, to the Syracuse Crunch today, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced.
Blunden, 28, was recalled to Tampa Bay on November 15. He played in two games with the Lightning, recording three shots on goal. Blunden has skated in 12 games with the Crunch this season, posting three goals and five points to go along with 10 penalty minutes. The 6-foot-4, 217-pound forward ranks tied for fourth on Syracuse for goals and is tied for 10th for points. He has played in 422 career AHL games over his 11-year pro career, recording 99 goals and 214 points.
Angelidis, 30, was recalled on November 19 and did not appear in any game action. He has skated in 13 games with the Crunch this season, posting three assists and 19 penalty minutes. The Crunch captain ranks fourth on the team for penalty minutes. Angelidis has skated in 591 career AHL games, recording 119 goals and 248 points to go along with 1,231 penalty minutes.
Witkowski, 25, was also recalled on November 19. He skated in two games, recording four penalty minutes and averaging 7:46 in ice time per contest. Witkowski has skated in 13 games with the Crunch this season, recording four assists and six penalty minutes. The Holland, Michigan, native ranks tied for second among Syracuse defensemen for assists. Witkowski has appeared in 141 career AHL games, all with the Crunch over four seasons, posting four goals and 24 points.
Assuming Tyler Johnson is back in the lineup Wednesday, this will leave the team with 12 forwards and 6 defensemen. There will still be time to get a player back from Syracuse before Wednesday night's game against the Kings if the status of any players changes before then.
It's telling that Jonathan Marchessault and Joel Vermin remained with the team while Cedric Paquette and Jonathan Drouin remain out of the lineup. Both have played limited minutes in Tampa, but in that time have performed well. Marcheassult has been getting steady power play time, though that is likely to be lessened with Johnson ready to re-take his place on the first power play unit. Marchessault also contributed his first goal of the season last night on the power play. Joel Vermin has played in much the same role as Paquette though as a winger rather than a center. He is aggressive and tenacious on the puck and record his first career NHL point last night with a secondary assist on Nikita Kucherov's game opening goal.
If you watch both of those goals, there is a common thread in Marchessault and Vermin's part in the play; persistence. Marchessault took a shot on goal when it was presented and then collected his own rebound to put the puck in the net while the Ducks defense looked on. Vermin had a pass blocked, recovered the puck, took it behind the net and set up Andrej Sustr with a good one-time opportunity. With a lucky break, the puck went right to Kucherov and he slid it home.
Good play for Syracuse earned ice time at the NHL level for both players and they've backed it up by providing solid play in the NHL in the roles they've been asked to perform. Their time will likely be reduced further with the return of Johnson and their play over the next several games may determine if one of them stays with the team as the 13th forward even after Paquette and Drouin are back in the lineup.