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Jon Cooper leaned on top defense, benched Matt Carle during Toronto game

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Last night was probably one of Matt Carle's worst nights in a Lightning uniform as he saw less than 8 minutes of ice time and was on the ice for two goals-against.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Jon Cooper has been known for being short with the leash of young forwards when they do not play a sound defensive game. Nikita Kucherov learned the hard way what it takes to be successful in the NHL during the 2013-14 NHL season with limited ice time with defensive minded partners and ultimately being scratched for two games during the playoffs. Jonathan Drouin has often been benched late in games seemingly because of his defensive miscues. We've also seen it on the blue line at times with Nikita Nesterov and Luke Witkowski often getting very limited minutes when they are the seventh defenseman.

During last night's game in Toronto, Cooper finally did it to a veteran player. Matthew Carle had a total of 7:35 TOI with 0:30 of that coming shorthanded and the rest at even strength. He had five shifts during the first period, four shifts in the second, and three shifts in the third. One of those shifts in the second only last four seconds as it ended with a penalty being called right after he took the ice. So he effectively had 11 shifts all night.

His last shift of the first period ended with a Maple Leafs goal from James van Riemsdyk. van Riemsdyk outmuscled and out positioned Carle in front of the net to be in perfect position to put home a goal, coming across the crease without any resistance.

Carle's last shift of the game came with just over six and a half minutes remaining in the period. It ended 38 seconds later when Daniel Winnik redirected a shot-pass from the point past a heavily screened Andrei Vasilevskiy. Carle was the player on Winnik and was out of position with his stick no where near ready to tie up Winnik's stick and prevent him from making the redirect.

That second goal was the end of Carle's night as he sat for the rest of the game. Nikita Nesterov didn't get much extra time though, as he only got 9:45 TOI. Braydon Coburn also remained low at 12:59.

With the bottom three defensemen getting such low ice time, Cooper and Rick Bowness leaned on the other four defensemen to fill in the gap despite being on the back side of a back-to-back set. In the below table, you'll see how much ice time each player got Monday night in Columbus and then Tuesday night in Toronto.

Player Monday TOI Tuesday TOI Total TOI Season Avg
Victor Hedman 22:52 26:34 49:26 22:32
Anton Stralman 21:51 23:17 45:08 22:01
Jason Garrison 17:33 18:26 35:59 18:55
Andrej Sustr 16:57 19:41 36:38 15:56
Braydon Coburn 15:24 12:57 28:21 16:34
Matt Carle 12:24 7:35 19:59 17:01
Nikita Nesterov 10:54 9:45 20:39 12:54

As you can see, Hedman played well over his season average to make up for the extra time while Stralman and Garrison were within a minute either way of their season averages. Coburn, Carle, and Nesterov were well below their season averages. Perhaps the big surprised was Andrej Sustr playing almost four extra minutes as he moved up and played most of the second and third period with Jason Garrison.

It will be interesting to see what Cooper does with Carle in the coming games. Could we see him getting scratched again? Are we seeing a repeat of what happened last year with Eric Brewer? Can GM Steve Yzerman convince him to waive his no trade clause? Could the Lightning be trying to find someone, anyone, that will take Carle while we retain half of his salary? Time will tell. But if he continues to play as poorly as he has the last handful of games, the Lightning are going to have to do something.