Valtteri Filppula, the only player for the Lightning with his name on the Stanley Cup, only managed ten minutes of ice time during Game 7 on Wednesday night and did not appear on the ice during the third period. It begs the question if he’s hurt and how badly. It’s possible he just got dinged up during play and couldn’t finish the game. Hopefully he's alright for the beginning of round two tonight against Montreal. So far, Steve Yzerman has been coy with the media about Filppula's status and it remains to be seen if Filppula will be in the lineup tonight.
However, if Filppula is injured and cannot go tonight, this could be the opportunity for Jonathan Drouin to step into the lineup and seize the opportunity. Drouin played in one game in the first round and only got 8:42 of ice time with no power play time and was a minus-2 on the night. Not a pretty stat line as he was on ice for both of Detroit’s goals though the Lightning managed to win.
The last two games of the series, the Lightning rode a seven defensemen, eleven forward roster and it worked. Nikita Nesterov played only 5:16 during game 6 in Detroit and 10:02 in Tampa during game 7 where his match-ups could be controlled. In both games, half of his ice time came on the power play. Montreal is a faster team and won’t be as physical as Detroit. This bodes well for Nesterov being able to play more even-strength minutes as he is a good skater, but smaller in size. On the other hand, if the team goes back to six defensemen and brings Drouin into the lineup, Drouin can be a boost to the power play unit while taking away what Nesterov has brought to that group.
Without Filppula in the lineup, there are multiple routes that the coaching staff could take with the forward lines. I think the first two will remain the same with only a minimal chance that Drouin bumps Alex Killorn or Ryan Callahan off the first line. He’s gotten that opportunity in the past and not done much with it next to Steven Stamkos. So I will focus instead on the bottom two lines depending on who gets scratched and if the team goes with eleven or twelve forwards. I will assume in these scenarios that Filppula, Mike Angelidis, Jonathan Marchessault, Mark Barberio are scratched.
Scenario #1: Nesterov scratched.
Either of these lineups should work and either way Drouin needs to be a finisher instead of a playmaker which is not something he’s been able to switch to when needed this season. Vladislav Namestnikov is a capable third line playmaking center and is more natural as a center than as a winger (where he's seen more time during the playoffs). Paquette provides the grit and pestiness that would help Drouin and Namestnikov have more room to work their magic.
Boyle can handle more minutes and being more than just the fourth line grinder center. His size and physicality as well as Paquette’s grit can create space for Drouin to work but that combination has a little less offensive punch. Meanwhile Namestnikov would add skill to the fourth line while being defensively responsible and limit his minutes as Cooper has been doing much of the series.
Scenario #2: Brown or Morrow Scratched.
I won’t bother trying to make lines for this because there could be so many combinations throughout game-play and the options are pretty wide open. You can take Drouin and Paquette and slot Stamkos, Johnson, Namestnikov or Boyle between them for shifts. You can put Paquette in the middle and throw Callahan, Kucherov, or Brown on the right side. You can leave the left side of the Stamkos line open with Killorn playing more minutes on the third line with Drouin and Namestnikov and giving Palat, Kucherov, Killorn, and Drouin turns playing next to Stamkos. And if any of those guys click with Stamkos you can give them more shifts or leave them on the first line for the rest of the game and maybe the rest of the series. If Cooper wants to be experimental to find a Stamkos partner for the rest of the series, this would be the way to do it.
Scenario #3: Drouin scratched
Obviously, this is still quite the possibility. The team could choose instead to bring Brown back into the lineup and stick with eleven forwards. They could bring Brown and Angelidis in and shift Boyle into Filppula’s third line spot. That would make the team grittier, but I think the club needs to be faster to pressure goalie Carey Price and the Canadiens. Angelidis also might still be a touch injured; he was able to play for the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL playoffs, but there is some belief that he played hurt. Marchessault played well in his last call-up to the Lightning, but has so little NHL experience that it’s hard to see the team throwing him into the fire unless absolutely necessary.
My biggest knock on Drouin from this past season has been that for most of it, the team brought him along slowly and made him earn his way. Unfortunately, when given opportunities Drouin hasn’t stepped up and seized them. At no point in this season have you ever looked at Drouin and said "There is no way Cooper can take him out of the lineup." Nikita Kucherov did that in training camp, forcing the team to keep him and play him instead of sending him back to Syracuse to work on his defense.
If given another opportunity here, I want to see the same from Drouin. Don’t allow Cooper to say "No" again.