Earlier this week on ESPN's Hockey Today podcast, Pierre LeBrun discussed whether the compressed schedule would have any impact on teams' health. "The team with the fewest injuries might win the cup this year," he said. This was an important question going into tonight's game: On the second half of a back-to-back, would Tampa Bay survive unscathed?
When Steven Stamkos headed off the ice favoring his right leg, the answer became apparent. Tampa can play against well against mediocre teams, but tired bodies are tired bodies. In the first period, Stamkos injured himself on a fluke move while forechecking, twisting his right leg while getting back up off the ice. He limped off to the bench, and didn't return.
The Bolts also scored two goals in a period of uncharacteristically energetic hockey. The first one was a gift. Mrazek misplayed the puck and Kucherov capitalized on it, neatly tapping the puck into an empty net for his 7th of the season. The play started with Vladdy making an on-his-knees zone entry and then sending the puck back to Stamkos, who dumped it in to Mrazek, who skated behind the net and passed the puck straight to Kucherov for the goal.
The second goal was all Stamkos, who picked up Hedman's rebound for his 9th goal and 20th point of the season.
The Bolts' worries about Stamkos showed in the last few minutes of the period, however, when Hedman took a page from Mrazek and passed the puck straight to Luke Glendenning, who sent a cross-crease pass to Anders Nielsen to beat Ben Bishop. The first period ended with everyone feeling that sinking-stomach sense of foreboding. Could Bolts really be down Jonathan Drouin, Anton Stralman, and Steven Stamkos for the next four games of the road trip?
The intermission report mentioned that the "Stamkov" line has combined for 9 points in the last four periods of hockey play. It sure would be nice if that could continue.
Stamkos did not return to the bench for the second. In the absence of Stamkos, Johnson, Filppula, Palat, and Killorn rotated through the -ov line with Namestnikov and Kucherov. Aside from a missing captain, the chances were fairly even for Tampa and the Red Wings through the second, with Jon Cooper deciding to play a few lineup mindgames with Jeff Blashill to force line matching.
In the second, a tripping call to Brendan Smith caused a delayed penalty, which allowed six Tampa players to monopolize the puck for a while until Wings broke up the cycle. The resulting power play (at this point 0 for 15) was interrupted by an over-the-glass penalty from Mike Green. A few seconds of 5-on-3 were killed by the Wings, and a defensive play by Darren Helm (saved by Bishop) caused a defensive zone faceoff in the middle of the second power play. Needless to say, the two power plays dropped Tampa to 0 for 17, and everyone's concentration was clearly shot.
Then we got this news:
#TBLightning forward Steven Stamkos has sustained a lower body injury and will not return to tonight’s game. #TBLvsDET— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) November 16, 2016
And shortly after that, at around the 13 minute mark, Braydon Coburn took a shot off his left knee and went off down the corridor.
Has Pierre LeBrun cursed the league? I'm going to say yes.
The 2nd continued to be a complete mess, with Steve Ott exacting retribution for a bad hit by Cedric Paquette, and a subsequent fighting major from Brian Boyle, etc. etc. The result was a Red Wing power play at the 14 minute mark that came to nothing, because luckily:
The Wings have scored 1 goal on their last 22 PP's (4.5%) and 3 goals on their last 43 PP's (7.0%)— Prashanth Iyer (@iyer_prashanth) November 16, 2016
Bishop held strong through the rest of the period, and all I can say is that I'm glad the Red Wings are a bad team this season. At least Coburn returned.
Can we skip this? In short, it was some good playing, a whole lot of bulls***, and a final minute of good playing.
The third started with a Tampa power play, and finally a Tampa power play goal (now the team is 1/19). The goal came from a Nesterov slapshot from the blue line which somehow caught the edge of the pipe and bounced its way in. Abdelkader was in the box for the goal, and all I could think was, "Good."
After Nesterov's goal, score effects set in, and then everyone decided to take a lot of penalties, because of course.
Highlights of the third? Well.
I have nothing to say about the Nesterov hit on Helm. It was a "clean" hip-check that caught Helm off-guard, but Helm ended up leaving the game with what looked like an exacerbated shoulder injury. Clean or dirty, it sucked.
The result was that Helm is out for a while, and so it really sucked.
Jeff Blashill said "it looks like it's going to be a little while" on Darren Helm (upper body) #RedWings— Helene St. James (@HeleneStJames) November 16, 2016
I also have nothing to say about the Ott hit on Paquette.
Then, during the power play on a Brayden Point penalty, Detroit got one back on Ryan Sproul's power play goal, his first NHL goal. Congrats, I guess. During yet another power play on a penalty from Hedman and Johnson, which somehow worked out to a 4 on 3, Zetterberg evened up the game.
In the last five minutes of the third, shots were 28-18, Red Wings, and Tampa was clearly gassed. Despite the fact that the Red Wings were the more energetic team in the last period, Mrazek had another brain fart that led to another Kucherov goal. This time, Nesterov made a point shot, and while Mrazek leaned to his left to make the save, Kucherov was able to bat in the rebound in all the empty net on the right.
In the end, it's two points at a heavy cost. What will the rest of the road trip look like? Four games to go.
#tblightning Boyle on Stamkos: "You hope it's not serious. Usually he comes back. He didn't come back."— Joe Smith (@TBTimes_JSmith) November 16, 2016
Was told by a source that Steven Stamkos' knee locked and he will have an MRI done in Detroit.— Ken Campbell (@THNKenCampbell) November 16, 2016