The Tampa Bay Lightning announced this morning that defender Dan Girardi is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury. This is a setback for Girardi, who had previously not been expected to miss much time. He and fellow defender Anton Stralman have missed a handful of games recently. The team did not provide any update on Stralman, who was not at practice today.
For the immediate future, this removes some of the depth that has been so valuable all season. What was once a seven-player rotation on defense now has a clear top six when Stralman returns. Jan Rutta looks to be the clear seventh now and will likely remain in Tampa until Girardi is healthy.
If another defender suffers an injury, Cameron Gaunce will be the next Syracuse Crunch player in line for an emergency recall just as he was before Monday’s game against the Coyotes.
Girardi has been a reliable player since being signed as a free agent from the New York Rangers. The Lightning have asked him to play a much lesser role as the fifth or sixth defender in time on ice. His 5v5 time has been minimized but he’s still played a significant role on the penalty kill.
This season, he played most of his minutes with Victor Hedman, which was likely a move by the coaches to give him a strong partner to help compensate for some of the weaknesses in his game at this stage of his career.
The injury opens that spot with Hedman on the top pair. With Rutta in the lineup, Mikhail Sergachev has gotten those minutes. So far, that pairing has worked well. They have better numbers together than the Hedman and Girardi pairing. But when Stralman returns, he’ll likely pair with Hedman and Sergachev will move back with his regular partner Braydon Coburn.
As far as late-season injuries go, this isn’t the worst case scenario for the Lightning. They’ve built up enough depth on defense that they can absorb this. But it makes the margin of error thinner. The midseason acquisition of Rutta looks even better now as it gives the team a player who is willing to fill the flex 6/7 defender spot and can do so competently.
The full extent of Girardi’s injury remains to be seen. But for now, the Lightning will have to move forward with the group they have. And fortunately, they have the depth to still have a solid blue line without the veteran in the mix.