The Tampa Bay Lightning once again had a road back-to-back. It seems like that’s the only kind of back-to-backs they ever have, and they usually have a lot of them every season. The first matchup was a big one, something of a revenge game, going against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was a tough game with it going to overtime. Nikita Kucherov ended the game on the first shift after Brayden Point stole a puck, got it to Hedman, then over to Kucherov into the open net to win 2-1. The Pittsburgh Penguins game likewise went to overtime at 1-1. This one took a bit longer, but they finally closed it up and on a dramatic note.
Yanni Gourde With The Beauty
Yanni Gourde finally ended a long... very long... extremely long... goal drought. It had been literally forever. It was time to call a priest and perform an exorcism as Loserpoints’ wrote the other day. I was never overly worried about Gourde. The Lightning have a lot of scoring depth. Gourde was still getting his chances, he was still getting the puck at the net. He was just snake bitten. It seemed like every time he’d have a goaltender down and out, there’d be a body or a leg or a stick in the way that would somehow keep the puck out. Now that he’s breached the dam, here’s to hoping that the river keeps flowing and they flow in to make up for how much he missed over the past two months.
After Gourde scored his goal, I really wished I could just end the Morning After Thoughts with that. Make it a celebration of the ending of that drought. So, I hate to bring that emotion down, but it has to be addressed.
The Lightning lost Anthony Cirelli to a blocked shot at the very end of the first period. Similar to how Ryan McDonagh was injured a week ago, Cirelli blocked a big slap shot from Evgeni Malkin with his foot. It was the last few seconds of the first period, but he didn’t come out for the second period and was ruled out for the rest of the game with a lower body injury.
At the end of the second period, Nikita Kucherov was also hurt on a seemingly innocent play behind the net. He engaged in a puck battle and got his leg pinned up against the boards. He came away from that battle wincing and skating very slowly to the bench. He went straight down the tunnel with just a few seconds on the clock in the second period and didn’t return for the third period.
On top of that, the Lightning were already without Ryan McDonagh, Jan Rutta, and Steven Stamkos who missed both games after being announced as day-to-day prior to the Columbus game.
The Lightning called up Cameron Gaunce to sit in the press box with Braydon Coburn and Luke Schenn drawing into the line up for McDonagh and Rutta respectively. Then Mathieu Joseph was called up to replace Steven Stamkos. The Lightning play again on Thursday back at home against the Edmonton Oilers and Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers. Next week, the Lightning go out west on a three game road trip against Colorado, Vegas, and Arizona.
The medical staff will need to see how Cirelli and Kucherov respond after leaving early. If they are unable to go for Thursday night’s game, the Lightning will need to make at least one recall if they go with 11 forwards and seven defenseman with Cameron Gaunce, or two forwards to continue with a traditional 12/6 alignment.
Because of the Lightning’s center depth on the roster, they don’t specifically need to recall a center to replace Cirelli. Point, Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette, and Mitchell Stephens can take the center spots down the line up. Alex Barre-Boulet is the leading scorer for the Crunch, but there are still question marks around his skating and defense and he looked a little overmatched during the pre-season. Cory Conacher and Gemel Smith are both veterans that are perfectly capable of sliding in on the fourth line and provide a steady game. Danick Martel could provide a little more offensive spark, but seems like a long shot even after the Lightning kept him on the roster all of last season. Ross Colton could potentially make his NHL debut as well, but I wouldn’t count on it.
One off the wall possibility though would be to issue an emergency recall for Nolan Foote. Normally, once a team sends a player to the CHL, they cannot be recalled to the NHL, but there are some exceptions. One of those is on an emergency recall. Emergency recalls are for when a team falls below 12 healthy forwards or 6 healthy defensemen. With Cirelli or Kucherov out, the Lightning would be below that 12 healthy forward threshold. That would mean that Nolan Foote could be called up. The stipulation would be that once the Lightning return to 12 healthy forwards (not counting Foote), they must immediately send him back.
I wrote after the World Junior Championships that Foote could be a contender to make the team out of training camp next year. He’s got a big shot and could contribute on the power play quickly. He’s one of the Lightning’s best prospects and it would give him a taste of the NHL game. As long as he plays less than ten games, there would also be no future contractual, salary cap, or free agency issues with calling him up for a few games until a couple forwards get back to being healthy.
We’ll have to wait until at least later today and perhaps even Thursday morning before we learn anything more about the Lightning’s latest injury woes.