Jon Cooper has announced that Ryan McDonagh will not play tonight for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was injured late during the third period of game one against the Boston Bruins when he was checked from behind. He returned to the ice for his next shift, a short one, where he appeared to be skating gingerly indicating a lower body injury. He then left the game.
McDonagh has had some up and down games for the Lightning during the playoffs, but has been more good than bad. His 2019-20 season was mostly down as he struggled with an injury issue. Coming back to the second training camp before the playoffs, he looked to be fully healed and skating much better. He has averaged 26:07 in the playoffs, though that is inflated by the five overtime game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Even still, he’s mostly been in the 23-25 minute range with a couple of 26 minute games mixed in. He has recorded three assists in nine games.
McDonagh’s absence from the line up will surely be felt. It will place more pressure on Victor Hedman at the top of the depth chart for the Lightning, along with his partner Zach Bogosian who has averaged 21:00 TOI in the playoffs. It will also put more pressure on Kevin Shattenkirk and Mikhail Sergachev to perform better and eat up more minutes. Shattenkirk’s ice time has been fairly limited with him averaging 20:30, lowest among the Lightning six regular defensemen so far in the playoffs. Sergachev was already averaging 23:59, but could see a little bump in his ice time as well.
On the other side of the equation, Erik Cernak could see his ice time reduced as he should drop down to the third for as long as McDonagh is out. Cernak has struggled for most of this season and hasn’t looked quite at his best so far in the playoffs. The most likely player to rotate in for McDonagh is Braydon Coburn. As the only other left handed defenseman available to the Lightning, he makes the most sense. However, when Victor Hedman was a game time decision, Luke Schenn skated in warm ups so he could also be an option even though Jon Cooper and his coaching staff have shown an inclination towards having left and right handed pairs on defense.
The other option that we could see Jon Cooper go back to, is his old habit of running with seven defensemen. Neither Carter Verhaeghe or Mitchell Stephens have lit the playoffs on fire on the fourth line, though Stephens brings more as a penalty killer and in the faceoff dot than Verhaeghe who brings a little more offense. They’ve both gone in and out of the line up since the real games started against Columbus.
By going with seven defensemen and bringing Coburn and Schenn into the line up, the coaching staff can keep the ice time for both players down. They can also do a little mix and matching on the bottom line with Pat Maroon and Cedric Paquette to give them some shifts with an offensive performer. Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, and Tyler Johnson would be the most likely to get extra shifts there. But really, anyone in the top nine could take a shift along with them, even Yanni Gourde could be reunited for a couple shifts with his partners that sparked the Lightning during their trip to Sweden in December.
I don’t think we’ll really know which way Cooper decides to go until at least warm ups, and maybe not until game time. It would be very easy for Cooper to send 12 forwards and seven defensemen out for warm ups and not make a decision until he has to submit the official roster for the game.