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With injuries mounting, Lightning need others to step up

I’m looking at some guys with 7s on their jerseys.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Islanders at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning got some tough news that Brayden Point would be out with an upper body injury “indefinitely.” We’ll have to wait and hopefully get some more information on what exactly that means and how long to expect Point out, but that’s never a great start to an injury recovery. The Lightning have already been dealing with the absence of Nikita Kucherov up front and adding Point to the list of injuries makes that even tougher to bear.

The Younger Replacements

With two of the Lightning’s best players unavailable, the team will need some other players to step up. After Corey Perry was given a chance to take Kucherov’s spot in the top six for a game, Mathieu Joseph was the beneficiary of moving up in the line-up. Since the 5th game of the season, he as averaged 15:19 TOI and has recorded three goals and seven points in 13 games. Certainly not as much offense as Kucherov would bring, but you also have to keep in mind that Joseph is not playing on the power play. With his even strength production, it hasn’t been that far of a drop off from Kucherov as you might have thought going into this stretch.

Now with Brayden Point leaving the line-up, Alex Barre-Boulet has been called back up from the AHL. Barre-Boulet had just been sent down to the Syracuse Crunch as he had not played in a few games with Boris Katchouk winning his spot on the fourth line. Barre-Boulet was also never really well suited for that role, so the team took the opportunity to send him back to the AHL before his waiver exemption ran out.

That didn’t last long and he’s back to take over Point’s spot for the time being. Barre-Boulet started off his replacement duties well enough with a goal and time on the second power play unit. My biggest gripe about Barre-Boulet this year is that he hasn’t shot the puck enough. He has a good shot, but the puck hasn’t been on his stick enough for him to take advantage of it. He only has six shots on goal, including one last night, in ten games this season, and four of those shots on goal came in one game. Barre-Boulet is going to have to pick it up a lot more to help replace some of Point’s production.

Picking Up The Slack

The other four veterans of the top six are the ones that will have to really pick up the slack for both Kucherov and Point. So far this season, Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn have stepped up and really performed. Through 17 games, Stamkos has recorded nine goals and 19 points with 12 of his 19 points coming at even strength. Killorn has likewise been on fire recording seven goals and 17 points in 17 games with only one point, an assist, coming on the power play. Killorn has been one of the oddities of hockey in that he has gotten better at an age when players are normally starting to decline.

The two players that need to step it up to fill in the gap a bit more are Ondrej Palat and Anthony Cirelli. Palat is sitting at 4 goals and 11 points. Like Killorn, his production is coming at even strength as he only has one assist on the power play and you’d like to see him producing more with the man advantage, especially with Kucherov and Point on the sidelines. Palat’s production is actually around his career norm, but the past few years, he’s performed at a higher level complementing two of the best skaters in the NHL.

Cirelli came out last night and was a difference maker for the Lightning in their 5-4 shootout win over the Minnesota Wild recording two goals. Cirelli had a down year last year as he was hampered by an injury for much of the regular season. He looked better during the playoffs, but even then, his injury was obviously keeping him from his full potential offensively and defensively. Cirelli has bounced back this season, but there’s still room for him to produce more offensively as he did last night. After his two goals, he’s sitting at 6 goals and 12 points in 17 games. Since Cirelli is going to get first power play time now, this is an opportunity for him to really pump up his totals and provide more offense.

The Bottom Six

The other elephant in the room is the lack of production from the bottom six. It’s been no secret that the bottom six has struggled to find consistency and the back of the net. Pat Maroon has warmed up recently and now has four goals and four points to his name. Corey Perry has continued to struggle to find the back of the net and has yet to record a goal with just two assists. Perry is actually sixth among Lightning forwards with 30 shots on goal. It’s not like he isn’t getting chances, he just hasn’t gotten the puck luck and is extremely overdue for a goal.

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Ross Colton, Taylor Raddysh, and Boris Katchouk have combined for one goal, seven assists, and eight points. Bellemare was never expected to put up a lot of points so it’s not that surprising where he’s sitting. He’d also have some more points if Perry was finding the back of the net or if Joseph had buried a shorthanded breakaway or two that Bellemare helped to spring him on.

Colton’s output has also been a bit of a disappointment. While I never expected him to score the way he did last season, as that was like an unsustainable shooting percentage of 19.2%, I still expected a bit more from him than he’s put up thus far. He’s only shooting 2.8% which seems like too far of a regression for his skill level. Colton has been shooting a lot more recently and is second among forwards in the past five games with 14 shots on goal.

The good news is that Colton, Raddysh, and Katchouk have been turning into an effective fourth line in controlling the puck and avoiding being scored against. They’re still providing value to the team in their role, but you’d always like to see your fourth line producing a little more offense than this group has done so far. Over the past five games, the trio has averaged just over 4 shots on goal per game which isn’t a bad total for a fourth line.

Conclusions

Nikita Kucherov is expected to return to the line up sometime in the next month and a half. The projections given after his successful surgery put him as returning sometime late December or early January. Getting him back in the line-up would be a big boost to the top six and the power play and help give the Lightning a little bit of offensive swagger that they’ve been missing and will miss even more while Point is out.

Hopefully we’ll hear sometime this week what is up with Point and how long to expect him to be out. I’m hopefully that it isn’t too long, because you’d also like to see him get back in time for the Olympics with him being expected to make the Team Canada roster. For him to make it back in time for the Olympics, we’ll need to see his recovery time be around 10 weeks or less.

I’m hoping for the best here with Point and that he can return soon, and return in time for the Olympics because that’s a big opportunity for him to showcase himself at the international level and potentially win a Gold Medal as Team Canada is always a favorite to win it all when NHLers are on the roster.