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Lightning Round: Depth carries Lightning through injuries

Gemel Smith, Mathieu Joseph, and Tyler Johnson step up when needed

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NHL: FEB 13 Lightning at Panthers Photo by Joel Auerbach/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Every team suffers injuries at some point in the season. The most successful teams are the ones that can plug the holes caused by injuries with at least replacement-level performance. Should they get above-replacement level performances, even better. For at least one night, the players inserted or bumped up in the lineup for the Tampa Bay Lightning came through.

Gemel Smith, Tyler Johnson, and Mathieu Joseph all contributed to the Lightning’s blow-out win against the Florida Panthers on Saturday. No one is expecting them to perform at Steven Stamkos or Anthony Cirelli-level long term, or even what they did on Saturday. They just need to keep the team afloat for a little while.

The good news is that the Lightning should have one of their top guns back soon. Stamkos has been cleared to return from the COVID protocol list, so whatever put him there (he speculated a false positive) is done with for now. Of course, the second part of the Stamkos-returns equation is if he’s recovered from the lower-body injury that knocked him out of the first game against the Panthers last week. For now, he’s officially day-to-day.

If he cannot return for the team’s third straight game against the Panthers, then look for the Smith, Johnson, Joseph trio to cycle back into the lineup again today. Even if Stamkos is healthy, could Smith stay on the roster (he was technically returned to the taxi squad on Sunday) with the Lightning going back to a 12/6 roster? Possibly.

The staff and players were really pleased with how he played on Saturday and he could be a solid fill-in on the fourth line, which would allow Joseph to play with Johnson and Alex Killorn on the second line. Anthony CIrelli is going to be out for a couple of weeks so it would be nice to see them have a set 12 forwards that they can use when Coach Cooper wants to go 12/6.

While Smith is on the active roster, the taxi squad was looking a bit thin. Which, in itself isn’t detrimental to the team, but would leave the Lighting in a lurch if they did run into some issues with more injuries or COVID-list additions.

According to capfriendly’s transaction Twitter page, the Lightning made a couple of moves on Sunday to bolster the taxi squad by calling up Alex Barre-Boulet and Ross Colton. Doing it now instead of waiting for the next injury allows them to clear any type of testing required when players go from the AHL to the NHL. If Stamkos is indeed ready to go this week, one of them may be sent back to Syracuse.

The roster is going to be in flux for the rest of the season, it’s just the way 2021 is going to go. The nice thing is that Julien BriseBois has stocked the system with an array of players that can jump into the lineup and fill in when necessary. The Lightning may lack in top-end prospects, but they have plenty of useful ones that know the system.

Lightning Links

As mentioned, Steven Stamkos’ stay on the COVID list was brief.

Blake Coleman dropped his latest road trip diary for The Athletic (subscription required). In this edition he chats about why he rocked a Gronk jersey (he finds him fascinating), how long Killorn wore the helmet (until the photo was taken) and who was the big winner for the Super Bowl squares (Chris Gibson). He also talks about why players are always eating on the plane (or were, pre-pandemic) [The Athletic]

When you get on the plane, you can’t eat, which is difficult. After a game, you just kind of want to unwind, have a meal. You just burned a ton of calories. There are typically snacks (cheese plates, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit) when you get on, but not now. It’s just survival. They have meals at the road rinks, but there are a lot of guys similar to me, where you’re not really hungry right after the game, so it makes it a bit of a challenge.

How Gemel Smith was able to put together a strong game despite not appearing in action for almost an entire year. [Tampa Bay Times]

I just tried to stay positive. I’m working a lot with the coaches; the guys are keeping me involved in a lot of things. So it’s really easy to go in there knowing that the guys have trust in me and the coaches have trust in you, and it just kind of made everything easier for me.”