The Tampa Bay Lightning announced two roster moves today. The first was to reassign defenseman Cameron Gaunce to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL from the Lightning’s NHL roster. The other was a corresponding move to assign defenseman Matthew Spencer to the Orlando Solar Bears from the Crunch roster.
Gaunce did not appear for the Lightning during this call-up, though he did skate during warm ups for last night’s game. While there hasn’t been any official indications of another injury outside of Victor Hedman and Ondrej Palat, it was a sign that maybe someone else was dinged up. Braydon Coburn was scheduled to appear after Thursday night’s game on The Last Call radio show. Matt Sammon of Lightning Radio informed listeners that Coburn was a little battered after the game and was not able to make it for his interview. It could just be normal bumps and bruises, but it could also signal that he has been dealing with something minor.
Victor Hedman has been out with an upper body injury since taking a hit from Vegas Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves that sent him falling awkwardly into the boards. The signs have been there this week that Hedman was close to returning with participating in practice on Wednesday. Hedman has missed seven games with the injury and it appears he is ready to return tomorrow night at home against the Ottawa Senators.
In his absence, Slater Koekkoek has stepped in, playing alongside Hedman’s normal partner Dan Girardi. With Hedman’s return, it’s expected that Koekkoek will return to the press box. In seven games, Koekkoek has averaged 14:45 TOI and scored one goal while being even in plus-minus. Koekkoek’s advanced statistics have looked sub-par compared to the rest of the Lightning blue line. Koekkoek was drafted as an offensively capable two-way defenseman. He struggled to drive offense during this stint though and spent more time in his own zone than in the offensive zone.
With Hedman being out, other Lightning defensemen have had to step up. Ryan McDonagh in particular has done well in fulfilling that number one defenseman role. He also stepped in on the first power play unit in Hedman’s normal spot at the point. Over the past seven games, McDonagh has scored a goal and seven assists for eight points with two assists coming on the power play. Prior to that, he had four assists over nine games. His TOI also went up from 22:56 per game to 23:49 in Hedman’s absence.
Anton Stralman and Girardi’s ice time remained mostly unchanged in Hedman’s absence. Mikhail Sergachev and Braydon Coburn on the other hand saw their ice time pick up. Coburn went from 15:15 before Hedman’s injury, which included a season high 20:11 in the game Hedman was injured in, to 17:56 since the injury. Sergachev’s ice time went up from 16:38 to 18:23.
Seeing how well Coburn and Sergachev, along with McDonagh, performed in a bigger role in these past seven games, the Lightning have the luxury of easing Hedman back into the line-up. He doesn’t need to come in and play 26 or 27 minutes right away. He could easily come in and play 20-22 minutes and make sure he’s fully back in game shape before going back into those heavy minutes on the upcoming road trip.
For the Syracuse Crunch, this is also good news as they return one of their best defensemen and a veteran on the blue line. The 28-year-old has a goal and an assist in six games for the Syracuse Crunch and also serves as one of the team’s alternate captains. The Orlando Solar Bears will also get a boost from Matthew Spencer joining them. Spencer has recorded an assist in six games for the Crunch this season. He had five points in 39 games last season and also scored three points in 14 games for the Adirondack Thunder in the ECHL. He added four more points in 15 playoff games for the Thunder.