Lightning’s shorthanded road trip

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Steven Stamkos warms up during a pre-season game against the Florida Panthers. The Lightning will return home Tuesday against the Arizona Coyotes.

Maybe the Lightning should just dress 16 players to just save on two players getting nicked up each game at this point.

This Western Canada road swing is nutty on the injury front with another man down each game. It doesn’t help that the trip includes two sets of back-to-back games in one week. Monday and Tuesday in Edmonton and Calgary than Friday and Saturday in Winnipeg and Minneapolis.

Yet, with three wins on the road in four games, the Lightning could be finding a defining moment of the season earlier than expected. As if Stammer’s leg injury on Veterans Day last year wasn’t early enough.

The trip started in Vancouver last Saturday with Victor Hedman suffering a broken finger. Next game, Ryan Callahan goes down with an injury in Edmonton on Monday. Before that game even started, Alex Killorn wiped out during the morning skate and injured himself prompting Jonathan Drouin to make his debut.

In Calgary, Nikita Kucherov missed the entire second period and part of the first after a hit. At least he recovered to come back during third period and overtime for the win.

Moving to Winnipeg, J.T. Brown is exploded in the corner by Chris Thornburg and Brett Connolly then suffers what the team is calling a lower-body injury.

At that rate, the coaching staff could have been called into duty, coach Jon Cooper joked with the media, according to Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times:

I don’t even want to see what’s going to happen against the Wild tonight. Most of the wounded have resumed skating, according to the Tribune and the Times and at least Radko Gudas became available.

Consider how taxing this is on the rest of the team if it isn’t managed right or depending on how the game plays out. Special teams, especially penalty killing, will skyrocket certain players’ ice time. Some might be conditioned to handle it for a game but this much in a week is a bit much.

In Winnepeg, Gudas’s seven minutes of penalties pushed Anton Stralman into playing over 24 minutes but Andrej Sustr’s time didn’t increase to balance the load, playing even less than Gudas for the game.

For the forwards, everyone received at least 10 minutes of ice time after Brown and Connolly were injured with Stammer, Val and Johnson all getting over 20 minutes.

Calgary saw a better balance, with the least amount of time loss from injury, with all the defenseman save for Barberio very close in ice time ranging from 21 minutes to a shade over 22 minutes. Minutes in Edmonton were spread out well to deal with Callahan’s injury, too. Then looking back to a week ago in Vancouver, the only players getting more than 20 minutes in the win were defensemen Carle, Garrison and Stralman.

For the most part, Cooper and his bench has managed well, not overly taxing anyone until maybe that Jets game. Stamkos nearly had 24 minutes in that game. I know about five minutes of that were on the power play, but this is another set of back-to-back games and Winnipeg wasn’t easy on the body.

The ice management bodes well for the bottom six, especially fourth liners who won’t see a lot of minutes unless called upon to kill penalties. Good on Cooper again for inserting Brenden Morrow on the power play Friday night and seeing Morrow agitate Zach Bogosian in front of the net, giving and taking cross-checks to the back, leading to a shot by Palat and a tip by Namestnikov.

That’s earned ice time right there and maybe we’ll see some line combinations carry over that Cooper had to create out of necessity from this road trip.

Still, there’s one more game to try to win and escape injury tonight against the Wild before coming home to regenerate. Cross your fingers.

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