Tampa Bay Lightning: Victor Hedman Injury Magnifies Defensive Struggles
For the Tampa Bay Lightning, there have been few roadblocks in the first half of 2017-18′. They cruised to 65 points, topping the NHL, and looked poised to run away with the Atlantic Division crown. Perhaps more importantly, no crucial injuries had occurred. Then came January 11th.
Coming off a feel-good win over the Carolina Hurricanes, they hosted the red-hot Calgary Flames prior to starting a much-needed five-day break. It was a tight game midway through the second period when top defenseman Victor Hedman took a knee-on-knee hit from the Flames Garnet Hathaway. Putting no weight on his leg, he immediately left the ice and didn’t return. With teammates fearing the worst, a 2-1 deficit quickly became a 5-1 loss.
The next day, tests indicated his injury wasn’t as severe as most feared. In other words, it wasn’t season-ending. Unfortunately, he still expects to miss 3-6 weeks. Most teams probably look at that and scoff, wishing they could get that lucky. What they fail to realize is the Lightning struggle keeping pucks out of their own net. Hedman is the stabilizing force on a unit that has been maligned for years. Without him, mistakes are magnified.
Fast forward a week later. Game One of life without Hedman, at least for the time being. The Lightning hosted the upstart Vegas Golden Knights and got schooled in a 4-1 loss. Defensively, they were running around in their own zone to the point that it frazzled head coach Jon Cooper among others. Up front, the inability to score became so frustrating that forwards forgot there are two ends in an ice rink. Playing both correctly is the only way to be successful in this league. That’s a message being conveyed to players now.
Whenever a team loses a player, there’s an adjustment period. New guys step up, while others receive increased minutes. For the Lightning, rookie Mikhail Sergachev moves up to the first power play unit, veteran Anton Stralman becomes the leader on defense and Slater Koekkoek finally receives a long look. How they perform could go a long way in deciding what deals general manager Steve Yzerman makes prior to the trade deadline.
Can the Tampa Bay Lightning keep rolling despite losing Hedman? While recent history isn’t on their side, this team has shown resiliency in the face of adversity all season long. Nothing deters them, an attitude that should serve them well during this trying time.