TAMPA — Although the Lightning’s training room continues to resemble an overcrowded infirmary at times in recent days, Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman said it won’t force his hand into finding a way to get help outside the organization while players are out.
Before Saturday’s game against Winnipeg, the Lightning had nine players listed as having injuries, a list that includes No. 1 center Steven Stamkos and top defenseman Victor Hedman. Though that list was reduced by two as Eric Brewer and Radko Gudas were back in the lineup, the Lightning are far from fielding a full lineup.
Of the 20 players who dressed on Saturday, seven are considered rookies, with Richard Panik — a healthy scratch — making it eight first-year players on the active roster. There are also 13 players on the roster who have fewer than 75 games of NHL experience under their belt, with many of them playing prominent roles because of all the injuries.
“We always said that we wanted our young guys playing. Well, they are playing,’’ Yzerman said.
For the most part, they are playing well and handling the added responsibilities given to them by the coaching staff.
“We’re giving them valuable experience, and for the most part they are doing really well,’’ Yzerman said. “And it doesn’t lessen the burden from the veteran guys, either. They’re asked to carry more of a load, and it’s just added to the burden on everybody. So that’s good for them, everybody likes to play, everybody likes the challenge, and if we can continue to collect points and hang in there as we gradually get guys back, we will be better off for it.’’
So unless the right offer comes along, don’t expect conversations to increase just because of the number of players out because of injury.
“I would just as soon go with our young guys and we will re-evaluate when we get to a point later on,’’ Yzerman said. “I don’t want to jeopardize anything or any of our good future assets like first- or second-round picks. I’m not opposed to it if it’s for a player that’s going to be with us for a long time, but I don’t want to give up something good for a rental, because eventually we are going to get our guys back.’’
Lightning coach Jon Cooper, who was pessimistic regarding Hedman’s status on Friday, was more upbeat when asked about the situation Saturday.
“I did hear him say that he was feeling better today, but I also heard (Keith) Aulie (broken hand) say that, and he’s out for two months,’’ Cooper said. “But (Hedman) was feeling better but is definitely not playing (Saturday).’’
Aulie, meanwhile, was sporting a cast on his left hand and had his left arm in a sling. He said when he went in to hit Ottawa’s Zack Smith on Thursday he heard his hand “snap like a twig’’ and knew it was broken right away.
Panik sits again
Panik was a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game as the rookie continues to struggle with his full-time role with the team.
At times Panik looks like a first-line forward; at others he fails to maintain a solid consistency level. In 26 games, he has one goal and 10 points but is a team-worst minus-7.
“He’s just not playing the way we know he can play,’’ Cooper said. “And he’s probably being critiqued a little bit harder because I’ve been his coach for the last three years and I know what he is capable of and I know what he is doing and what he’s not doing. Unfortunately, these are the tough lessons that all coaches and players go through.’’
Nuts and Bolts
LW Pierre-Cedric Labrie remains out with an arm injury, but he is expected to be cleared to return next week. ... RW Marty St. Louis has points in six consecutive games against Winnipeg. ... St. Louis moved into sole possession of 91st place on the all-time scoring list.