Oct 18, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) against Florida Panthers during the first period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

FEATURE: Lightning Struggling Without Their Captain, Steven Stamkos

It’s been three weeks now that the Tampa Bay Lightning have been without their captain and it hasn’t been easy.

In mid-November, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos left a game against the Detroit Red Wings with an apparent knee injury. Tests done the next day revealed that he had torn his right lateral meniscus and would be out four to six months after surgery.

“You live in this reality now, and we’ve just got to have to face it,” defenseman Victor Hedman said in an interview with ESPN. “It’ll be a good test for us. But at the same time, we know we can handle it, and we know we can win hockey games even though we’re going to miss him.”

The team continued to win over the next two games; a 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres and a 3-0 shutout over the Philadelphia Flyers to make it four straight victories on the road.

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Unfortunately, since then the injuries have caught up to them. The Lightning have dropped six of their last eight games including their most recent loss in overtime on Sunday.

It hasn’t been just Stamkos who has been injured in that time either. Over the past three weeks, the Lightning have missed time from forwards J.T. Brown, Ryan Callahan, Jonathon Drouin and Brian Boyle, as well as defenseman Anton Stralman.

And it hasn’t been just injuries that have kept players out. In an attempt to reward some player and punish others, and also to give the team a spark, multiple starters have been healthy scratches. Instead, they’ve relied upon called up players from the Syracuse Crunch, their AHL affiliate.

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Forwards J.T. Brown and Vladislav Namestnikov were scratched at one point, but the glaring issue in several of the losses was the defense and the turnovers they’ve caused. As a result, defensemen Slater Koekkoek, Nikita Nesterov and Jason Garrison have all spent time watching from the press box.

“We’re trying to find ourselves as a team a little bit,” said Boyle. “Teams go through this and we’ve stuck together. We told it like it was but we stuck together. We’re gonna have to get out of this, you know, it’s not just one game, we have a test tomorrow at 5. So again, we’ve got to turn the page.”

That turn of the page seemed like it had come as recently as this past Saturday when the Lightning defeated the reigning Eastern Conference Champions 2-1 in a shootout.

The Lightning had given up a combined 19 goals in their previous four games, so getting a win with only one goal-against was quite a relief for the team.

“A lot of times when you’ve lost a couple in a row, it’s worrisome if you’re not playing well.” said Head Coach Jon Cooper in an interview with NHL.com. “We just went through a spurt where we weren’t playing that well. But you could see it come together [in a 5-4 loss at the St. Louis Blues on Thursday] and we didn’t get the result that we wanted, but we could build on them. So we just had a good feeling about just carrying that into tonight.”

The Lightning are starting to play a simpler game. The loss of Stamkos as a leading scorer and a changeup in lines means that they can’t afford to try to win high-scoring games now. Much like last season, the Lightning are going to have to try to focus on their defense and win close, low-scoring games.

That effort continued the following night when they lost a 1-0 overtime game to the Carolina Hurricanes.

But the problem hasn’t been just the injuries or the lack of goal scoring. According to an in interview with Cooper in the Tampa Bay Times, the loss of their captain and other key players has formed a power vacuum.

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“That’s been part of our issue as of late,” said Cooper. “There has been a little bit of hesitancy for guys to take control.”

Stamkos was a leader for the team both on and off the ice, and in the locker room. When he’s not with the team, it hurts their overall play together.

But the Lightning know that they still have the rest of the season to play and someone will step up. If they continue to play their game, the wins will come eventually.

 

About Josh Kimble

Fourth year Journalism major at the University of Florida, focusing in Sports Journalism. Writer for WRUF and WUFT.

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