Lightning sticking with same lineup against Red Wings
For Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek, his patience continues to be tested.
Koekkoek, 23, the former first-round pick, is expected to be a healthy scratch tonight for the fourth time in the past five games. It's still a bit of a head-scratcher.
With eight defenseman on the roster, someone has to sit. Everyone gets that. And the Lightning is off to its best start in franchise history (8-1-1), so any criticism seems nit-picky. But in the big-picture development for Koekkoek, the kid needs to play, and not once every couple weeks.
The Lightning will go with Andrej Sustr as the seventh defenseman tonight against Detroit. It looks like it's Sustr's turn in the rotation, playing in his third game in the last four after sitting five straight games. With the Lightning's top-six defensemen set, especially with the emergence of rookie Mikhail Sergachev, Sustr and Koekkoek have alternated sitting.
How does coach Jon Cooper decide which one plays?
"There's a lot of factors," Cooper said. "One is they are players on our team and we want them in the lineup. It's just everybody can't play. We've just never been really that team that's going to sit a guy on the bench for a month and half and not get in there. We want these guys playing. You get them a game or two a week, it still keeps them fresh, it keeps them engaged. They're part of our team. We've got eight 'D' for a reason. We're playing seven right now. One guy has to sit. But it's not like those guys will be sitting for long."
The Lightning has played seven defensemen the past eight games, and gone 7-0-1. It's been successful, but it's also been necessary to get guys playing time. This issue is more of an indictment of carrying eight defenseman than either Koekkoek or Sustr, though Sustr is a minus-3 in four games (Koekkoek a plus-two in five, with two goals). You'd think, at some point, something has to give and a defenseman is moved.
You just wouldn't think it would be Koekkoek, whom the Lightning invested a No. 10 overall pick in 2012. Tampa Bay paid a price at the expansion draft - including dealing prospect Nikita Gusev and Jason Garrison - to ensure young defensemen Jake Dotchin and Slater Koekkoek weren't taken by Vegas.
The Lightning is doing its best trying to get everyone in the lineup, and while Koekkoek has been a good soldier throughout his time here (including his demotion to AHL Syracuse last season), it wouldn't be surprising if that frustration eventually comes out.
More from morning skate: G Andrei Vasilevskiy will make his 10th start in the team's first 11 games.. Koekkoek and Gabriel Dumont are the expected scratches, with J.T. Brown in the lineup again... Cooper said C Cedric Paquette (undisclosed injury) is another couple weeks away. He hasn't played since Oct. 17 in New Jersey. "Unfortunately a couple players go through some of these injury streaks and he's in one," Cooper said. "It's not that this is serious, he's going to mend up a little bit and he'll be back." Cooper noted that the Lightning's 3-2 win in Detroit Oct. 16 might have been the only game it won where the other team probably deserved the better fate... Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov continue their hot streaks as the league's top scorers, along with linemate Vladislav Namestnikov. "They're the best line in the league right now," wing Ondrej Palat said. Congrats to wing Ryan Callahan and his wife Kyla, who will be giving birth to their third child Friday.