Matt Carle (Getty Images)
The Lightning suffered a significant blow with the loss of veteran defenseman Matt Carle to a lower abdomen injury. But because Tampa Bay has exceptional depth on the blueline, they're not going to need to rush out and replace him.
The Tampa Bay Lightning received some tough news Monday when they announced veteran blueliner Matt Carle would be out of the lineup for the next 6-8 weeks after surgery for an injured lower abdomen. Fortunately for the Bolts, they've got enough depth in their defense corps to keep them at or near the top of their division until Carle returns.
The 30-year-old Carle was injured Jan. 15 against Edmonton and had a 347-game snapped when he missed Saturday’s game against Colorado. He'll have surgery Tuesday in Philadelphia to repair torn adductor muscles in his lower abdomen. And although his absence is a significant blow to a Tampa back end that's already lost Radko Gudas for the rest of the regular season with a knee injury, the Lightning entered the season with one of the NHL's deepest bluelines and are fortunate to have stellar Swedes Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman to pick up some of the slack. In that game against Colorado, Lightning coach Jon Cooper leaned on the duo to a greater degree, bumping up by a couple of minutes their average ice time of 22 minutes a night. Fellow veteran Jason Garrison will also be given more minutes, and youngsters Mark Barberio and Nikita Nesterov will get tested perhaps a little sooner than the organization would've preferred. But this is life in the compressed-schedule NHL – if you're not anticipating injuries, you're not being realistic.
Capable defensemen in general are one of the league's most valued assets, so it's not as if Lightning GM Steve Yzerman will be able to part with a prospect or draft pick to replace Carle's minutes and easily acquire one. But it's a credit to the organization that they had the depth they did – remember, this is a team that traded veteran Eric Brewer to Anaheim in late November for a third-round pick – and still have enough defensive talent (including goalie Ben Bishop) around to keep them in games and give their very talented forwards a chance to win.
There never would've been a good time for Carle's injury to occur, but the Bolts are about to enter a particularly brutal stretch of their schedule and won't get any breaks in that regard until the end of February. But the Lightning don't really need breaks. They're the NHL's second-best 5-on-5 squad because of above-average play at both ends of the ice, and with due respect to Carle and Gudas, that cohesion and commitment isn't about to fall apart now.