It was easy to lament the notable absences from Tampa’s line up in Tuesday’s 5-1 drumming in Columbus. Steven Stamkos is out for months. Ryan Callahan was a late scratch due to a lower-body injury. The Bolts could definitely use Stamkos’ scoring or Callahan’s gritty play but the loss they’re feeling the most on this stretch is that of defenseman Anton Stralman. Tampa is hurting without his veteran presence and it highlights how important he’s been to the club’s success in recent years.
Anton Stralman is criminally underrated in Tampa and throughout the rest of the NHL. He isn’t an exceptionally flashy player or a d-man that regularly finds the back of the net. When defensemen are good at their jobs it’s easy not to notice the minute details of their play throughout a game. It’s when they’re forced out of the lineup that their absence is truly noticed. The Lightning been feeling that loss in a big way over the last three games.
Losing a player that contributes so much has had a domino effect on the rest of the roster. Stralman typically sees 22-25 minutes of ice time on a nightly basis. With him gone that time has to be redistributed among a largely young defensive corps. Andrej Sustr has come a long way in the last year and a half. Nikita Nesterov is improving as well. Slater Koekkoek has some great tools at his disposal but he’s still only played 27 NHL games. Luke Witkowski has chipped in since being recalled as well.
There’s been a lot of progress for the younger d-men but adding to their workload exposes their weaknesses and it’s easy for mistakes to be made. It also means more the veteran blueliners have more on their plates in working with less experienced partners. Even more attention must be paid to details in the defensive zone and when guys are over extended things can slip by.
The Lightning were able to grind through the first two rounds of the 2016 playoffs when Stralman was out with a broken leg. They’re struggling a bit more now but there is good news on the horizon. Stralman has been practicing in a regular jersey since last Saturday. He’s been skating and seems on the verge of re-entering the lineup which will be huge for the Bolts.
Anton Stralman may never receive glowing accolades about his play. He should get a lot more credit for how much he influences his team on a nightly basis through his detail oriented approach to his position. He’ll probably never win the Norris but he’s become one of Tampa’s most vital players. Get well soon, Anton. They really need you out there.