EDMONTON, Alberta — Veteran D Sami Salo returned to the lineup on Sunday after missing the past four games with an undisclosed upper-body injury suffered Dec. 23 during a victory at Florida.
In Salo’s absence, the Tampa Bay Lightning had a blue line that consisted of three true rookies plus J-P Cote, who appeared in his 16th career NHL game on Sunday.
Inserting Salo back in adds nearly 850 games of experience to the defensive corps.
“You get a wily vet back in there and you can’t have enough of those guys,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “The Salos, and even when he and (Eric) Brewer were out, that’s tough because that’s a lot of experience on the back end and that’s what he brings.’’
But even while he was out, Salo said the blue line was in good shape because of how much the young defensemen — Victor Hedman, Mark Barberio, Radko Gudas and Andrej Sustr, all of whom are 23 years old — in the lineup have performed during the first half of the season.
“It’s great to see,” Salo said. “The organization has a lot of future in these young guys and they’ve shown it this year. They’ve grown a lot in the time they’ve been here. It’s promising for the organization, for sure.’’
Entering Sunday, the Lightning had five of the top 10 rookies in plus/minus rating as Barberio and Sustr, along with forwards Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson, find their names on the list.
On a team that fields eight or more rookies in the lineup each night, it’s a testament to the team’s success during the first half that Barberio and Palat are tied for fourth at plus-11, Kucherov and Johnson are tied for eighth at plus-8 and Sustr is 10th at plus-7.
“We’ve proven to be a pretty good 5-on-5 team through the year and with the injuries we’ve had these guys’ ice time goes up and their responsibilities go up and they’ve all handled it extremely well,’’ Cooper said. “When you are playing well 5-on-5, usually that will translate to some wins. But to me, (plus/minus) is a team stat, and the guys are a plus, that means your team is doing well, and I’ll take that.’’
Lightning G prospect Andrey Vasilevskiy finished his World Junior career with a third medal, helping Russia defeat Canada 2-1 in the bronze-medal game on Sunday, the second consecutive year Russia beat Canada for the bronze. Vasilevskiy was also part of the 2012 silver-medal winning team. The 19th overall pick in the 2012 draft finished this year’s tournament with a 4-2 record, 1.83 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage.
Jonathan Drouin, the third overall pick in the 2013 draft, finished with three goals, six assists and a plus-5 rating, second best on Team Canada. Drouin’s nine points were second on the team.
Finnish F Henri Ikonen won gold as Finland defeated Sweden 3-2 in overtime. Ikonen finished with a goal and three points in seven games.
Adam Erne, the 33rd overall pick in 2013, had one assist and was a minus-1 in five games for Team USA, which was eliminated by Russia in the quarterfinals.
Nuts and Bolts
C Tom Pyatt, LW B.J. Crombeen and Barberio were scratched. ... Kucherov has goals in three consecutive games. ... Palat picked up an assist to extend his scoring streak to six games, tied for longest this season by a rookie in the NHL. ... RW Teddy Purcell extended his scoring streak to four games. ... D Matt Carle has assists in three consecutive games.