TAMPA — The play of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Richard Panik this season has been up and down.
At times he looks every bit the part of a high second-round pick. During other times, he’s earned a spot in the press box as a healthy scratch.
It’s all just part of the learning curve Panik is enduring during his rookie season in the NHL. Tuesday’s game was Panik’s first back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch the previous two games.
“He’s played some really, really good hockey for us at times, and he’s struggled a bit at some times,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “By no means did he mean to hit Alzner the way he did, and I don’t think it was a play of frustration, I just think it’s the way that it’s going for him right now. But he has to get more involved. He’s a really talented player.
“He probably has a top-three shot on our team, and for him to have less than 30 shots (29 through 27 games) for a guy who gets quite a bit of ice time and is put in key situations, he has to be better at that. And when he gets better at that, he’ll get back in the lineup.”
Panik, who has one goal and 10 points but is a team-worst minus-7, is eligible to return Sunday in Detroit. The two-game suspension came as a surprise to the 23-year-old, who has no history of supplementary discipline.
“I didn’t expect to get two games, but I’m just really glad that (Alzner) is OK,” Panik said. “But you have to accept (the suspension), and go from there.”
Panik has gone through some similar struggles with his game during his first year in the minors under Cooper with Norfolk of the American Hockey League. The talented Slovakia native was a frequent healthy scratch at the start of the season before landing a regular spot in the Admirals’ lineup.
“I think it’s a similar beginning, but in Norfolk I got better pretty much every day, so I’m going to try to focus on that here,” Panik said. “I just need to focus on myself, get back to good habits and hopefully everything will turn around.”
Injury updates: Cooper said D Victor Hedman is expected to miss at least another week with an undisclosed lower-body injury, which occurred when he was hit into the side boards against Ottawa on Dec. 5. Hedman is not expected to travel with the team for the upcoming three-game road trip, which begins Saturday in New Jersey, and the indication is that he is not ready to begin skating.
C Tom Pyatt, out since Oct. 8 with a broken collarbone, said he is scheduled to have a bone scan Wednesday and is hoping to be cleared to return against Nashville on Dec. 19. Pyatt had hoped to return two weeks ago before an initial bone scan revealed the fracture had not completely healed. He has been practicing with the team since Nov. 15.
Lack of Ovechkin coverage: Cooper was asked about the possibility of Washington LW Alex Ovechkin joining the 50 goals in 50 games club after the 2013 league MVP scored four against the Lightning on Tuesday — three on one-timers from the left circle.
“There are probably two guys in the league that have the skill to be able to put the puck in the net like that. One is on a training table (Steven Stamkos) in the back room and the other is up in Washington,’’ Cooper said. “But if you are going to play (defense against Ovechkin) the way we did the other night, he may have 80 (goals) in 50 (games).”
Nuts and Bolts: There were 12 players (eight for Tampa Bay) in the lineup who faced off in the Calder Cup championship last season, won by Grand Rapids in six games over Syracuse.