TAMPA — A glance around the Lightning dressing room after Monday's practice showed five players who opened the season at AHL Syracuse, a backup goalie who won 27 games this season with the Kings and a fourth-line center who began the year with high expectations for the Panthers.
Yep. Just how they drew it up when the Lightning opened the season Oct. 13 against Detroit with its sights set on hoisting the Stanley Cup.
"It's a weird year," center Greg McKegg said.
McKegg, who started the season with the Panthers, was claimed off waivers Feb. 27. He left one team scrambling for its playoff life for another. Nothing has really changed, he said, "just the uniform."
Backup goalie Peter Budaj came from the Kings in the Ben Bishop trade. He split his first two starts for the Lightning, earning two big points for his team with a victory against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Meanwhile, the Syracuse Shuttle has left Gabriel Dumont, Adam Erne, Yanni Gourde, Jake Dotchin and Luke Witkowski in the dressing room. Joel Vermin, sent back to the Crunch on Sunday, was recalled Monday for tonight's game. Byron Froese, acquired from the Maple Leafs in the Brian Boyle trade, played two games before being sent back to Syracuse.
"It's kind of been crazy," Dumont said. "Even at the beginning of the year I was hurt and guys were getting called up and called up and called up and then I get here and people just kept coming."
Re-signing Steven Stamkos and keeping Bishop for another season before he turned free agent was the blueprint for what was projected to be a long and successful playoff run.
We know what went wrong. Injuries, poor play then the trades and now the Lightning find themselves on the outside of a playoff spot facing the visiting Coyotes tonight in a must-win game.
But you can't blame the new faces, many of them rookies. In fact, you can credit them for keeping the team afloat.
"They're doing all they can to help us win," coach Jon Cooper said.
"They've done a great job so far," added J.T. Brown. "Everybody who has come up as stepped in and played well."
Gourde's first NHL goal — and only NHL goal so far — tied the score at 2-2 on March 11 against the Panthers and helped the Lightning rally from a 2-0 deficit for a 3-2 win.
Dumont had a key goal in the win at New York. Witkowski, a defenseman, was a healthy scratch in nine consecutive games and now finds himself playing on the wing.
"They ask me to play forward, I'm not going to say no," Witkowski said. "I was sitting out for nine games in a row. I'm going to do whatever I need to do. We all are."
Witkowski began the year as captain of the Crunch. Dotchin filmed a promo video for the Crunch, lip-synching to Beyonce. Now he's a top-pairing defenseman with Victor Hedman.
"Having guys step up and ready to play in the NHL, it's not an easy league to play in, but these guys have done a really good job getting acclimated to us and acclimated to the way we play," Hedman said.
NOTEWORTHY: Center Vladislav Namestnikov (lower body) participated Monday in practice and said he expects to play tonight. Center Cedric Paquette (lower body) skated Monday for the first time since suffering his injury March 9 but wore a red no-contact jersey. Center Tyler Johnson (lower body) did not practice.
Tonight vs. Coyotes, 7:30
TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun, 970-FM