This is the 12th in a series this month looking at each player on the Lightning’s roster. Up next: Ondrej Palát
TAMPA — Over and over again, Jon Cooper was asked the same question: What makes this year’s Lightning different than last year’s? His answer took on a few different forms but Ryan McDonagh was a constant element.
“You can’t discount the effect of a healthy Ryan McDonagh,” the coach said. Or sometimes he came down heavier on the months of adjustment for the defenseman, having moved his family to a new city the year before. Either way, McDonagh was a part of it.
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McDonagh served a major role in the Lightning’s regular-season success. He took some of the focus of Victor Hedman’s shoulders. McDonagh gave Tampa Bay a defensive defenseman to anchor a top-six pair. He anchored the penalty kill and provided another strong voice in the dressing room.
In short, he was everything the Lightning could want him to be for 82 games. And then he wasn’t.
McDonagh looked like another player entirely in Columbus’ four-game first-round sweep of the Lightning. He made bad decisions, highlighted by jumping in offensively and making a bad cross-ice pass that turned into Columbus’ first goal of the series. He put himself in bad positions and was spun around like a top, getting beat on plays.
For some players, the sweep was a matter of the old issues cropping up. These were new issues for McDonagh. So much that you have to wonder if something was wrong.
Was he hurt? Was there some other reason he looked nothing like the player he had been? The Lightning gave no indication that was the case. Neither general manager Julien BriseBois nor Jon Cooper commented on any specific injury, saying everyone gets banged up by the playoffs. But something wasn’t right.
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That series demonstrated just how important McDonagh is to this team, especially in tandem with Hedman. Together, they are one of the best defensemen duos (not pairs, because they never played together) in the league.
Hedman, who won last year’s Norris Trophy for best defenseman, is once again up for the honor. At mid-season, Cooper said if the award went to the best overall rather than the best offensive defenseman, he’d lobby for McDonagh.
The Sharks might be the only other team with a similar duo (Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson).
None of that mattered when in the playoffs, as neither Hedman (returning from injury) nor McDonagh played like themselves. One anchors the power play and the other the penalty kill, two areas where the Lightning couldn’t find its footing.
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High: McDonagh recorded three three-point games, in wins over New Jersey, Ottawa and Florida.
Low: The veteran didn’t demonstrate any of the elements that made him so important to the Lightning in the playoffs.
By the numbers3:08McDonagh’s average shorthanded ice time per game, which led the Lightning. Overall, only Hedman had more ice time than McDonagh.
46Points last season, a career high for McDonagh. His nine goals were his most since 2016.
82Games played. McDonagh played his first full season since 2011-12 and the second of his nine-year NHL career.
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