On Feb. 11, Anthony Cirelli suffered an upper-body injury in the third period against the Florida Panthers. He left the ice in the middle of his shift, headed straight to the locker room, and was unable to return to the game.
The injury could not have come at a worse time for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who had been bitten by the injury bug. They were already playing without an injured Steven Stamkos, Mitchell Stephens, and Nikita Kucherov. Furthermore, Cirelli was playing well to start the season. He had scored four goals and six assists in 12 games played. After missing just over two weeks of action, how well would Cirelli bounce back from injury?
Cirelli ultimately missed six games due to his injury but did not miss a beat when he returned to the lineup. On Feb. 27 the Lightning took on the Dallas Stars for the first time since the Stanley Cup Final. Cirelli wasted no time getting on the scoresheet, lighting the lamp once and tallying an assist. This was his fifth goal overall and his first shorthanded of the season.
Cirelli has recorded three goals and two assists in six games played since returning from injury. He tallied a point in three back-to-back games against the Chicago Blackhawks. Although he has been productive offensively, his contributions on the ice go well beyond the score sheet and he is a big reason why the Lightning have won five of their last six games.
Climbing the Franchise Record Book
While Cirelli is a force at even strength, the penalty kill has been his bread and butter. He is averaging 2:33 penalty kill minutes per game, the second-most among forwards on the Lightning this season. Just two games after his shorthanded goal against the Stars, Cirelli found the back of the net on the penalty kill against the Blackhawks. That goal tied him for the fourth most shorthanded goals in franchise history.
In his career, Cirelli has eight goals with a man disadvantage. He scored five in his second season with the Lightning, one last season, and two so far this season. This puts him just five shorthanded goals behind Vincent Lecavalier, who has the third most for the franchise.
Cirelli is a staple on the penalty kill which begs the question: will he be able to take the franchise lead in shorthanded goals? It would be a remarkable feat if he did and would likely require him to see out his career in Tampa. The current franchise leader is Martin St. Louis, who posted 28 shorthanded goals in 972 games in 13 seasons with the Lightning.
Cirelli is in just his fourth season with the Lightning, but he has played a full 82-game season just once. He only played in 18 games in his first season at the NHL level. Moreover, both last season and the current season were shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic. If Cirelli can string together several full seasons in Tampa, he could theoretically catch St. Louis. It is unlikely, but not impossible.
Swiss Army Knife
Even strength, power play, and penalty kill – Cirelli does it all. After the injury of Nikita Kucherov, Cirelli has been asked to take on a much larger role with the team. He has risen to the challenge, seemingly with ease. Showcasing his talent at both ends of the ice on a nightly basis, he has developed into one of the best two-way forwards in the league. After finishing in fourth last season, he is making his case to be in the running for the Selke Trophy again this season.
When healthy, Cirelli has been an X-factor for the Lightning and is proving to be worth every penny of the three-year, $14.4 million deal he inked this offseason. He has seven goals and eight assists in 18 games this season. He also has two game-winning goals, 32 shots on goal, and a plus-nine rating. He will look to keep the momentum going on Thursday against the Red Wings as the Lightning visit Little Caesars Arena.
Andrew is a freelance writer who covers the Tampa Bay Lightning at The Hockey Writers. He is a passionate hockey fan who grew up near Tampa, Florida. He is a husband, father to a Golden Retriever, and is studying to be a Physician Assistant. Follow me on Twitter: @Andrew_Mulville