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TropicalFruitGirl26

Tampa Bay's 2019-20 Campaign: Cup or Bust

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With the embarrassing shellacking by the Blue Jackets now firmly behind them (but hardly forgotten), the Bolts embark on the new old quest of capturing the Cup and bringing Lord Stanley to the bright beaches of West Central Florida once again.

Armed with new faces, a newfound grit in some of the newer players, more maturity for the younger core, and the knowledge of what can happen if they aren't properly prepared to face a red hot team, this team should be more focused on winning a title rather than setting regular season records.

For the Tampa Bay Lightning, their true judgement will begin around May.....because no matter how good a season they have, it will be hard to top what they did last year over the course of 82 games...and the ONLY way to truly top that season, is to win it all and wipe away the disgusting taste of a 4-game sweep.

Truly a Cup or Bust year for the Bolts.
And even though they are built for long term success, that mantra may follow them around until they finally do raise Lord Stanley's prize.

 

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Just a quick rundown of key players swapped out and brought in on the 19-20 version of the team....
 

OUT:
---Ryan Callahan...gritty winger whose playing career is basically over after succumbing to degenerative back disease. He was traded to the Ottawa Senators for G-Mike Condon and a 2020 6th round pick, in a paper transaction to clear cap space.

---Adam Erne....another gritty type winger, young up n comer, probably has a ceiling of 2nd or 3rd line winger, but a guy who always brings energy, physicality, and is transforming into the type of agitator player many teams love to have on their team, but hate to play against. Traded to the Red Wings for a 2020 4th round pick.

 

---JT Miller....a kinda do everything type top 9 center/winger who despite his many talents, found himself often the odd man out in the TB lineup. His salary of 5+M didn't justify keeping a guy who really never found a "spot" on the team. He was traded to Vancouver for minor league G- Marke Mazanec, a 2019 pick (G-Hugo Alnefelt) and a 2020 conditional 1st round pick.

 

---Anton Stralman….solid, steady but aging blue liner was a UFA not offered a contract. He now plays for the Florida Panthers.

---Dan Girardi.... another aging, solid blueliner whose speed took a nosedive the last couple seasons. Also a UFA and as of this time, does not have an NHL team.

 

---Louis Domingue....technically still with the club, but now buried in the minors, as the Bolts don't have a spot for him at the NHL level, and rumor is, they are hoping to trade him and get whatever they can for him. Decent netminder, but still with enough holes in his overall game that leaves him as an NHL back up at best.

 

 

IN:
---Curtis McElhinney.  Split time last season with Petr Mrazak on the Carolina Hurricanes. A 35+ yr old veteran whose sole purpose on the team is to provide starter Andrei Vasilevskiy with rest while the team can still feel confident that they have a guy back there who will stop pucks. Curtis fully understands this is Vasy's team and he embraces his back up role.

 

---Kevin Shattenkirk. Bought out by the NY Rangers after a disappointing season that was no where near worth his cap hit of 6.65M. He signed a low rate 1.75M one year deal to build his value back up...and help the Bolts with his PP skillset in the process.

---Pat Maroon. Big tough, but sometimes maligned winger due to perceived "coasting" in games. He nonetheless is a Stanley Cup champion having played a sizeable role in the Blues' capturing of their first Cup ever. He says he wants to win another and he too signed a one year contract with the Bolts, at a $900K cap hit.

 

---Luke Witkowski. Mean, rugged 4th liner/bottom pair defense swingman, who was originally developed by the Bolts, then traded away, and now re-acquired on a two year, $700K AAV contract.

 

---Luke Schenn. Another tough defenseman (notice a theme here?), who also signed a 700K deal, but for only one year. Currently in AHL Syracuse, but he IS an NHL defenseman, albeit bottom pair caliber, who no doubt will see playtime as soon as the inevitable injury happens as is the case over the course of an 82-game season.

 

---Carter Verhaeghe. 24 yr old center/winger who had been toiling away in the minors for a few seasons for the Islanders then the Lightning, now being given a chance to see what he can do with the big boys of the NHL. He had a career best 82 points for TB's AHL Syracuse Crunch over 76 games last season.

 

Other players currently not on the big club roster but could get some serious looks at the NHL level at some point this season...

---Callan Foote (D), big bodied, 20 yrs old, TB's 1st round selection (14th overall) in the 2017 draft.
Had 10 G, 31 points and was a +16 in 76 games for the AHL Crunch last year.

 

---Alexander Volkov (LW, RW) 6'1, 195 pound, 22 yr old drafted in the 2nd round in 2017.
Since coming over from the Russian junior leagues two seasons ago, he has posted back to back AHL seasons with 45 and 48 points over 75 and 74 games respectively. He also posted a +19 his first season, a +26 his second season and has shown remarkable consistency, even if he is nothing flashy or spectacular, and also seems to have a bit of a mean streak as he has been known to check with intensity while he scores goals and doesn't seem afraid to rack up penalty minutes while he goes about his business.


 

Edited by TropicalFruitGirl26

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The Penguins model for winning cups, shared with the Hawks in their prime is simple: Spend all your money on keeping the superstars happy and fill in the gaps with smart drafting and astute signings of free agents who fell through the cracks. Maroon and Shattenkirk absolutely are a brilliant example of the later, kids such as Verhaege, Foote, Alex Barre-Boulet (undersized Tyler Johnson type) Raddysh, Katchouk all will NHL players on the cheap. 

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2 hours ago, yave1964 said:

The Penguins model for winning cups, shared with the Hawks in their prime is simple: Spend all your money on keeping the superstars happy and fill in the gaps with smart drafting and astute signings of free agents who fell through the cracks. Maroon and Shattenkirk absolutely are a brilliant example of the later, kids such as Verhaege, Foote, Alex Barre-Boulet (undersized Tyler Johnson type) Raddysh, Katchouk all will NHL players on the cheap. 

 

For sure..
Although, I rather like the Red Wings model of 20 years or so of continuous contention....and about a fistful of Cups to go along with it! ;)

 

Seemingly layer after layer of Wings' players coming up as older pieces were phased out, but never missing a beat.

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With respect to some good or up n coming teams that Bolts already played this early season, tonight begins a stretch of games that, IMO, will really show what the Lightning have in that locker room.

The defending Eastern Champion Boston Bruins are up and the Bolts visit them in their own building.

After that, the Lightning come home after a road heavy start to their season and see Colorado, Pittsburgh, and Nashville.

So counting the Bruins tonight, that is two potential Eastern Conference finals previews and two potential Stanley Cup finals preview.
Sure, that is looking WAY ahead, but as a fan, I can do that.
TB players can't....they gotta focus on the teams at hand, but I certainly can and will.

Cup or Bust...….

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Yikes.
Bolts fall 6-2 to the red hot Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night.

A three goal in three minute outburst by Colorado highlighted an issue the defending Atlantic Champions have had since the season started:  Porous defense.

TB has sorta been trading wins and losses so far this season and has them at around the .500 mark at 4-3-1.
I'd like to think the Bolts' defensive problems will sort themselves out as the season wears on, but right now, they are looking pretty mediocre in that department and right now, not even getting the scoring they COULD be getting as well.

Tempers flared in the game vs the Avs and one could see the frustration in the TB players as two fights broke out...something the Bolts outside of Cedric Paquette or Luke Witkowski don't normally engage in..... Eric Cernak and Victor Hedman both dropped the gloves against Colorado's Casey Calvert on two separate occasions in the game.

After a fantastic character building win over the Boston Bruins the other night, the Lightning follow it up with a game against Colorado that could make most people wonder why the Bolts are such a big deal.
Seriously.

Pittsburgh comes to town next, and while the Pens have their own problems, they still have every bit the skill in their lineup to play right with the Lightning.
If the stars on both sides show up, this could be a fantastic and very entertaining game.

For the Lightning, another chance to prove they deserve to BE a big deal in the NHL and right their ship.

Some secondary scoring for the Lightning would help quite a bit as would some more solid play overall from the defense.

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Bolts meet the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena tonight and the team looks to shake off the "good game, bad game" pattern they've established in the early going.

To the end of finding consistency in their overall game, the Lightning are making some interesting changes to their lineup in hopes it sparks certain players and re-establishes the 4 line attack the team has been known for the last few seasons.

First, Tyler Johnson looks like he will get a crack at being the #1C, centering a line of Stamkos at wing, and newly promoted Mathieu Joseph on the other wing. Both Stamkos and especially Johnson have been a bit sleepy starting out, while Joseph has played pretty well in a bottom six role, and being rewarded by playing top minutes.

Jon Cooper is STILL trying to find "Stamkos' wing" (I still think Stammer is a better center than wing, but I can see why the coach would like to get Johnson going), ever since Marty St. Louis was traded. MSL and Stamkos were magic together and though for awhile it looked like Nikita Kucherov may be the best compliment for Stamkos on the same line, turns out, they play better on separate lines (Kucherov seems to play really well with Brayden Point, and that is who he will be playing with to start against the Pens), and that further helps to spread the wealth, so to speak, on elite scoring between the top two lines.

Next, Cedric Paquette looks like he may be ready to go. He had been sidelined with an UBI since pre-season and hasn't seen regular season game time yet.
If he does return tonight, it means he centers the 4th line alongside Patrick Maroon and Luke Witkowski....a bruising, yet potentially productive line as well.

Sadly, Paquette's return means Carter Verhaeghe who had been centering the 4th will be returned to AHL Syracuse.
Verhaeghe hasn't played badly in the role, and he may warrant another callup at some point, but Paquette is still a notch or two above him in terms of skill, familiarity with the team style, and definitely more experience at the NHL level.

Hopefully these changes will make a difference offensively, however, the REAL culprit in Lightning not doing so well has been defensive coverage and transitioning from defense to the offense.
Changes there don't include personnel changes, but rather, pairing changes.

Braydon Coburn and Mikhail Sergachev will reunite on the 3rd pairing (Serge had been playing alongside Hedman on the top pairing) and Kevin Shattenkirk will be given a bit more reign as he will be paired with the always defensively responsible Ryan McDonagh on the 2nd pairing.

Meanwhile, on the top pairing, no surprise Victor Hedman is there and his new partner, and getting his first real shot at being a 2D will be Eric Cernak.
This should compliment Victor's offensive skill with a more stay at home approach, and should allow the #1 defenseman more latitude to be creative.
Cernak himself, in addition to his physical playstyle, also features a pretty good point shot and good skating ability for a man of his size.

 

Bolts....Pens....
If all goes well, should be dandy of a match up and maybe this is the game that finally gets the Lightning playing like the team that is expecting to make another Cup run this year.

Go Bolts!

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Another big nugget of news with regards to Jon Cooper's lineup changes:

Nikita Kucherov will be on the 3rd line tonight.
Yep. Kuch on the 3rd.
I don't believe he has played third line since when he first came up.

Why? Could be for a number of reasons.... Kuch hasn't been his usual beastly self. He has been ok, but oftentimes, away from the puck, seems a bit lost.
He will be on the same line as Alex Killorn (wing) and Anthony Cirelli (C), two very good, hard working but also skilled guys...and perhaps the coach is hoping some of the blue collar stuff rubs off on Kucherov.

By the same token, particularly with young Anthony Cirelli...look, that young center has done everything the Lightning ask of him, but he is mostly stuck in the bottom six due to having Point, Stamkos and/or Johnson ahead of him on the center depth chart.

Perhaps putting the reigning scoring champion on his line is also a way to reward Cirelli.
"Here ya go young man...Kuch needs a bit of a boost in the workman department, you get an elite scoring winger to play with....go get some production done!"

Unlike most teams, playing the 3rd line in Tampa Bay isn't necessarily a straight up demotion.
Coach Cooper, for the most part, spreads the ice time out pretty evenly.
Sure, the top six will always log more time, but its not like the 3rd line, or even the 4th, only get like 7-8 minutes of ice time per game like you may find on others.

Team is deep enough to where the coach understands he will have guys in the bottom six that likely would be top six players elsewhere (such as the aforementioned Anthony Cirelli), so he has to manage the ice time accordingly.

At any rate, I am sure Kucherov would love to remain in the top six, but best thing he can do right now, is do what is asked of him playing on Line 3 and while helping himself there, he also has an opportunity to "pay forward" and help bolster linemates Cirelli and Killorn.

Very interested in seeing how Kuch handles this...

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Bolts have been looking like they've turned things up a notch or three starting with that trip to Sweden where they swept both games against the Buffalo Sabres, then the first game back in North America, dismantle the NY Rangers.

Of course, the Winnipeg Jets dealt the Lightning a loss, but even in that game, the Bolts almost  pulled it off.... Connor Hellebuyck was outstanding in that one and I think if he doesn't pull the saves he did in that one (really spectacular stuff!), the Bolts complete the comeback and take that one too.

Now to temper the excitement of seeing the Bolts play "Tampa Bay hockey", we must keep in mind that teams like the Sabres and Rangers are still rebuilding programs, Sabres allegedly being further along, but still, teams that have not been playoff teams for a bit, while the Jets, even with their off season losses on the blueline, DO have championship caliber, established talent on that team, including the aforementioned WPG goalie.

But one thing I do like that I am starting to see the Bolts do more is establish a net front presence. 
They were mostly satisfied to set up the fancy plays in the past, take perimeter shots and look for the deft deflections around the circles..... but now, I am actually seeing guys stand in front of the goalies, push and shove with defenders, create screens, and generally cause chaos near the crease....and be satisfied with taking the ugly goal.

And Pat Maroon is leading those tactics, but he isn't the only one either...Yanni Gourde, Alex Killorn, and even Stamkos could be seen over the last couple games hovering near the opposing crease. Good stuff.

Speaking of Stamkos, he achieved a milestone in the Jets game...scored goal number 400 or his career. Really amazing. He hasn't quite hit 30 yet and already has that many!
Granted, earlier in his career he was mostly just a pure scorer... 50-60 were never out of the question for him to possibly achieve regularly....but nowadays he plays a more complete game.

Likely will never see outrageous goal totals again, but still will score enough, set up others, win face offs, and back check and play D all as part of his regular game.

Still nice to see him hit numero cuatro ciento though.
Next up, 500? We will see.

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Are the Lightning still playing part-time hockey or did they receive their 82-game schedule from the league like everyone else did?  ;)

 

Otherwise we'll all finish up and then watch the Lightning play out the last 41 games of their schedule and go from last place to first place in the conference.  :)  

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1 hour ago, WordsOfWisdom said:

Are the Lightning still playing part-time hockey or did they receive their 82-game schedule from the league like everyone else did?  ;)

 

Otherwise we'll all finish up and then watch the Lightning play out the last 41 games of their schedule and go from last place to first place in the conference.  :)  

 

LOL...good question...I'll have to look into it.
At this rate, they are playing an AHL 'weekend schedule'

By midseason, they may very well have 40 games in hand on everyone else, so you may be right! :bigteeth:

Problem is...if everyone else is caught up...whom do the Lightning play?????? :rolleyes:

All joking aside, the are really gonna pay the piper so to speak when the schedule compresses on them harder than the Atlantic on a submarine that has gone too deep...………… yikes...

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Time to test the ol Lightning depth once again.
No Stamkos, no Kucherov for probably the next several games.
UBI's and LBI's abounding here.

With Stamkos out, that makes Brayden Point the undisputed 1C on the team....but may leave a hole in the 2C position.
Tyler Johnson looks like he will be moved back to center to try and make up for it, although young Anthony Cirelli, playing quite well as the 3C, can play like a top six center as well.
Cedric Paquette mans the effective and steady 4th line.

As for Kucherov's spot, the Bolts have called up Cory Conacher to fill his roster spot, although Conacher will no way be able to come close to producing anything like #86.
A bit disappointed the Bolts didn't recall Alexander Volkov (22) or give big Taylor Raddysh (21) a shot at the NHL finally, but I trust the process with the Bolts, and think management still thinks those guys are better served playing their regular minutes in the minors for now.

Bolts did skate away with a win last night against the Chicago Blackhawks in a game that saw some outstanding puck handling and play set ups from both sides, both Corey Crawford (Chi) and Curtis McBackup (TB) had to be sharp, and they were.

Overall to date, the Lightning seem to be alternating wins and losses, not surprisingly, having them sit with a .500'ish record.
Still not overly concerned with the team, although as they approach the quarter pole mark of the season, these alternating wins and losses will begin to look worse and worse for a team that is supposed to be a Cup contender.

Of course, not having Stamkos or Kucherov is bad, but for years this team has always been about more than just a guy or two, or three...it is about everyone pulling, contributing, and depth to win the day.
I certainly won't be using absent Stammer or Kuch as excuses for any losses.

They get a chance to turn their win in Chicago into a two game streak when they face the Anaheim Ducks at Amalie Arena on Saturday. 
 

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Good news / Bad news for Bolts fans...

Good news: Nikita Kucherov apparently won't be needing an extended stint on IR...he will be in the lineup when the Lightning host the Ducks tonight.

Bad news: Captain Steven Stamkos will need more time on IR and no timetable for his return has been made available yet.

Andrei Vasilevskiy will be in net for TB, but it will be Ryan Miller, not John Gibson, manning the opposing net for the Ducks.
Miller has been pretty good in the backup role this season for Anaheim, though his last two games, his GAA has been rated at around 3.50.
And if you are Tampa Bay, you'd still rather see Miller in net instead of Gibson.

Chance for the Bolts to continue waking up in the scoring department? Outside of the 3-1 loss against the Blues two games back, the offense looks like it is starting to come around once again.
Even not having Stamkos in the lineup shouldn't put too much a dent in that if the rest of the boys are playing like they are capable.

Depth is a wonderful thing.

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Lightning had their 3-game winning streak halted by...….the Blues. 
That makes two recent losses to the defending Stanley Cup champions, giving St. Louis the season sweep of the Bolts.

Only way TB sees the Blues again is if both make it to the SC Finals.

Ahem...but that is getting ahead...way ahead...of ourselves.

Bolts offense continues to round into shape, now their defense, and surprisingly, Andrei Vasilevskiy, now have to catch up.
Yea, Vasy. He hasn't quite looked like himself for some reason all year. Hoping it isn't some nagging injury he is possibly hiding from the coaching staff.
More likely, he is just having a slow start with the heavy expectations of the team, along with a few other players having slow starts.

Problem is, of course, the season is wearing on to where, you can't label things "slow starts" anymore.
He and his defense need to get it in gear already.

Game against the Capitals in Washington should be just the type of game to get everyone on the Lightning engaged and ready to go.
Washington could be a good measuring stick. They likely make the post season, and if TB does too, good chance they meet them in a series.

Erik Cernak won't be part of the Capitals game (or the Hurricanes game the following night for that matter) due to his two game suspension for illegally knocking the block of Buffalo's Rasmus Dahlin with an elbow.
Unfortunate turn of events for Cernak and the Bolts, even though one can also say, it is even more unfortunate for the Buffalo blueliner. 
Hope he comes back soon. Honestly. Don't like to see players go out like that.

Steven Stamkos hasn't been cleared to play, but according to coach Jon Cooper, he might be back by at least the Carolina game on Saturday from his LBI.

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I wonder at what point as a Lightning fan I start to be concerned about this team.
We are at roughly the quarter pole mark (23 games to be exact as of this posting) and the Bolts are still on the outside of the top 8, still doing things defensively that suggests they aren't Cup ready this season, still struggling at times with scoring, particularly 5 v 5, and Andrei Vasilevskiy has looked very ordinary.

30 games then? 35? Halfway mark at 41? 45?
Fans can keep saying "it's still early", and it is, but that ain't gonna fly for much longer.
They take care of business for the most part against the expected bottom feeders such as NJ, NYR, Buff, Chi, and Ana.....but can't quite beat the legit contenders like the Blues, Caps, Islanders, Avalanche, and have trouble with teams like the Panthers and Jets.

Bolts need to get in gear, they have no significant injuries (barring some player hiding something from the coaching staff), and are making some goalies look like Vezina candidates.

TB just dropped a close game to the Carolina Hurricanes, another expected contender.
I labeled the Canes as "fluky" last season and thought they would regress and they haven't.

I see I was in error and the Canes really are a good team.
But they had James Freakin Reimer in net tonight and the Bolts, when they weren't being denied by Reimer's Hasek-like acrobatics, were missing wide open chances when Reimer was down n out.

That's concerning.
And giving away too many goals too early in games has been a theme for this group as well....spotting Carolina a 3-0 lead after 1 only to lose 3-2.
Curtis McBackup was in net for TB tonight, but that is no excuse...he has been good enough, but the defense in front of him, not so much.
Team can't keep spotting other teams leads like that then expect to come charging back for a win.

Bolts are a more physical team...more so than I can remember in recent memory, and that is a good thing, but it seems, at least so far, that they are that way more because they are "chasing the game" rather than taking control of a game, then putting the physical play on the other team.

Still time, of course, for things to get right.
Tons of talent and now plenty of ruggedness on the team....but none of that will matter if their defensive play doesn't pick up and Vasilevskiy doesn't get back to his usual stellar play.

So, not gonna hit the panic button just yet.... but I keep eyeing it, that is for sure.

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Don't look now, but I think, finally, the Lightning are starting to figure out some things.
They have been slowly creeping up the standings, granted, feeding on the weak in many instances, but still, moving up nonetheless.

After finishing off the Sabres (sweeping Buffalo in the season series...yep, the Bolts are done with the Sabres this year), they find themselves sitting in 3rd place not very far from 2nd place Toronto.

 

I'd still like to see the Bolts tighten up the defensive play a bit more and not give the opposition so many good looks at Vasilevskiy, and Vasy himself, for whatever reason, hasn't been tracking the puck as well this year, but again, the team seems to be figuring things out, and fortunately, there is plenty of time yet for them to hit peak efficiency....and hopefully that peak will reach right around playoff time.

Because let's face it.....after the last few seasons TB has  had, and especially last season, this team's measure of success is no longer measured in the regular season.
It will be the playoffs, how far they go, more to the point, DO THEY WIN A CUP OR NOT!?

 

The penalty kill was a terrible mess for most of the first half...hovering around the 75-77% range. That has been improved to just over 80%.
Jan Ruuta….NOT a favorite of mine, has seen some improvements in his defensive play.
Mikhail Sergachev, unfortunately out DTD with some sort of hand injury, has seen him take steps towards becoming a top pair guy.
Braydon Coburn, believe it or not, was missed on the blueline, and he has come back and should help stabilize the defensive play as well.

As many fans know, he is far from spectacular, but when he quietly goes about his business disrupting plays, rubbing out would-be playmakers along the boards, pushing off forwards camping out around his goalie, and sticking a smelly mitt in the face of another player just to irritate them AND not taking stupid penalties in the process, well, that is Coburn going about his job.

Up front, Steve Stamkos continues to be a steady presence, Kucherov  and Point look like they are finding their scoresheet touch, and other players such as Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, and Anthony Cirelli have taken huge steps in various roles and contributing to not only the Bolts offense, but support of the defense as these guys can often be seen backchecking like demons.

Newbies Mitchell Stephens and Carter Verhaeghe have fit in very well too since being called up, while the 4th line, centered by Cedric Paquette, with Pat Maroon and Yanni Gourde on either side of him, have been nothing short of admirable for the work and effort they put in...as well as the problems they cause the opposition in match ups.

Hedman, as expected is fantastic in his #1 D role, Shattenkirk has been, well, Shattenkirk...hit and miss, but has been mostly a pleasant addition, and Ryan McDonagh STILL needs to fully find his game.

Would also like to see better consistency and overall efforts out of guys like Mathieu Joseph, and especially Tyler Johnson, who for some reason, looks lost out there most nights.

Man, if the Bolts can get Johnson going...…. he would be the catalyst in having three legit scoring lines!

TB still needs to figure out how to win against the top teams though. 
Recent losses to Washington (twice), St. Louis, Dallas, NY Islanders, Carolina leave a lot to be desired.

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The red hot Canucks visit the red hot Lightning.
Something's gotta give.

JT Miller, former Bolts player who was acquired from the NY Rangers along with Ryan McDonagh will play against the Bolts since being traded.
Miller has taken full advantage of his regular top six status and is having a career year with the Canucks.
Contrast that with what he was doing with TB (very average numbers and all over the map in terms of where he was playing on a nightly basis), and one can easily see how the change of scenery has benefitted him (and Vancouver) greatly.

Miller was always a team guy and he continues to be that with Vancouver, but his game also has a bit of an edge to it and I am interested in seeing how much of that edge he lets loose on some of his former mates tonight.

No doubt he is pumped and like any player traded, wants to show his former organization they made a mistake, so I expect nothing but the best from him.

The Lightning have a chance to win their 8th straight game and doing it against a team like Vancouver, even though they have lots of young players, still have enough veterans and skill, to legitimize the Bolts as FINALLY playing to their potential (well, still not fully, but hell of a lot better than what we saw most of the first half)….and that their rise in the standings is no fluke or product of "just a hot streak".

Andrei Vasilevskiy gets the start tonight and he will definitely need to be sharp as he faces down Pettersson, Boeser, Horvat, Hughes, Miller and the rest of the surging Canucks, who themselves have a 7-gamer going (battle for who gets their 8th tonight!).

This game might even be quite physical.
TB has really started to emphasize the rough play this season and have the personnel to do it with Paquette, Maroon, Schenn, McDonagh, Palat, Cirelli, Killorn, Joseph....and even Stamkos has gotten in on the physical play.

But Vancouver, especially now that they have gotten some healthy bodies back, are no slouch in that department if they need to utilize it.
Roussel, Edler, Virtanen, Miller, Motte, and Beagle right off the top of my head.

Looking forward to this one.
Skilled contest with some smash n bash mixed in.
Heads on swivels boys...

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Tampa Bay has picked things up in the win-loss department that last month and a half.

Seems like they have figured out their game, added some more grit to their lineup along the way, and have been winning games in various ways, as opposed to just outscoring everyone and look good doing it like they did last season.

At this point, it really doesn't even matter if they can catch Boston for the Atlantic or not.
Bolts seem to be in their own little bubble where they are just concerned how well, how tough, and how committed THEY are to winning games, night in, night out...and come playoff time, THAT will serve them best regardless whether they finish 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in the Conference.

Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman, Zach Bogosian....all added at or around the trade deadline. 
All have varying degrees of usefulness (though I am leary of Bogosian) in terms of being nasty and tough to play against.

Coleman in particular seems to be the most useful...the Swiss Army knife of top 9 players if you will, but I can see Goodrow taking a role of lock down center or wing, particularly in the defensive zone, sharing that workload with guys like Carter Verhaeghe and/or Cedric Paquette who already do that sort of thing on the team.

TB needs the return of Ryan McDonagh however.
His injury, as well as that of Erik Cernak is forcing the Bolts to play Luke Schenn more than they likely want to, as well as having to move other guys like Shattenkirk and Coburn up the defensive depth chart....and of course, probably necessitated the signing of a guy like Zach Bogosian in the first place.

McDonagh, like the rest of the team earlier on, has had a slow start......looking more n more to me like he must have had some nagging injury holding him back.
Hopefully this time off for him is a good thing, and he can return in much better physical game condition for TB down the stretch and into the playoffs.
If the Bolts are going to win this year, even with the talent up n down their lineup, McDonagh will HAVE to be a big part of that as well.

As for other players, Captain Steven Stamkos continues to lead by example....far removed it seems, from the guy who just looked like he was putting up personal stats....he truly has taken his role as captain to heart, and does anything and everything on the ice, needed to get his team a win.

No more grumbling about "I want to just play center"....no more talk or concerns by the media, or anyone else really, about "b-b-but Stamkos won't score 50 or 60 goals anymore!".....
No, he won't...but I will take 35-40 annually from him, along with maybe 70-80 points if he continues to hit, take faceoffs, play defnense, and move around the lineup (successfully too!), as he has been doing.

I think it is safe to say he is over the personal stats and awards thing, and now is focused on a Stanley Cup, and during interviews, it is clear to see and hear, he expects the same of his teammates.

Kucherov, Point, Hedman....as expected, they got their games going.
Palat, Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli, and yes, even Kevin Shattenkirk have all seemingly upped their games and are doing what they need to do to keep their team winning.

Vasilevskiy is being Vasilevskiy...and Curtis McBackup is doing a decent job spelling Vasy when he needs it.

Bolts next game will be against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Oh boy.
Trap game?
A Leafs team that was beaten by a retired minor league, current Zamboni driver?

Hopefully TB just sees another contender for their spot in the playoffs and not a team that was on the wrong side of history against Carolina.

Boots to throats should be the mantra for TB against Tor...take NOTHING for granted.
Stamkos....let your leadership shine here and practice what you preach!

Go Bolts!

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