Everything Else

Whenever the Hawks and Bolts get together, we bother our friend Alexis Boucher (@Alexis_b82). When we stop talking about Tetsuya Naito, we get around to hockey. 

 

The Maple Leafs got all the press over the summer (shocking we know), and the Bruins always seem to have the East coast bias thing going. But the Lightning are the defending division champs, both regular season and playoffs, and were an unlucky whisker away from being in the Final themselves. Is there any reason to think they aren’t the favorites again?
I’m understandably biased when it comes to this question, but barring extensive injuries or incredibly bad luck it’s hard not to pick the Bolts as one of the heavy favorites out of the East. Their incredibly talented core group is still around and younger players have another year of experience under their belts. They know how well they’ve done over the last several years but the fact that they’ve fallen short isn’t lost on them. Before the home opener earlier this month Steven Stamkos was asked about the 2017-18 Division championship banner that had been hung in the rafters and if there was any discussion about it among the team. The captain said there wasn’t any talk about it because it wasn’t the one they wanted. This group remains hungry to finally fulfill their promise and hopefully this will be the year they make it happen.
It seems like the Lightning are always unveiling a spiky new youngster who contributes big time. Last year it was Yanni Gourde and Brayden Point. Anyone this year?
Right winger Mathieu Joseph made the Lightning’s roster out of training camp and he’s already been making a name for himself. Drafted in 2015, Joseph had an incredibly strong first pro season with the Syracuse Crunch in 2017-18. He plays with a tremendous amount of speed and tenacity on the ice which fits in well with Tampa’s style. He has had incredibly chemistry early on a line with another promising young player Anthony Cirelli and the veteran Alex Killorn.
Any chance Mikhail Sergachev earns more of a role than just third-pairing this season?
The sky certainly seems to be the limit when it comes to Sergachev’s potential. He’s so good that it’s easy to forget he’s only 20-years-old. He continues to see a decent amount of time on the second power play unit as well. As he continues to learn and grow it’s not out of the question that he breaks into Tampa’s top four.
What’s the story behind Steve Yzerman stepping down? Is he just going to get that much money from the Red Wings? Is this a worry in Tampa?
When the Yzerman news broke so close to the start of training camp it was more surprising than anything. Apparently, he wanted to tell all of the players when they arrived but it was shocking nonetheless. Not a lot of details have come out besides Yzerman’s desire to be closer to his family. His wife and daughters have remained based in Michigan throughout his tenure as GM and that can’t be easy. It would seem he’s destined to rejoin the Red Wings in some capacity down the line but it’s also difficult to see him stepping away from the team that he has built into a perennial contender before they reach their goal of winning the Stanley Cup. There’s a lot of unknowns in this scenario but Yzerman has definitely left them in a position to succeed. Julien BriseBois has been under his tutelage for a quite some time and is more than a worthy successor.

 

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GeoFitz4 is a writer on RawCharge.com. Follow him on Twitter @GeoFitz4.
We’ll start with Victor Hedman’s injury. How bad is it and is there any fear it will linger?
When the injury happened, and I first saw a replay while sitting in the arena, I cringed. I got sick to my stomach. It did not look good. It just screamed “torn [something]” and that it would be bad. With the prognosis coming out the day after as three to six weeks, everybody in Tampa Bay let out of sigh of relief. The shorter recovery time suggests that it was more likely a sprain than something being torn. However, maybe something is torn and he’ll be able to play on it once it heals a little bit? But either which way, there’s always a worry with knee injuries for big guys that skate well. You just never know if it’s going to impact the player when he returns. So there is certainly some fear in the back of our minds, but we remain hopeful.
With the Lightning s far ahead in the conference, has there been any thought of giving key players a rest here and there?
I don’t think that that is really Jon Cooper’s style. I think for most of the players on the roster they’re going to be playing a full slate as able. The exceptions might be for some older players like Chris Kunitz, Ryan Callahan, and Braydon Coburn to help keep them fresh. And I do think that Vasilevskiy will start taking less starts as the season goes on. Louis Domingue provides some more confidence in the depth in net and that actually leads me a little bit into the next answer…
What might the Lightning look to do at the deadline?
The team may have already made it’s most important trade of the season already in acquiring Louis Domingue back in November after the Arizona Coyotes waived him. The Lightning’s third goalie at the time, Michael Leighton, had struggled for Syracuse and the Lightning gave up basically nothing to acquire Domingue by trading Leighton and AHL veteran Tye McGinn. Domingue instantly upgraded the third goaltender spot in the organization. And he may even have a chance to overtake Peter Budaj for the back-up spot. Budaj is out for a few more weeks with a lower body injury and Domingue will have this opportunity to audition for the back-up spot. Either way, the team is going to have a hard decision to make when Budaj is back and both would need waivers to go to the minors.
Other than that, I think the most likely possibility is a right handed top-four defenseman. Mike Green is the big name that’s out there that fills that role, but I don’t think the Lightning would get full value out of acquiring him. It would move Jake Dotchin to the pressbox, but Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev already have the powerplay spots locked down and the Lightning play four forwards and one D on both power play units. The only other spot that is somewhat open would be the third line right winger spot. It’s currently occupied by Cory Conacher and he’s played well there. But… if there’s an upgrade to be had there for the right price, Yzerman has to consider it.
Steven Stamkos only has five goals in his last 17. Any concern there?
Not too much worry. The Namestnikov-Stamkos-Kucherov line was the best line in the NHL for much of the first half of the season. That line stagnated a bit though and were broken up. Stamkos hasn’t quite refound his footing since then and the Lightning have been getting less power play opportunities as well. For much of the season, he’s been feasting off of assists, not goals. Coming out of the Christmas break, he made comments about wanting to shoot more. He did that in the first game out of the break with seven shots on goal, and did raise his average from 2.88 per game to 3.1 per game after the Christmas break. Even considering that, he’s a career 16.8% shooter and has four goals in the last 35 shots. With his normal shooting percentage, he should have scored five goals in that span so it’s not far off even though it’s been a little while.
If the Lightning don’t come out of the East, it will be because….?
They go into a funk at the wrong time and hit a hot team. So much of the playoffs is about getting hot at the right time as the Nashville Predators showed us last season. The Lightning came out hot for the first time in… a long time… but have hit some rough spots over the past month or so. Perhaps this is a good time for them to be going through that so that they can re-find their game now and keep it going through the end of the season and into the playoffs. The other big worry would be an injury to Andrei Vasilevskiy for pretty obvious reasons. He’s having a Vezina caliber season and losing him would be a big blow to the Lightning’s chances.

 

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George is a contributor to RawCharge.com. You can follow him on Twitter @GeoFitz4. 

Best record in the league, four guys averaging more than a point per game, with Stamkos nearly at two points per game. Is there anything to complain about in Bolts-land?
– Only real complaint has been the usage of Slater Koekkoek. Jon Cooper has used seven defensemen for all but a handful of games this season. This was actually something I predicted would happen earlier in the off-season. With three young defensemen, it allows Associate Head Coach Rick Bowness to  balance the ice time of the younger kids and protect them. So far, Koekkoek and Andrej Sustr have rotated in-and-out of the 7th defenseman spot. It’s been a little bit frustrating because we feel that Koekkoek has played well in the time he’s been given, while Sustr has regressed and his flaws have been more exposed than ever. Koekkoek is a smooth skater and was once looked on as a potential #3 defenseman. He had three shoulder surgeries (two on one, one on the other) before even starting his professional career and that stunted his development a bit. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor complaint.
Brayden Point is already halfway to his rookie point total from last year. What do we need to know about him?
– Recently I’ve seen some comparisons of Point to Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews. Not saying that he’s up to Toews level… yet… but he’s the kind of player that does the little things right. He’s not a master at any one thing, but he’s just a very solid all-around player that plays great defense and produces offensively. His line, with Ondrej Palat and Yanni Gourde on either wing, have been tasked with taking on top lines. Expect his line to be out there a lot against Toews and Saad. Point was overlooked in his draft year despite his offensive output (36-55-91 in 72GP in WHL with Moose Jaw) because of his size and some minor questions on his skating according to reports at the time. Since then, he’s picked up a couple inches and probably 15-20 pounds. That extra size and the work he has put in with renowned skating coach Barb Underhill allowed him to really bring his game to the next level. He was the first AHL-eligible professional rookie to make the Lightning out of training camp under Steve Yzerman. That’s just not something that happens with this organization anymore.
Mikhail Sergachev has 14 points and was the offseason’s big acquisition. Is he already the second puck-moving d-man the Lightning have needed behind Hedman. 
– Most definitely. The Lightning had a bit of a luxury in having three elite forwards on the roster. But they really only had one elite defenseman, as good as Anton Stralman is. Sergachev is proving to be that second player and he has more goals and points than Jonathan Drouin this season. Habs fans though will rightfully point out that Sergachev has a much better supporting cast in Tampa than he would of had in Montreal and he likely wouldn’t be producing like this north of the border. He’s a smart, charismatic kid that has a great work ethic and it comes through in the Russian interviews RawCharge has translated. He’s mostly been paired with Anton Stralman who has proven to be a great compliment to him. Stralman had career offensive seasons when he joined the Lightning but cooled off last season away from Hedman. But what he did with Hedman is the same thing he can do for Sergachev – give him a solid defensive presence that is an excellent communicator and will let him do his thing. He’s also earned his way on to the second power-play unit and has shown a knack for getting pucks on net through bodies.
How is Dan Girardi rocking positive underlying numbers when he was an utter disaster in New York?
– So, funny thing about that. @LoserPoints, our resident advanced stats experts, was just chatting with the rest of the staff about Girardi’s numbers a few days ago. With the Lightning using seven defensemen, it means that everyone is getting a chance to play with everyone else. When Girardi has been with Sergachev, he’s posted some ridiculously good numbers. With every one else, his numbers are mostly in the negative. A lot like his normal partner Braydon Coburn, he doesn’t push the pace offensively, but he has been better at limiting defensive chances for the Lightning. He’s been able to compliment Sergachev in the limited time they’ve played together and Sergachev’s offensive instincts has helped to buoy Girardi’s numbers. Girardi also mentioned in interviews before the season that last year he was slowed down by a nagging foot injury. That’s healed (though it’s only a matter of time before he’s hurt blocking a shot) and that has shown through in his positioning.
If this team doesn’t come out of the East, it will be because….?
– Injuries, particularly to Andrei Vasilevskiy or Victor Hedman. Vasilevskiy in particular is one of the big keys to this team going deep. While the offense is bound to cool off sooner or later, they do have tremendous scoring depth in the top eight forwards. There are some replacement options up front in the AHL in the form of veteran Cory Conacher and prospects Adam Erne, and Matthew Peca. The blue line is a little bit shakier, but the team could weather an injury there, maybe two. Having kept Koekkoek and Sustr, the Lightning are carrying eight NHL defensemen. In the AHL though, the depth just isn’t there. Jamie McBain is the lone defenseman with any NHL experience, though his experience is ample with over 300 games in the NHL. Beyond that, there’s one AHL veteran that could fill-in, one that is already on the bottom of the AHL line-up, a third-year pro, and then two each in their first and second years in the AHL. The goaltending depth picture did get a little bit better with a trade for Louis Domingue to replace Michael Leighton who had been struggling in the AHL. However, a pairing of Domingue and Peter Budaj doesn’t give fans the most confidence unless Domingue can return closer to what he’s shown in the past with the Coyotes.