We interrupt your regularly scheduled preseason morning skate (huzzah!) to continue our look at the rest of the NHL. Today, we head south to the other team near a Disney park, but who didn't feel the need to actually name themselves after a movie.
How does a team respond after unexpectedly coming with one game of the Stanley Cup Finals? Well, if it's like most teams that have had surprising runs since the lockout, there could be regression. Since 2006, we've seen 5 teams (Oilers, Stars, Blackhawks, Flyers, Lightning) make a charge in the playoffs that resulted in them getting to a round that no one thought possible. Of the previous 4 teams, only the Hawks saw action in the third round the following year, with the Oilers and Stars both missing the playoffs completely.
Was last year about catching lightning in a bottle (I hate myself for that, sorry) or is Tampa a legitimate Stanley Cup contender? Follow the jump as we take a look at the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Unless you're new around here, you'll know that we heart the Lightning a lot. The fact that their GM is the greatest Red Wing most of us have ever seen doesn't hurt, but this is a team that is littered with strong, likable players. Steve Yzerman immediately began to put his stamp on the team by bringing in former AHL coach Guy Boucher to coach the Bolts. He then obtained Dwayne Roloson from the Islanders, and both moves had huge impacts on the Lightning's season. Tampa jumped out of the gate and established a lead early, but a slow November brought them back to the pack. Ultimately they finished the regular season with the same record as the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Bruins.
In the playoffs, they came back from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Penguins, then swept the Capitals in the second round, setting up a showdown with Boston. A heartbreaking 1-0 loss in Game 7 ended the Lightning season, but I think most Tampa fans would consider last season a rousing success.
Pertinent Stats in 2010-11
Points: 103 (7th NHL, 5th East)
Goals For: 241 (T7th NHL)
Goals Against: 231 (T21st NHL)
Power Play: 20.5% (6th NHL)
Penalty Kill: 83.8% (8th NHL)
Offense: The Bolts boast one of the top trios in the NHL in Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos. St. Louis finished second to Daniel Sedin in points with 99, and has established himself as one of the best right wingers in the league. What has always been amazing to me about him is that 10 years ago, no one knew who he was, and now he's a former Hart Trophy winner. Stamkos is the former #1 overall picks who has already lived up to expectations by scoring almost 100 goals in the past 2 seasons. After a slow start in his rookie year, Stamkos has blossomed into the offensive threat that was expected of him when he was drafted. Rounding out the "Big 3" is another center, Lecavalier, who has been as steady as they come over his entire career.
Having a 1-2 punch like that at center with a winger like St. Louis is nice, but injuries to one or a prolonged slump will mean others will have to step up. Thankfully, the Lightning have solid forwards like Teddy Purcell, Ryan Malone and Steve Downie, the latter of whom may be known as a physical player but has some offensive upside.
On the blueline, Victor Hedman will be expected to continue his development as an overall defenseman by seeing more time in offensive situations, but the Lightning found a good PP guy in Brett Clark, who led all Lightning d-men with 6 PP goals last season. The Lightning won't get a ton of offensive from the back end, but there's some talent there to help out the forwards.
Defense: The Lightning, outside of Hedman, don't have any true superstars or young studs in the lineup, but it's a solid group. Mattias Ohlund was brought over from Vancouver to mentor Hedman and provide some veteran leadership to a younger team, and he's been good in his time in Tampa. He's not the offensive defenseman he once was, but he can still be counted on to not be a liability. Pavel Kubina came back to Tampa after a stint in Toronto, and he was also a steady contributor to both offense and defense for the Lightning.
One of the better acquisitions Yzerman made was obtaining former Blues captain Eric Brewer from St Louis, who struggled mightily before joining Tampa. He was re-born in Boucher's system, and was rewarded with a 4 year contract in the offseason.
Goaltending: Dwayne Roloson was brought in to Tampa after the Lightning tinkered with many different goalies, including the now-departed Mike Smith and Dan Ellis. Roloson emerged as the #1 guy and was a huge reason why the Lightning advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. He'll be 42 in October, so there are concerns over whether he can still play at the level he did last year with his age, but he provides stability in the Lightning net.
To replace Smith, the Lightning signed former Blue Jacket Mathieu Garon, who played quite well in Columbus while Steve Mason continued to struggle. He's a Ty Conklin-type of goalie in that he's never been able to win a starting job, but he can give the team 25 quality starts.
Player to Watch: At 6'6" and 229 lbs, Hedman was drafted to be a rock on the Lightning defense, but the offensive side of his game was still lacking until last year. At 26 points, he's not going to be mentioned with the likes of Nicklas Lidstrom or Mike Green, but he's only 20 and still has a lot of developing to do. This could be the year that he steps up and becomes the overall defenseman that many are waiting for him to be.
Player With Something to Prove: It's hard to pick someone on a team that overachieved last year, but all eyes will be on Stamkos this season. I'm not saying that he has to prove he's a legitimate superstar in the NHL, because back-to-back seasons of at least 45 goals does that already. However, Stamkos took a long time to re-sign his new contract, a 5 year, $37.5M monster deal that makes him one of the higher-paid players in the game (deservedly so). He struggled as a rookie when he had the pressure of being a #1 overall pick; will the same happen now that he's being paid like a star?
The Skinny: The Lightning were not expected to do much last season, but they shocked everyone by getting to within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals. In a top-heavy Eastern Conference, there is a lot of competition for the right to represent the East in the Finals, but the Lightning have the personnel to contend for a top seed in the conference and make another run in the playoffs. I think they finish a point or two behind the Caps in the division, but the playoffs will be a different story. All I know is that my religion forbids me to say anything bad about a team associated with Steve Yzerman. Go Lightning (except on November 30, when the gloves come off).