It is finally here. Opening night as we kick off the 2018-19 NHL season. In Tampa. The last time we saw this team, they were skating off the ice having been beaten by the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference finals.
It was the third time in four years the Lightning have come short in their quest to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Optimism is high as the Lightning embark on another season, one they hope will end in a Stanley Cup Championship. The Lightning are favored by most prognosticators to win the cup and it would be another disappointing season should the Lightning come up short.
The tag line for this season of Lightning hockey should be “Stanley Cup or Bust.”
There were some changes made to this Lightning team during the off-season. Most notably in the front office were GM Steve Yzerman stepped down to an advisory position and longtime assistant and Syracuse GM Julien BriseBois become the new GM.
Brisebois’s philosophy will be speed speed and more speed. He likes to use the speed to put pressure on the opponent. The Lightning added some speed to the roster in adding Matthieu Joseph to the roster from Syracuse and acquiring Danick Martel from the Flyer organization via the waiver wire.
Speed is a great asset to have to pressure your opponent but once in the offensive zone, you need to be able to get into position to score. Joseph had 4 goals in the pre-season and Martel has a history of scoring in the minors.
Cory Conacher also made the team this year. He was up and down last year with the Lightning and contributed last season when given his opportunity.
The Lightning also had 4 players on the roster out of training camp this season that were not here at the beginning of last season. Louis Domingue, JT Miller, Dan Girardi, and Ryan McDonaugh were all acquired during last season and each one played a huge role in helping the Lightning get to the Eastern Conference final last season.
The Lightning begin the season with 4 of the best players in the NHL on the roster in Hedman, Stamkos, Kucherov and Vasilevskiy. Nikita Kucherov who is one of the top 3 players in the NHL will need to build on the success that he had last season when he finished with 100 points and was the third leading scorer in the NHL.
Although Steven Stamkos was not the Stamkos of old, he still had a nice season scoring 27 goals, 15 coming on the PP. I think the fact that Stamkos has played 10 years and lost almost two season to serious injuries and health issues played a role in his point total dropping last season.
But Stamkos still has Line of the best one-timers in the league and it is still a huge threat on the PP. he is also a great leader and mentor in the locker room.
Victor Hedman the best defensemen in the NHL will try to duplicate his award winning season from last year. Hedman will start the season playing along side Mikhail Sergachev.
Sergachev just 20 years old begins his second season as one of the important pieces in the Lightning defensive corp. Sergachev got better defensively as the season went along and his scoring touch came as a surprise and added bonus. He is one of the best young defensemen in the league.
I am excited to see what JT Miller will do in a full season on a line with Stamkos and Kucherov. Miller after being acquired from the New York Rangers averaged almost a point per game. If he can continue that production, the Lightning will have 3 scorers with the potential to get to the 100 paint mark.
The Lightning could also move Miller to the second line with Point and Palat to balance out the scoring. Jon Cooper is one to shuffle the lines quite a bit so anything is possible.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is back in goal for the Lightning. Vasilevskiy coming off a season in which he was nominated for the Vezina Trophy was rock solid between the pipes in his first NHL season as a full-time starter. With Louis Domingue as a solid back-up, this is the best combo the Lightning have had in goal for quite a while.
The one big area that the Lightning still have to master as a team is sense of urgency. At times the Lightning let their foot off the accelerator last season and the mindset needs to be never ever let your foot off the gas.
Don’t play great in the first period and then go through the motions in the second and third. Keep that pressure on the opponents the entire game.
The Lightning’s top players have to show up in the big spots. Too many times especially in he playoffs Stamkos and Kucherov couldn’t be found and didn’t show up in crunch time. That will need to change for the Lightning to reach their goal of raising the Stanley Cup.
Toronto, Boston, Pittsburgh and Washington will be the main threats against the Lightning in their quest for the cup from the east. I think Winnipeg and Nashville will again battle for supremacy in the west and I Like the Winnipeg Jets to finally get over that hurdle and make it to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
I think the Lightning will have to much speed and fire-power for the opposition and when the ice finally starts to melt away in mid-June, look for the Lightning to be skating around the rink raising the cup for the first time since the 2003-04 season.