The Blackhawks will host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night from the United Center. The Lightning finished in 4th place last season while playing in the Southeast Division going 18-26-4. They scored 148 goals while giving up 150 and they were a dreadful 6-16-2 on the road. During the offseason they lost their Captain in Vincent Lacavalier. On Thursday night, the Lightning dropped their opening night game 3-1 to the Boston Bruins.
Now it’s a new day in Tampa and to help us get ready for Saturday nights contest we caught up with Tasha Meares from the Tampa Bay Lightning Fansided site Bolts By The Bay, and this is how our Q & A session went with Tasha.
BU-1) Were you surprised at all that Martin St.Louis was named captain over Steven Stamkos?
BBTB-1. Not at all. I think I would have been a little bit more surprised had things gone the other way. In my eyes, Martin St. Louis has been the heart and soul of the Tampa Bay Lightning for many years now. He is ridiculously talented with a killer work ethic. There are a lot of players like Tyler Johnson and Richard Panik coming up from our AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch, and I can’t think of anyone better than a someone like St. Louis who has been with the Lightning for over 12 seasons to help usher them into life on the main roster.
BU-2) Why did it take so long to name St. Louis Captain?
BBTB-2. I think there is a two-fold reason to this. First, I think that both Yzerman and Cooper wanted to put the game first. Going into training camp, you don’t really want to spend all your time thinking about who is going to have an extra letter on their jersey. You want to make sure that you are spending every waking moment getting ready for the next season, and making sure that you are putting the absolute best combination of players together in order to maximize the team’s potential. Secondly, this isn’t a decision that you want to take lightly. You want to make sure that you have taken a long hard look at who you have available to you, then you have to weigh not just their talent, but their leadership ability and how the rest of the team responds to them. You can talk all you want, but if your team doesn’t positively respond to you then you are not an effective leader; which is something the Lightning need.
BU-3) Does Stamkos talent have a ceiling?
BBTB-3. To be honest with you, I don’t think it does. If it does, he certainly hasn’t found it yet. Stamkos is a natural born sniper with an insane ability to find the back of the net. He has already won the “Rocket” Richard Trophy on two occasions, and he has only been in the league for 5 seasons going into this year. Some may think I am crazy, but I honestly think that he is still getting better. Having an opportunity to be on the ice with someone like Martin St. Louis and see how he operates and developing alternate ways to get things done, Stamkos has absolutely nowhere to go but up.
BU-4) The goalie situation has been a concern for sometime, how are the lightning looking in net coming into this season?
BBTB-4. To be honest with you, neither of our goalies have had an opportunity to be properly tested. Last season was a half season to start with thanks to the lockout. On top of that, Lindback spent a portion of the season in injured reserve thanks to an injury to his ankle. Bishop came to the Lightning towards the end of the season, and was only able to play a handful of games. I think this season, we are really going to get a feeling for where we stand in net. Right now, I have faith in both Bishop and Lindback. The first couple of games are going to give us a better idea of where we stand this season, but I feel that is Cooper believes that they are the people for the job, then they are indeed the people for the job. Should anything happen to either Bishop or Lindback during the course of the season, injuries or whatnot, I know that we have 2 solid goalies in Syracuse who can be brought up and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Long story short, at this point I am really not concerned about our situation in the net.
BU-5) Is Ben Bishop the answer or just a temporary stop-gap as a Lightning goalie?
BBTB-5. Back to what I said in the previous question, neither Bishop nor Lindback has had an opportunity to be properly tested between the pipes for the Tampa Bay Lightning. From what I have seen of him, Bishop has the talent necessary to be a long-term net minder for the Lightning. The true test will come this season when he has the opportunity to play more than 9 games in a season.
BU-6) Who will be stepping up to fill in for Vincent Lecavalier?
BBTB-6. No one can ever really fill in for Vincent Lecavalier. He was a force here in Tampa Bay for many, many years. However, if you are referring to production and goal scoring, we have plenty of people with the talent necessary to fill that void. First, we have Tyler Johnson who came up this season from Syracuse. Last season, he was the AHL’s leading goal scorer and MVP. This guy has the kind of talent that you just can’t deny. Also, we have Valtteri Filppula that we acquired during the offseason. He has a strong track record in Detroit. He was a well respected player, and someone who had the ability to find the back of the net. I think it is safe to say that the Lightning will be able to find the firepower to be successful in our new Division this season.
BU-7) Are there any prospects in the pipeline that Lightning fans should be excited about?
BBTB-7. Obviously, one of the people you want to keep your eyes on is Jonathan Drouin. He is very, very talented. Those of us who had the opportunity to see him play during the offseason and again during the preseason know that he is incredibly fast and has an ability to make plays happen out of nowhere. He reminds me a lot of our current captain, Martin St. Louis. Another person that you want to keep your eyes on is Brett Connolly. Last season with the Crunch, Connolly was only 2 points behind Tyler Johnson. Also, Adam Erne will be in the spotlight sooner rather than later. He is a solid hard hitter who is really quick on the ice. There is so much talent in our developmental system right now, both in Syracuse and with the ECHL affiliate Florida EverBlades that it is hard to narrow it down to just a few.
BU-8) Who is the 2013-2014 Breakout star for the Lightning?
BBTB-8. I think you are going to see Tyler Johnson really step it up this season. He is a beast in the faceoff circle with his ability to get really low. He’s extremely fast, and has a solid hockey IQ. He reminds me a lot of what Steven Stamkos looked like just a few years back. I think you’re also going to see another stellar year from both Stamkos and St. Louis as well. Talent like theirs never really quits.
BU-9) Is Jonathan Drouin getting sent back a mistake?
BBTB-9. I think there are going to be a lot of people who disagree with me, but I really don’t think that the decision was a mistake. Would I have liked to see him play fo the Lightning this season? Of course. However, the situation that we are in right now is that we have so much young talent that is primed and truly ready to go that we simply don’t have a place for them all. While Drouin probably could have been retained by the main roster, he more than likely would have ended up on the 4th line, and he wouldn’t have seen a lot of ice time. For someone like him who is still developing as a player, it is not fair to put him into a position where he spends most of his time sitting on a bench. He needs to get out there and play minutes, and score goals. I think the best thing that Yzerman and Cooper could have done is send him somewhere he can be a major player, and then come back next year with a more developed game.
BU-10) Are the Lightning a Playoff team? What is the realistic expectation?
BBTB-10. As much as I would love to say without the shadow of a doubt that we are going to win the Stanley Cup next season, that is just not a realistic expectation. Do I feel like we have a chance, yes. The Lightning are in a rather precarious situation this season with the new NHL realignment. We are facing off with a lot of top-tier teams, even some of the original six. We are going to face a lot more difficult challenges this season; however, with someone like Martin St. Louis at the helm, and players like Steven Stamkos, Matt Carle, and Nate Thompson to back him up, I do think that the Lightning could very well be in the playoff picture this season.
What is your expectations of the Lightning this season? Do you think they could be a dark horse playoff team this year? Thanks again to Tasha for taking time out of her schedule and if you are looking for Tampa coverage head over to Bolts By The Bay.
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