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All four lines contributing to Lightning's early-season success

Tampa Bay rolls out four successful lines each night proving trouble for opponents

by Bryan Burns /

The Tampa Bay Lightning feature the top line in the National Hockey League currently with Vladislav Namestnikov, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov combining for 35 points collectively.

Heck, no other team in the NHL has three players, regardless of line, with more than 35 points combined. Washington comes closest with Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin recording 32 points between them, but only two, Kuznetsov and Ovechkin, play together.

But there's more to the Bolts than just one high-profile scoring line.

Video: Bowness on Sergachev and line chemistryThe Lightning have gotten major contributions from all four lines, and the effectiveness of each is maybe the biggest reason the Bolts are 6-1-1 through eight games and at the top of the league standings.

"We've got good balance, there's no question," Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness said following the Bolts' practice session at the Ice Sports Forum on Friday. "…We're getting goals from different sources. (Mikhail Sergachev) steps up last night. You want to win in this league consistently, you have to have balance, you have to have depth and you have to have everyone contributing at certain times when it's needed. And after eight games, we can say that we've achieved that."

The Namestnikov-Stamkos-Kucherov combination's greatest competition for title of NHL's top line might come from within their own team. The Bolts' second group of Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde has been an effective secondary scoring line for the team, notching six goals and 14 points through eight games. But even more important than their offensive contributions, that trio has provided a high-energy, two-way presence that harasses the opposition with their puck-hounding abilities and doesn't give up many scoring opportunities.

Palat, Point and Gourde are all plus-2 on the season.

Video: Gourde on growing confidence with linemates"Those two guys [Palat and Point] are such hard-working guys and that's what makes that line very good is that we go out there and we work and we eventually get chances," Gourde said. "It all comes down to working hard, and I think that's been our success."

The Bolts' third line during head coach Jon Cooper's tenure has typically been his defensive shut-down line, the group he sends on the ice to handle the opposition's best scoring threat. That's again the case this season with three hard-nosed, gritty players in Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan. And when Paquette has been forced to the bench twice this season because of an injury, Gabriel Dumont has slid into his role to ensure that group shows no drop off.

Against Columbus, the Kunitz-Dumont-Callahan group arguably might have been Tampa Bay's best line, their ability to forecheck, force turnovers and create scoring chances setting the tone for the Lightning's physical play all night in the 2-0 shutout victory.

Callahan (20 hits), Kunitz (14) and Paquette (13) all rank among the top six on the Bolts for hits. 

And in the Lightning's current 11 forward/7 defensemen alignment, Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson have served as the de facto fourth line with an ever-rotating cast of different right wingers, which can be difficult because of the lack of chemistry that scenario creates but also a benefit because it allows another skilled forward to get even more ice time.

"(Killorn and Johnson) have done a very good job handling it, and again, they both have very good hockey sense, they're both very good hockey players and they should be able to sort that out," Bowness said. "Is it the easiest thing? No, but I'm a believer in duos. You look around the history of our game and there have been a lot of great duos and the third guy on the line constantly changes. So this is nothing new, and it's something they should be able to handle and they have."

Right now, the Bolts are rolling four lines, and it's reflected in their hot start to the season.
"We have four very good lines, and it's very nice to see," Gourde said. "Every line can score. Every line plays very sound defensively. It's really good to see that and being able to have that at this time of the year too, it's really fun."


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