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Ask Burnsie: With talent, experience Bolts have hope

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns answers your questions in his regular mailbag feature

by Bryan Burns / beat writer Bryan Burns will answer readers' most intriguing questions in a regular mailbag feature. Be sure to tweet questions to @bburnsnhl and include the hashtag #AskBurnsie to have your question answered in a future mailbag. If your question wasn't answered today, resubmit it in the future and we'll get it in for another edition. Have fun with your questions too; the more off-beat the query the better. 

Why did KG and Wilcox shuffle with NEITHER any PT? AV was giving up 5 a game! Bishop will give us Hometown discount, SIGN HIM! (via @bssg8tor)

When Ben Bishop went down with a lower-body injury on December 20 against the Detroit Red Wings -- why do all the major injuries seem to come against the Red Wings? - the one silver lining was that backup goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy would get three to four weeks to show how he could handle being the Lightning's full-time starter.

Vasilevskiy was pretty darn good in the six games immediately after Bishop got hurt -- including the two-plus periods he played against Detroit -- going 4-1-1 with a .909 save percentage and giving up 14 goals total.

It wasn't until the home stretch of his run of nine-consecutive starts when he started to fatigue, allowing five goals, five goals, four goals and six goals over his last four games.

So why not give one of the backups, Adam Wilcox or Kristers Gudlevskis, a chance during one of those final two games to give Vasilevskiy a break? Wilcox is having a breakout season for AHL Syracuse this season and Gudlevskis has played extremely well in his handful of NHL regular season starts.

The simple answer is: Vasilevskiy needs games. He's still a young goaltender in the league with just 69 appearances on his resume at the time of this article's posting. The Lightning are counting on Vasilevskiy to be their goaltender of the future; it's why they signed him to a three-year extension during the offseason. They want him as prepared as he can be for when he eventually becomes the man.

They also wanted to see him try to work his way out of a slump with the knowledge he would have to start every game. The short-term implications of waning confidence and fading statistics are offset, I think, by the long-term benefits the experience provided, mainly, what it's like to have everybody look to you as the man without Bishop around as a security blanket and how to react through the highs and lows of regular play.

Although Vasilevskiy wasn't as sharp late during Bishop's absence, I think the experience was still good for him and the organization.

What's the atmosphere like around the dressing room lately? (via @mcgucks91)

This question and my subsequent response came following two-straight defeats to Atlantic Division opponents, foes the Lightning are trying to overtake for a playoff spot, but before the Bolts' back-to-back wins over Anaheim and Los Angeles. I think the answer still rings true, although things are a little less bleak now

Frustration would be the overriding emotion right now.

As a throng of reporters surrounded Tyler Johnson's locker room stall following another disappointing setback, a 5-2 loss to Ottawa, a team the Lightning are chasing in the Atlantic Division standings, I looked back and caught Anton Stralman in a moment of quiet reflection. Standing less than 10 feet away from him were 20-plus reporters all asking in various different ways what's wrong with the Lightning, and the group might as well have been invisible to Stralman, who appeared completely lost in thought.

His face was a picture of frustration. I kept glancing over in between listening to Johnson and Stralman's expression never changed. I wrote about the moment during my 3 Things recap of Thursday's game.

Anton Stralman sat at his locker room stall following another Bolts' loss, 5-2 to Ottawa on Thursday, and stared straight ahead at the floor, his body perfectly still except for the wadded-up ball of used tape he was squeezing in his left hand.

Stralman's expression was blank. He remained motionless for a couple minutes, never breaking his gaze off the ground. Then he sighed solemnly before beginning the process of storing the remainder of his equipment in his stall.

Stralman's reaction to a third-straight loss sums up the collective feelings of Bolts Nation right now.

But I don't think this team has given up hope, either. I think one of the reasons there is so much frustration is because there's also so much talent. The team knows its play on the ice doesn't currently accurately reflect its ability. But that skill also means there's still time too. The collective feeling around the room is that once the Lightning start stringing a couple wins together, they're going to go on a run and get right back into playoff position. And then they're going to get Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan back, and they're going to continue trending upward. Then by the time the playoffs roll around, they'll be at their peak. And with their playoff experience from the last two seasons, they'll be an extremely difficult team to beat in a seven-game series.

That's the hope anyway. 

After attending an Islanders home game, I appreciate our arena that much more. How does it stack up against others? (via @klein5079)

First off, I know I might be in the minority but I actually enjoy the Barclays Center. Besides having fond memories from Tampa Bay's Second Round defeat of the Islanders in last year's playoffs, there are a number of odd quirks that make the building unique.

The entire façade of the arena could best be described as industrial rust and grass grows on the roof. Whenever we pull up to the arena on the media bus, Fox Sports Sun Lightning play-by-play announcer Rick Peckham always says, "Well fellas, we're back at the old rust bucket." That gets a chuckle out of everybody.

To get down to the event level, the bus enters what looks like a garage but is really a giant elevator that takes the bus down from the street level. You roll into the elevator, shut the engine off and sit for a couple minutes while the elevator moves, imperceptibly to the rider.

When the elevator door opens, the bus pulls onto a rotating floor that can turn it around to go back up the elevator so the bus doesn't have to try to maneuver within the limited space inside the bowels of the arena.

Lining the hallways around the locker rooms and media work areas are pictures from all the events that have taken place at Barclays, from Jay-Z concerts to NCAA men's basketball tournament games to world championship boxing matches. I always take my time as I walk through the hallways. I could look at those pictures for hours.

As far as where AMALIE Arena stacks up, I would say it's definitively in the top third of the league's arenas. The new VOLOGY Loge along with upgrades made to the Club Level prior to the 2015-16 season have made AMALIE one of the most visually-pleasing arenas in the NHL The tesla coils, the organist up high for everybody to see, the humongous video board above the ice and the large, lighted TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING sign displayed on the organ's pipes are all unique features that give the arena more character than most.

I might be biased, but I think Lightning Vision does a tremendous job producing compelling content to show on the video board, making the in-game experience, for my money, the best in the league.

What are some of my other favorite arenas you might ask?

Believe it or not, Minnesota's Xcel Energy Center is at the top of my list. The whole arena has the feel of a log cabin or a ski chalet. There are large pine trees stretching to the ceiling inside the entrance and everything seems to be made of wood, giving it a warm, cozy feeling.

The Bell Centre in Montreal might be the loudest arena in the league. The passion the fans display every game makes for a truly unique experience.

Madison Square Garden is the world's most famous arena for a reason. The roof is iconic. The press box is the classiest in the league as each seat has a TV mounted inside the desk that can be used to watch different camera feeds of the game. The video clips MSG shows to introduce celebrities attending the game are an entertaining touch as well.

Edmonton's Rogers Place is the newest arena in the league as well as its fanciest. If you haven't been there, it's definitely worth a trip to Edmonton to check it out (and really, if anything can make you want to go to Edmonton in the winter, it has to be special).

Other favorites for various reasons are Pittsburgh's PPG Paints Arena, Boston's TD Garden and Colorado's Pepsi Center.

But if I'm ranking them, AMALIE Arena would definitely be in my top five.

What's the worst item at a press meal you've ever had? (via email: Doug Spencer, Ottawa)

This question comes from a former Tampa Bay Lightning intern whom I had the pleasure of dining with during the 2014-15 season. Doug just wants me to say green beans in fish sauce because one random day during the regular season we ate this concoction at a press meal, and it was the most vile thing I've ever tasted. Imagine sticking your head inside a dirty fish tank and sucking down some of the water. Now multiply that foul taste by 10, and you've got green beans in fish sauce.

To this day, it's the worst thing I've tasted at a media press meal (maybe ever), although Joe Louis Arena had some odd mystery meat dish covered in a gelatinous gravy during the playoffs two seasons ago that was pretty hard to stomach too. It comes in a distant second to green beans in fish sauce though.

Oddly enough, that night at AMALIE was also one of the most memorable nights I've had at the arena as we all took turns making jokes about how awful the dish was. We have some pretty funny people on staff. I laughed so hard I was in pain. I couldn't even eat, which is good because I would have just had to stomach more green beans in fish sauce.

To this day, I don't think I've attended a more memorable press meal.

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