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Burns: Three things we learned from the Lightning's back-to-back games

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay closed out its first road trip of the year with a convincing 4-2 win Friday against Winnipeg before Saturday’s, 7-2 debacle versus Minnesota. Still, the Lightning picked up six of a possible ten points on what would have to be considered a successful five-game swing through Western Canada and Minnesota. What can Lightning fans expect to see when the Bolts return to Amalie Arena for Tuesday’s matchup versus the Arizona Coyotes? We’ve got you covered. 

1. The airline industry is missing out on a major revenue stream right now not offering more direct flights from Syracuse to Tampa Bay

With the Lightning losing Alex Killorn and Ryan Callahan to injury on Monday, Lightning forward Mike Blunden was recalled from the team’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse, his plane arriving in Calgary in time to play 13 shifts and over ten minutes against the Flames later that night and lead the team in hits (3).

Two days later, Blunden was sent packing back to Syracuse.

Then, after J.T. Brown and Brett Connolly came up lame on Friday in Winnipeg, Blunden again boarded a plane for St. Paul, Minn., directly after skating with the Crunch Friday night, and arrived in time to play over nine minutes and 15 shifts against the Wild on Saturday.

Back and forth, back and forth, Blunden’s travel week summed up the Lightning’s injury plight of late.

With Killorn, Callahan, Brown, Connolly and Victor Hedman all sidelined with injuries, along with Radko Gudas, who missed four games before returning to action against Winnipeg, the Lightning have leaned heavily on their organizational depth, calling up a number of players over the week to fill in the gaps.

Jonathan Drouin was brought back to the Lightning earlier than expected, making his NHL debut Tuesday at Edmonton. Luke Witkowski was with the Bolts for a couple of days before going back to Syracuse once Gudas returned. Jonathan Marchessault and Cedric Paquette started the season in Syracuse but are currently skating with the Bolts.

The Syracuse-to-Tampa Bay route might not be the most popular flight path among air travelers, but the Lightning are certainly doing their best to change that.

2. Saturday night’s collapse will not define this Tampa Bay team

Before fans start panicking about the Lightning’s five-goal loss to Minnesota, let’s put things in perspective a bit.

Last season, the Boston Bruins blitzed the Lightning 5-0 in October, and the Bolts responded by winning their next three and seven of the following eight games. Tampa Bay would go on to finish second in the Atlantic Division and qualify for the postseason for the seventh time in team history.

Also last season, the Lightning hammered the Los Angeles Kings 5-1, the same Los Angeles Kings that would go on to win the Stanley Cup. The Kings were also shutout by St. Louis 5-0 in 2013-14.

During the Bolts Stanley Cup Championship season in 2003-04, both the Washington Capitals and the Carolina Hurricanes scored 5-1 victories over the Lightning.

And this season, Tampa Bay hammered Montreal 7-1. The Canadiens, it turns out, are a pretty good squad too. They haven’t lost another game and lead the Atlantic Division standings by three points over the Lightning.

The point is, these games happen, to every team, every single season.

“There’s 82 of these,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said following the loss to Minnesota. “Unfortunately, sometimes things like this happen. This doesn’t happen to us often, and clearly it’s frustrating.”

If the Lightning continue to get walloped, it’s a trend.  Right now, Saturday night’s loss is merely an anomaly.

3. Anton Stralman has quietly assumed leadership of the Lightning’s blue liners

With Hedman out four to six weeks because of a fractured finger, Tampa Bay needed a player to assume Hedman’s role as leader of the defensemen, and Anton Stralman has emerged as that player.

Stralman continues to be an unexpected source of offense for the Bolts. He has registered six assists already this season and is second on the team in that category. Saturday, Stralman scored his first goal of the season and nearly had a second before his blast from the point was redirected into the net by Nikita Kucherov.

In 81 games with the New York Rangers last season, Stralman only had one goal and 12 assists all year.

Stralman has made big-time defensive plays for the Lightning, too, as evidenced by his sliding, back foot kick save against the Montreal Canadiens.

Last night, despite the Lightning falling by five goals, Stralman still somehow managed to finish +1. He is the Bolts current leader for plus-minus at +9. The next highest skaters, Brian Boyle, Tyler Johnson and Brett Connolly, are +3.

“That’s pretty impressive,” Cooper said following the Minnesota loss. “And play 20-plus minutes or whatever he plays, it’s not like he plays one shift a period.”

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