Each week Bolts beat reporter Missy Zielinski is grading the Tampa Bay Lightning in the categories of offense, defense, goaltending, special teams and rookies based on their performance during the 2013-14 season. For Week 3 she is handing Lightning blueliners their report card:
BOLTS DEFENSE (OVERALL) – C-
The Tampa Bay Lightning preached a system focused on full-team defense and while it seemed to be a learning curve for forwards, at times Bolts blueliners struggled as well. It was especially evident during the first round playoff matchup versus the Montreal Canadiens where a number of defensive zone breakdowns turned into crucial mistakes that ultimately lost it the series. However, the Lightning did see improvement, including owning a 2.55 goals-against average compared to a 3.06 goals-against average just a year earlier. They also saw its patience start to pay dividends, as defenseman Victor Hedman, who went second overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, had a career-year. Yet, if the Bolts want to continue to be better moving forward, it will have to focus on fixing its holes on the backend this offseason.
BOLTS DEFENSE (INDIVIDUAL)
Best in Class: Victor Hedman
2013-14 regular season numbers: 75 GP, 13 G, 42 A, 55 P, +5, 14 power-play points
2012-13 regular season numbers: 44 GP, 4 G, 16 A, 20 P, +1, 2 power-play points
Individual Grade: A
Summary: With season-bests in goals, assists and points, Victor Hedman, who also ranked fifth in the NHL among defensemen for points, is finally hitting his stride as a seasoned blueliner in the league. While at times Hedman still struggled at times, the Lightning remained encouraged at how quickly he often corrected his errors. With the ability to log a lot of minutes, play in all phases of the game (even strength, power play, penalty kill); coupled with his youthful age of 23 the future is filled with promise for Hedman.
Most Improved: Eric Brewer
2013-14 regular season numbers: 77 GP, 4 G, 13 A, 17 P, +6
2012-13 regular season numbers: 48 GP, 4 G, 8 A, 12 P, +4
Individual Grade: B-
Summary: Eric Brewer’s numbers from the past two campaigns do not differentiate a great deal, but this year he averaged nearly three minutes less of total ice time per game. The change to quality minutes rather than quantity led to a much more dependable game from Brewer, which also helped him become one of three alternate captains on the team. The acknowledgement meant Brewer could lead by example as the young defensive core watched on.
Breakout Player: Michael Kostka
2013-14 regular season numbers (Blackhawks/Lightning): 28 GP, 4 G, 7 A, 11 P, +10
2012-13 regular season numbers (Toronto): 35 GP, 0 G, 8 A, -7
Individual Grade: B+
Summary: Claiming Michael Kostka off waivers at the end of February was a no-brainer for the
Bolts, as the 28-year-old was part of head coach Jon Cooper’s Calder Cup-winning Norfolk
Admirals team during the 2011-12 season. It made Kostka an easy fit within the Lightning’s
defensive-minded system. Though missing time due to a concussion in April, Kostka remained
a solid and dependable blueliner when others like Hedman or Sami Salo were injured.
Room to Grow: Andrej Sustr
2013-14 regular season numbers: 43 GP, 1 G, 7 A, 8 P, +3
2012-13 regular season numbers: 2 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 P, +1
Individual Grade: C
For some Andrej Sustr making the final roster at the end of training camp was a bit of a surprise; however the Lightning coaching staff praised his poise with the puck and naturally hockey sense. Sustr then was in-and-out of the lineup, so he was sent to get more experience with their AHL affiliate the Syracuse Crunch, but he succumbed to a shoulder injury. Sustr re-joined the lineup at the end of April, but was a minus-4 in eight games (including three playoff tilts). Just a rookie, he is expected to be a force in the NHL for years to come as he gets stronger and more experience.
For last week’s grade given to Bolts netminders, click here.