One area of concern for the Lightning last year was the play of the third and fourth lines. The Bolts wanted more of everything from those lines: more offense, more energy, more puck possession, more physicality.
About halfway through training camp, head coach Rick Tocchet found his third line. Rookie James Wright, who was having a terrific preseason, clicked with Jeff Halpern and Drew Miller. The fourth line took a little longer to materialize, but by the final preseason game in Atlanta, Zenon Konopka was playing with Todd Fedoruk and Stephane Veilleux.
This unit did a nice job in the first two games, but heading into the home opener against New Jersey last week, Tocchet moved Steve Downie from the Vinny Lecavalier-Alex Tanguay line onto Konopka’s line and Veilleux was placed on Lecavalier’s line.
To merely say that the line has done well would be a vast understatement. The three players have contributed offense. Against the Devils, Fedoruk roofed a shot over a sprawled Marty Brodeur in the third period, giving the Lightning a 3-2 lead. Had New Jersey not tied the score with less than one second left, the Fedoruk goal would have been the game-winner. Versus Carolina on Saturday, Downie provided an important third period power play goal, giving the Lightning a 4-2 advantage.
But the three players have done more than that. They’ve turned momentum around when the Lightning have needed it. They’ve held momentum when the Bolts have had it. They’ve pressured the opposition, dogged pucks and enjoyed lengthy offensive zone possession time. Konopka has won 66.7 percent of his face-offs. In the last couple of games, they’ve drawn the crucial shift immediately after a Lightning goal. Additionally, those players have dropped their gloves when needed. In the New Jersey game, Konopka fought Bryce Salvador. Chris Dingman, who did color with me on radio for the Carolina game, asked Konopka during an intermission interview about the fight. Dingman noted that Konopka was at the end of a shift (and therefore would be more tired), yet still elected to fight Salvador. Konopka responded that yes, he was tired, but that he didn’t hesitate because it was a good trade for the team, since Salvador is a defenseman.
Then there has been their ability to draw penalties. Versus Carolina, the Lightning had six power play chances – Konopka’s line drew five of those. Against the Panthers on Monday, Florida defenseman Bryan Allen took a penalty against Downie. Downie, who has displayed poise and restraint in these situations so far this year, did not retaliate. The ensuing power play resulted in Steven Stamkos’ goal that tied the score at one.
Perhaps calling this unit the “fourth” line isn’t appropriate. They’ve earned a much better title. On Monday night, Phil Esposito started calling them the “Energy Line”. There’s little doubt that they’ve infused a large jolt of it every time they’re on the ice.
If you have any questions or me, feel free to submit them to firstname.lastname@example.org.