Tonight in Dallas, the Lightning will kick off their preseason schedule with the first of seven contests. The coaching staff will utilize these games to determine not only which players will make the 23-man roster, but also to experiment with line combinations and pairings.
One of the storylines heading into camp revolved around the team’s top two lines. As many expected, Head Coach Rick Tocchet has kept together the Steven Stamkos-Marty St. Louis-Ryan Malone line that worked so well as a unit last year. Vinny Lecavalier and Alex Tanguay comprise two-thirds of the other top line and so far in camp, Steve Downie has played with Lecavalier and Tanguay. Expect him to get a look with those guys in the preseason games. But that won’t happen tonight. Downie will be in the lineup for the Lightning against the Stars, but none of the other forwards mentioned above made the trip.
Thus, the big question of who will earn the slot with Lecavalier and Tanguay won’t be answered tonight. But this game could go a long way in answering the roster question. Many of the players in tonight’s game are fighting for NHL jobs and their performance in these games will help the Lightning brass make those final tough decisions.
Personally, I’m just excited that things are getting going again. Also, I’m very interested to watch some of the newer Lightning players perform tonight – guys like Richard Panik, Dana Tyrell, Drew Miller, Kurtis Foster, Todd Fedoruk, Brett McLean, Antero Niittymaki and, of course, Victor Hedman. Some of these players I’ve never seen in a game before, others only as opposing team players. Then there’s goaltender Jaroslav Janus. The sixth rounder from this summer’s draft has excelled in camp so far and has been rewarded with a chance to play against Dallas. He’s expected to come in for the third period.
By the way, all seven preseason games will air on the Lightning Radio Network. (We are not carrying the contest in Norfolk on September 25 between the Lightning and Admirals). In the Tampa Bay market, tonight’s game and Friday’s home contest versus Atlanta will air on 970 WFLA. (Our flagship station, 620 WDAE, is also the Rays’ flagship and Rays play tonight and Friday). The full radio schedule for the preseason is available here.
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