1. The hardest working people in hockey are the equipment managers. They arrive in the locker room well before the first player and stay long after the last one leaves. They are responsible for all the gear when the team travels, which means that whenever we land in a city, they head to the rink to unpack (while the rest of us go to the hotel). That’s also what happens when the Lightning return home from a trip (often in the wee hours of the morning). They possess a variety of skills, beyond ordering and maintaining inventory. These skills including knowing how to handle a sewing needle, understanding a player’s particular requests regarding sharpening skates and challenging their inner “MacGyver” when an immediate repair is required during a game. They don’t receive enough acknowledgment (beyond the locker room) for the work they do, but they are a crucial part of the team. A good crew may not make a bad club play better, but a subpar crew definitely will adversely affect a team’s performance.
2. Regarding the media that covers hockey, the hardest workers are not the broadcasters (sorry, colleagues). No, they are the beat writers. I attempt to produce one of these columns every week for the Lightning’s website, as well as a post-game synopsis (Extra Shift). But I can’t imagine writing about a new topic every day, from the start of training camp until the season ends. But the beat writers do it, finding fresh, interesting stories on off-days, digging up tidbits for their gameday “notes” section and producing game stories under a deadline. Not to mention all of the material they provide through social media.
3. Nice gesture by the Lightning last Saturday when David Legwand of the Ottawa Senators played his 1,000th NHL regular season game. The Bolts acknowledged the accomplishment on the Lightning Vision Scoreboard. Last season, when the Lightning were in L.A., Marty St. Louis played his 1,000th NHL regular season game. The Kings did the same thing for St. Louis. Very classy.
4. Speaking of St. Louis and his 1,000th game, the Lightning ended up honoring him in the first home game back after that California trip. It came against the New York Rangers. Fitting that St. Louis’ ceremony for his 1,000th point occurred when the Lightning were in town.
5. Dave Andreychuk was on this past trip to New York and Buffalo and we were chatting on the flight to NYC about the pending St. Louis ceremony. Andy recalled that he reached his 1,000th game and 1,000th point within a few games of each other (which illustrates how prolific his career was). Interestingly, he hit both milestones shortly after being traded from Toronto to New Jersey. So he’d just arrived with the Devils and suddenly, he’s on the receiving end of a pregame ceremony (they recognized both accomplishments on the same night) in front of fans more accustomed to booing him than cheering for him.
6. After dismantling the Rangers, 5-1, on November 17, the Lightning were due to face New York twice more in a two-week span. Before both of those subsequent games, the Rangers referred to the contests as “measuring stick” games. In other words, the Rangers viewed the Lightning as one of the Conference’s elite clubs – and wanted to gauge their own club based on how well (or poorly) they performed against the Bolts. When head coach Jon Cooper was asked about it on Monday morning before the final game against the Rangers, he chuckled and stated that he didn’t feel the Lightning were “the Beast of the East”. While acknowledging that his team had gotten off to an excellent start, he noted that the Lightning had not yet played the Penguins or the Bruins. They’d seen Detroit once (a game that went to OT) and played Montreal once (a game that, for the Habs, came at the end of a long road trip). Still, this view of the Lightning isn’t going to be exclusive to the Rangers. Other clubs around the league are looking at the Lightning as one of the East’s top teams, which means that the Bolts will continue to get the opposition’s best shot. But so far this year, they’ve taken what the other side has thrown at them and still, more often than not, come out on the winning side.
7. It’s true that the Lightning have not yet faced the Penguins, but that’s about to change. Similar to the condensed series between the Lightning and Rangers, the Bolts and Pens will play their three season series games over a two-and-a-half week span (December 15 through January 2). Since beating the Penguins in the 2011 playoffs, the Lightning have won just one of 10 games against Pittsburgh. I don’t know if the Pens will refer to the three games against the Lightning as measuring-stick contests, but for the Bolts, it’ll be interesting to see how they match up against one of the East’s perennial powerhouses.