The Lightning are nearly two weeks into the 2013 training camp. They’ve played four preseason games and reduced the roster from 62 players to 36. Here are some items that have stood out for me so far.
Four Wins In Four Nights:
OK, OK. I know it’s preseason. In these four games, the Lightning only dressed some of their NHL regulars. Likewise, they were facing teams without a full complement of NHL regulars.
But aspects of these wins were noteworthy. First, there is something to be said for building a culture of winning. It feels good to win, even if it’s the preseason, and each player who participated in these games headed back to the locker room with a smile on his face afterwards.
Second, the Lightning, for the most part, executed their game plan very well in these games. Based on the sheer numbers of players in camp, it was a challenge for Lightning coaches to implement and work on systems during the first week. (The smaller group will be delving into the meat and potatoes of system play more this week). But the Lightning looked crisp and sharp, especially in the home win over Nashville on Thursday and the road triumph in St. Louis on Friday. In the latter, the Lightning faced a Blues squad that dressed mostly an NHL roster. Tampa Bay was impressive in handling various St. Louis surges over the course of the game and in particular, managed the last 12 minutes of the third period very well after the Blues had cut the Lightning lead to 4-3. The Bolts also got timely saves from both Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback, who split time in that game.
Let’s see if these trends continue in the final three preseason games this week.
I had only seen Valtteri Filppula play in a handful of games over the past several years and hadn’t realized what a complete player he is all. After watching him in camp and during two preseason games, though, I have a new-found appreciation for his game. When the Lightning signed him as a free agent last summer, we heard how he was an excellent two-way player. There’s little doubt that he competes hard on both sides of the puck. But what has stood out has been his puck poise. When he has the puck on his stick, he doesn’t panic with it. The opposition has a hard time getting it back. His poise with the puck has helped the Lightning keep possession in the offensive zone. I have a hunch Lightning fans are going to enjoy watching him play. I know I have.
Over the weekend, the Lightning reassigned 22 players to Syracuse or to a designated Junior team. As I mentioned above, the camp roster is now at 36 players. Of those 36, three are injured: Mattias Ohlund, Brian Lee and Dylan Blujus. So in reality, the Lightning have 33 left in camp. Which means that 10 more players must be cut before opening night. These will not be easy decisions for the organization, given how well everyone has played so far in camp.
But this is a “good” problem to have. Competition raises the bar for everyone, established veterans included. Furthermore, those who don’t make the opening night roster aren’t exactly going to be banished from the NHL. All it means is that they won’t start the season in the NHL, not that they won’t finish the year with the Bolts. Think back to last year and recall all of the players who weren’t with the Bolts at the start of the season, but came up from Syracuse later and made an impact: Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Richard Panik, Radko Gudas, just to name a few.
My point is that the decisions about who stays and who doesn’t aren’t permanent. They are temporary.
Technically, this one has nothing to do with the Lightning’s camp specifically. But in Saturday’s game against the Panthers, fans got a rare chance to see 3-on-3 hockey in overtime. (It resulted from coincidental minor penalties). The 3-on-3 began with about 35 seconds left in overtime and lasted nearly 30 seconds, until the Lightning took a penalty in the closing moments. In that half-minute, the action was scintillating. Steven Stamkos nearly scored on an in-alone chance and the Panthers had a couple of glorious opportunities on Bishop (which led to the Tampa Bay penalty).
At various points over the last few seasons, we’ve heard rumblings about potential proposals to tweak the current OT setup, with the hopes of reducing the number of games decided via the shootout. One such proposal had the teams playing five minutes of 4-on-4, followed by five minutes of 3-on-3. Only after 10 minutes of scoreless OT action would a game go to a shootout.
I don’t know if 3-on-3 play will ever make it into NHL overtime. But if Saturday’s sample was any indication, not only would 3-on-3 hockey drastically cut down the number of shootouts, it would be very exciting to watch.