Shuffling the lines around after starting to go stale, the Tampa Bay Lightning have found a good balance in their lineup, especially after Saturday’s win against one of the Western Conference’s best, the St. Louis Blues.
Some of the changes have included flip-flopping Ryan Malone (first line) and Alex Killorn (second line), which has produced dynamic results already. Killorn has amassed five points (two goals, three assists) in his past two games while playing with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.
For Brett Connolly and Mark Barberio it has meant seeing action in back-to-back games for the first time this season.
“It’s good to be back,” Connolly said. “I wasn’t really too sure when I’d be back, but it’s nice that I’ve been up twice already.”
Connolly was recalled from the Syracuse Crunch (AHL) and spent a few days with the Lightning when there was a chance Martin St. Louis might miss a game earlier in October. Although St. Louis was indeed able to play, Connolly made his season debut on the fourth line, logging 9:38 of ice time. He was out of the lineup the next night and was reassigned to the Crunch soon after.
Yet he is back and it has not taken him long to deliver, scoring his first goal of the season Saturday.
“I think I’ve brought more depth,” Connolly said. “I want to come here and be able to play wherever Cooper wants me to play and try and get some more shots on net. I know there haven’t been a lot of shots on net for a while so just try and spark some offense and get some pucks to the net.”
The situation has not been quite the same for Barberio, who has been a member of the Bolts since the beginning of the season; it has been more about just cracking the lineup for an extended period of time.
“Not playing every night is something that comes with the territory, especially if it’s your first year on the team,” Barberio said. “It’s nothing I haven’t seen before, but it was nice to get a couple games in a row.”
Barberio was awarded his first NHL point last game, a secondary assist on the second goal of the game by Stamkos.
“I try to get the puck to the forwards as fast as possible and try and have good transition play – get from defense to offense quickly – and if there’s a chance to join the rush or play I’ll do that,” he said.
While it is unclear how long each of them will be in or out of the game plan in the near future, they have answered the bell from a coaching standpoint and it has not gone unnoticed.
“We brought them up here for a reason and they delivered,” head coach Jon Cooper added.
With Barberio now seemingly more in the mix along with Andrej Sustr and Keith Aulie, for Cooper and the rest of the coaching staff it has been hard to decide how to divvy out the ice time.
“We have three defenseman, who we believe are NHL defenseman, and we can’t get all of them in the game. It’s difficult,” Cooper said. “Decisions on who to play have worked out so far, but we look at Aulie and Sustr, who have been in and out, and it doesn’t make you feel any better, you still want to get those guys in and be a part of it.”
Yet with a more condensed schedule in November Cooper said it is likely to see more guys play as time goes on.
ODDS ‘N ENDS
With four days until their next game against the Edmonton Oilers, most of the Bolts will have an off-day tomorrow and pick-up practice again On Wednesday in Brandon. A number will be participating in power skating drills with power skating coach Barb Underhill.
A handful of players spent about an hour with Underhill Monday after Tampa Bay’s full team practice. Andrej Sustr was the last to leave the ice and was extremely committed to working on his skating skills with Underhill.