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I’m long overdue for diving into the mailbag and answering some of your questions, so today’s the day I clean out the inbox.
First the business at hand. Defenseman Matt Smaby arrived this morning from Norfolk and it looks like he’ll be in the lineup tonight against Boston, likely at Mike Lundin’s expense. Actually, Smaby came in from Albany last night but didn’t make it on the ice with the full group this morning because the airline lost his equipment and suitcase during a changeover in Atlanta. When his equipment finally made it to the arena this morning he hit the ice for a skate just before 11 a.m., when most of his teammates had already exited.
Head coach Rick Tocchet wouldn’t reveal his full lineup, but with Chris Gratton, Gary Roberts and Matt Pettinger still out with injuries, Radim Vrbata appears likely to sit once again. Tocchet said Evgeny Artyukhin would be a game-time decision as well.
Tocchet, who superstitiously changed his route to the podium for the press conference this morning, said he was pleased by what he has seen from young lineup additions Steve Downie, Paul Szczechura and Radek Smolenak.
“I felt like the kids last game really gave us a lot of energy,” he said. “The ship’s leaving and we’re taking guys who want to play.”
Tocchet was asked by a Boston broadcaster if he remembered a famous fight he had with current Bruins VP Cam Neely when they faced each other some years back, and Tocchet response was a classic.
“See this nose? Do I need to say anymore?”
Now, on to your questions:Steve in Victoria, B.C. asked if I could post the lines in the morning on game days.
While I like to think I’m on the “inside” providing you with all the latest, I’m not always privy to that information, Steve. Sometimes the coach will talk about line changes, but the players don’t always skate by lines on game days. A lot of times game day skates are optional so some of the guys don’t even put the skates on.
Jeff from Ocala asked how much practice time has been devoted to penalty shots considering the team’s poor showing in that area this season.
Well Jeff, I can tell you that the team hasn’t practiced shootouts any less this year than it did last season when it was one of the best in the league. Sometimes those things just come down to confidence or breaks.Michael B. suggests a “big trade” to shake things up for the team.
Mike, I have to go the other direction on this one. No team in the NHL has gone through as much turnover since last season as the Lightning. With Tocchet in charge behind the bench now, the team has played harder and has shown it can compete on a nightly basis. I think it’s time to let the current roster settle in and turn the corner. Minor tinkering will always be an option as you try to improve, but the core of this team is solid and all indications are that better days are ahead.
Finally, Donn (and others) are wondering about the return of center Jeff Halpern, who has been rehabbing a major knee injury he suffered during the summer.
Donn, Jeff’s practicing with the team every day now and looking better and better. Nobody’s publicly targeted a specific date for him to return, but the original prediction of “sometime in December” still looks to be good. Jeff was such an important contributor for the team when he arrived last season that I expect him to be the same when he return this year. He’s one of the smartest players in the game, and he’s the type of guy you want your young players around as much as possible.
That’s it for today; keep the emails coming.