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Rosen's mailbag - Nov. 18, 2015

by Dan Rosen

Here is the Nov. 18 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run every Wednesday in the Over the Boards blog during the 2015-16 NHL season. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

Let's get to it:

Do you believe there's any danger of the Tampa Bay Lightning missing the playoffs after their poor start? -- @kinglewimcmxc

I received a lot of questions about the Lightning this week. I couldn't choose them all. This one cut right to the heart of the issue, and that's why I selected it. I'll answer some others here, and credit the person (Twitter handle) for asking the question.

You have to assume they're in some danger at this point because they're struggling and trailing the race after 20 games, and it's hard to play catch-up in the NHL with the parity being what it is. That said, I don't think any Lightning fans should be sending out the panic signals. It's too early to do that, and it's very likely that the Lightning will have a market correction soon enough. They are too good and too talented for the scoring problems they're having now to linger. The hope in Tampa Bay has to be that the players don't let frustration get the better of them before they start scoring again. I don't think they will. They're too experienced now to let it happen.


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The Lightning didn't get the breaks they were hoping to get Monday in their 1-0 loss to the Florida Panthers, but that game should be a blueprint for how they need to play and should want to play. They dominated the Panthers up and down the ice. Roberto Luongo was the difference with 39 saves. If the Lightning play more games like that, and get healthy, they'll break out of their scoring slump and start winning some games. Bank on it.

It is about luck (@tblightning491), but it is more than that. It requires health too. It's difficult for any team to win when it has four regular forwards, including three top-six forwards (Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin), out of the lineup. But more than anything, it's about capitalizing. The Lightning aren't doing that. They should be. I think they'll start to soon enough.

I also don't think any panic trade is in order (@glennhagg11). Some belief in this roster is necessary, warranted and, quite frankly, deserved. This core can make it work. A shake-up might be necessary at some point if things don't change, but not yet, not now.

How sustainable do you feel Mats Zuccarello's production is? Is 70-80 points in the works, possibly? -- @RangersRags

I think 70 points is realistic for Zuccarello. I never thought I'd ever say that, especially after his near life-altering head injury in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. But he's making everyone forget about the injury and his diminutive size and instead focus on his skill and how he is making players around him better, such as Derick Brassard and even Rick Nash. Zuccarello is not only hard to catch when he has the puck, it's becoming increasingly difficult to get the puck away from him because hitting him is almost out of the question and his hands and stick skills are so high-end. He has 18 points in 18 games, including 12 in the past eight games. He'll eventually cool off, but he has the tools and the wherewithal to remain a threat even when the puck isn't going in for him. He sniffs around the net for loose pucks with the best of them and has an incredible ability to deliver a tape-to-tape pass with a player on him. Keep it up, and he's an all-star this season.

At this point, who is the odd team out in the Central assuming the Colorado Avalanche are done? -- @JKahner

I predicted five teams from the Central would get into the playoffs. Those five were in order:

1) Minnesota Wild

2) Chicago Blackhawks

3) Dallas Stars

4) St. Louis Blues

5) Nashville Predators

I'm not straying from that. I might want to flip the Stars up to second and move the Blackhawks down to fourth, putting the Blues at three and leaving the Predators at five, but I'll leave it alone for now. That would mean the Winnipeg Jets join the Avalanche as the two teams from the best division in the NHL that won't make the postseason.

The Jets didn't get my vote because I've always been skeptical of their goaltending holding up and they take far too many penalties. Their play in front of the goalies has greatly improved under coach Paul Maurice, and even the goalies aren't as shaky as they once were, but the penalties are their biggest problem to date, especially lately. They are 18-for-25 on the penalty kill in the past five games. That's more than one power-play goal against per game and exactly five times shorthanded per game. That's doubly too much. They have been shorthanded five times or more in 10 of their 18 games this season. It's too difficult to consistently win when you're killing that many penalties, especially when your goaltending is suspect.

Any doubt that John Hynes is the leader for the Jack Adams Award? Jordin Tootoo is on his top power-play line and they're probably the worst team on paper. -- @GreekGoalie35

Hynes would get my vote right now. I can't think of a coach who has done more with less in the first quarter of the season than Hynes. That shouldn't always be the determining factor, because it's a flat-out joke that Mike Babcock has never won the Jack Adams Award, and the only reason I can think of is because his teams are supposed to win. Well, yeah, but he's a big reason for that.

Anyway, back to Hynes. Not only is he getting a lot out of a flawed roster, he's helped foster a culture change with the New Jersey Devils. This is a team that wants to play fast and tries to play exciting hockey. The players love him and have totally bought into his system. They talk about how Hynes isn't just a coach talking to them, he's a coach discussing things with them. There's a difference. They talk about how everything Hynes does has a purpose, and how he's a great communicator. They love the energy he brings every day. These things go a long way with today's players, who are savvy enough and care enough to tell a phony from the real thing. Hynes is the real thing.

Any changes to your predictions? Still think the Minnesota Wild win the tough Central Division? -- @TravKnops

As I mentioned above, my predictions for the Central are not changing. There is a lot to like in Minnesota, and it'll be even better when Zach Parise returns to the lineup. Ironically, the Wild's biggest need, in my opinion, is a backup goalie. Darcy Kuemper just isn't cutting it, and they need to have some trust in another goalie behind Devan Dubnyk to win some games. The best teams in the League get quality starts and wins out of their backups. The Wild haven't gotten a win out of anyone but Dubnyk.

What are your biggest team/individual surprises, both good and bad, so far? -- @gdonovan610

I'll start with team surprises.

Good: Devils and Arizona Coyotes

There's no chance anyone predicted the Devils and Coyotes would be in a playoff position on Nov. 18.

Bad: Lightning and Anaheim Ducks

There's no chance anyone predicted the Ducks and Lightning would be on the outside of the playoff race on Nov. 18.

Now to individual surprises, of which there are lots.

Good: Zuccarello, Mikko Koivu, Dylan Larkin, Artemi Panarin, Max Domi

Koivu, the Wild captain, is showing he's still got some offense left in his sticks. Zuccarello is giving the New York Rangers production they couldn't have envisioned getting from him, especially after his injury in the playoffs last season. Larkin has been everything the Detroit Red Wings thought he would be, but no one thought he would be doing it for them at 19 years old. Panarin for the Blackhawks has been the equivalent of finding gold when the idea was to just find a rock to plug a hole. Domi has burst on the scene and been a huge part of the changing culture in Arizona.

Bad: Nash, Jakub Voracek, Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Huberdeau, Ryan Getzlaf

Let me stress that I don't think any of these guys are playing poorly, per se, but they're not producing at the rate you expect from them, and that's why it's surprising.

Do you think Patrick Kane can finally win the scoring title? -- @MSchae17

He can, especially if he continues at this torrid pace. He'll slow down at some point, but Kane is dominating almost every shift at this point and piling up the points. That line, with Panarin and Artem Anisimov, is something special to watch. It might be the best line going in the NHL right now (@BillyStayScheme).

Kane has been a shade better than a point-per-game player in the past two seasons, but he missed 21 games last season and 13 games in 2013-14. He'll have to play a full season, obviously, if he wants to win the Art Ross Trophy. Do that, and he can win it.

I'm now hearing voices from Stars fans screaming "Tyler Seguin" and "Jamie Benn" at me. You're right to yell. Benn was my choice for the Hart Trophy. He still is. The question is if I think Kane can finally win the scoring title. Yes, he can. It doesn't mean I'm saying he will.


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