Tag Archives: J.T. Miller

DTFR Podcast #168- 2019-20 Season Preview: Pacific Division

The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2019 was announced, a major shakeup in the Board of Governors may be ahead, extensions were signed, Jake Gardiner joined the Carolina Hurricanes and it’s time for our DTFR Podcast season previews (starting with the Pacific Division).

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Vancouver Canucks 2019-20 Season Preview

Vancouver Canucks

35-36-11, 81 points, 5th in the Pacific Division

Missed the postseason for the fifth straight season

Additions: F Justin Bailey, F Micheal Ferland, F Tyler Graovac, F J.T. Miller (acquired from TBL), F Francis Perron (acquired from SJS), D Jordie Benn, D Oscar Fantenberg, D Tyler Myers, G Zane McIntyre

Subtractions: F Derek Dorsett (retired), F Brendan Gaunce (signed with BOS), F Markus Granlund (signed with EDM), F Tanner Kero (signed with DAL), F Tom Pyatt (traded to SJS, signed in SHL), D Derrick Pouliot (signed with STL), D Luke Schenn (signed with TBL), G Marek Mazanec (traded to TBL)

Still Unsigned: F Yan-Pavel Laplante, D Ben Hutton, D Evan McEneny, G Michael Leighton

Re-signed: F Reid Boucher, F Nikolay Goldobin, F Josh Leivo, F Tyler Motte, D Brogan Rafferty, D Josh Teves

Offseason Analysis: The Vancouver Canucks didn’t sign overpay anyone on July 1st this offseason. Sure, signing Tyler Myers to a five-year deal worth $30.000 million may be a bit much, but then again, Myers is a 29-year-old defender still in his prime and brings a lot to cement the foundation of a blue line looking to improve.

Canucks General Manager, Jim Benning, did his homework and improved his team in a trade rather than overspending for another bottom-six forward in free agency.

Vancouver sent Marek Mazanec, a 2019 3rd round pick and a conditional 2020 1st round pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a bonafide top-six forward in J.T. Miller.

Miller’s $5.250 million cap hit comes with four-years remaining on his contract at the young age of 26. In 75 games last season, Miller had 13 goals and 34 assists (45 points) with the Lightning, which was down from his 23-35–58 totals in 2017-18 with the New York Rangers and Tampa.

Still, 40-50 points or more a season is a huge improvement for the Canucks, where head coach Travis Green has been looking for another piece to the puzzle in his top-nine.

And speaking of Vancouver’s top-nine, they nabbed Micheal Ferland after an almost career-season with the Carolina Hurricanes, whereby Ferland’s first half of last season was off to a hot start, then cooled to one-point shy of his career-high with the Calgary Flames in 2017-18.

Ferland finished last season with 17-23–40 totals in 71 games for the Hurricanes and had 21-20–41 totals in 77 games for the Flames prior to being traded last offseason.

Versatility is finally in Vancouver’s lineup.

They’ve added a couple of glue guys that they’ve always wanted Loui Eriksson to be– and they still have Eriksson, 34, on the roster through the 2021-22 season!

Everything is pointing to wild card contention this season, except for the fact that Brock Boeser is still an unsigned restricted free agent.

Boeser reportedly wants a four-year, $28 million ($7.000 million cap hit) deal, but the Canucks currently lack the cap space to make that happen with roughly $4.158 million available.

Nevertheless, Benning’s job is simple this offseason– don’t mess up like in years past– and he’s actually done a good job making up for some past mistakes.

Offseason Grade: A-

Miller’s acquisition alone makes Vancouver more of a destination for players looking to agree to being traded to the Canucks leading up to the trade deadline as long as Vancouver’s in the playoff hunt– and that’s not even mentioning Quinn Hughes’ potential impact on the defense this season, while Bo Horvat likely takes on the “C”.

If they don’t make the playoffs in 2020, the conditional 1st round pick in the Miller trade becomes a 2021 1st round pick, so if they’re going to tank at all, it better be this season (the 2020 draft is deeper than 2019, at least). It’s the 50th season for the Canucks and they’re looking to make a splash in their golden anniversary.

2019-20 Pacific Division Outlook

As the entire hockey world awaits training camp action next month, let’s make some (un)educated guesses about the upcoming season that will totally pan out because everything always goes as expected. (It doesn’t.)

The projected standings below are only a forecast.

They are based on recent indications– as well as the last few seasons of stats– and cannot account for variations in roster construction (a.k.a. trades and free agency moves).

There’s a lot of variables that will turn the tables upside down, including transactions, injuries and otherwise. Anything can happen.

As always, it’s more important to remember 1) the spread and 2) the positioning.

Just how many points separate the projected division winner from the last wild card spot (the spread) and where a team is supposed to finish in the division standings (the position) can imply that things aren’t always what they seem.

A team that’s projected to win it all still has to play an 82-game regular season, qualify for the playoffs and go on to amass 16 wins in the postseason.

Projected Standings After ZERO Months

Pacific Division

  1. y-Vegas Golden Knights, 101 points
  2. x-San Jose Sharks, 100 points
  3. x-Anaheim Ducks, 96 points
  4. wc1- Calgary Flames, 93 points
  5. Los Angeles Kings, 89 points
  6. Vancouver Canucks, 83 points
  7. Arizona Coyotes, 78 points
  8. Edmonton Oilers, 77 points

Vegas Golden Knights: Pros and Cons

Despite a colossal collapse in Game 7 of their First Round matchup with the San Jose Sharks this spring, the Golden Knights are ready for what could be another deep playoff run in 2020.

A full season of Mark Stone– plus the rest of the original and supporting cast (Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty, Marc-Andre Fleury, etc.)– should provide Vegas with enough scoring power, while Nate Schmidt anchors the defense with Shea Theodore, Brayden McNabb, Jon Merrill and adopted Vegas son, Deryk Engelland.

Aside from working on the penalty kill and the peaceful transition of power from George McPhee to Kelly McCrimmon as General Manager of the organization (effective Sept. 1st), the Golden Knights have had a quiet offseason.

Sure, they traded Colin Miller to the Buffalo Sabres which hurts their blue line depth in the event of injuries, but Vegas has a few notable prospects with the Chicago Wolves (AHL) in Jake Bischoff, Nic Hague and Jimmy Schudlt that should be ready for a taste of NHL action if necessary.

Owner, Bill Foley, has his sights set on his original vision for the franchise– winning a Cup within the first three seasons of its existence.

The only downside for the Golden Knights heading into the 2019-20 season? Goaltending.

No, Fleury isn’t in decline from his status as one of the better goaltenders in the league, but his time in the crease has to be managed.

Though he was limited to 46 games in 2017-18 due to injury, Fleury amassed a 29-13-4 record with a 2.24 goals against average and a .927 save percentage. Vegas’ backup goaltender, Malcolm Subban, managed a 13-4-2 record in 22 games played that season with a 2.68 GAA and a .910 SV% in his rookie season.

Last season, Subban’s numbers took a turn for the worse.

He had an 8-10-2 record in 21 games played with a 2.93 GAA and a .902 SV%– all while Fleury was forced to carry a heavier schedule load, seeing his stat line slip to a 2.51 GAA and a .913 SV% in the process, but improving his overall record to 35-21-5 in 61 games.

Vegas added Garret Sparks, who carries a career GAA (3.09) and SV% (.898) that’s worst than Subban in six fewer games played over two full-time seasons as a backup (Sparks appeared in 37 games with Toronto, while Subban’s played in 43 with Vegas since 2017-18).

Gerard Gallant can’t rely on a fallback plan if one of them doesn’t yield a significant turnaround at this point in their careers (because there isn’t one) and he also can’t overexert Fleury in the buildup to the postseason.

This is why you can never have too many goaltenders in the system.

How would the Golden Knights fail?

If an Uber driver records their players complaining about their special teams play and/or said Uber driver can’t do a better job at not allowing four power play goals against on a five-minute major penalty kill.

San Jose Sharks: Pros and Cons

San Jose has about $4.683 million in cap space and Joe Thornton is still unsigned. Are we really ready to live in a world where Thornton isn’t on the Sharks and it’s not 1997-2005 again?

Also, Patrick Marleau is still unsigned too, but that’s besides the point– plus he spent the last two years with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Anyway, the Sharks went all in on Erik Karlsson’s extension, shelling out $11.500 million per season for the next eight years through the 2026-27 season.

As long as Karlsson can remain healthy (and the rest of the roster for that matter, unlike in this spring’s Western Conference Final run), then San Jose’s blue line remains one of the most dynamic forces of offensive capabilities from an otherwise non-traditional source of scoring production.

Kevin Labanc is an emerging star in a Sharks uniform and will carry a bigger role this season with the departure of Joe Pavelski to the Dallas Stars via free agency.

Meanwhile, it’s officially the Logan Couture Era in Silicon Valley– if General Manager Doug Wilson is truly moving on from the days of Thornton and Marleau– with supporting roles from Tomas Hertl and Evander Kane.

While Karlsson’s cap hit tops the league on an otherwise unnerving contract if something goes wrong, Wilson managed to keep Timo Meier in teal for the next four seasons at an affordable $6.000 million cap hit.

Other than injuries, the only thing that could scare the Sharks out of the waters of contention is the inconsistency of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell in the crease.

Despite compiling 36 wins on the season in 62 games played, Jones had a career-worst GAA (2.94) and SV% (.896), while Dell also managed to have a career-worst performance as a backup with a 3.17 GAA and a .886 SV% in 25 games played (of which he won 10).

Yikes.

How would the Sharks fail?

San Jose has had everything imaginable happen to them in the postseason, so what seems irrational, inexplicable and/or unimaginable, because that’s probably how they’d lose (again).

Anaheim Ducks: Pros and Cons

The Ducks have about $8.500 million in cap space with a good mix of pending-unrestricted free agents and pending-restricted free agents next summer, which means they’ll only have more money to spend and reallocate to their better, younger players like Troy Terry and Daniel Sprong.

What’s the bad news?

It’s Anaheim. They’re suffering from buying out Corey Perry’s contract for the next four seasons ($2.625 million in 2019-20, $6.625 million in 2020-21 and $2.000 million from 2021-23), Ryan Getzlaf is signed through 2020-21 and has a no-movement clause, Ryan Kesler may never play again and is also signed through 2021-22 with a no-movement clause and finally, Adam Henrique has a modified no-trade clause and is signed through 2023-24.

Yes, Kesler can be place on long-term injured reserve and shelved for the remainder of his contract and/or traded elsewhere (after waiving his NMC) to free up cap space if he truly cannot return, but the fact of the matter is the Ducks are still too tied up to takeoff and fly.

The depth of prospects is sketchy with the Ducks, considering not much is known about their overall plan.

Are they overcooking some prospects for a better immediate impact in the NHL or should they just play the kids, wait around near the basement of the standings and rebuild?

Though this forecast has Anaheim tabbed for a divisional spot, they’re likely to be looking from outside the division with perhaps only the saving grace of a wild card spot thanks to John Gibson’s existence as one of the best goaltenders in the game (until the skaters in front of him let him down).

At the very least, Dallas Eakins is back as a head coach in the NHL, so all is right with the world (and he did a decent job resurrecting his career with a strong performance in San Diego (AHL) after his dismal days in Edmonton).

How would the Ducks fail?

General Manager Bob Murray holds onto his cards for too long, talent development stalls and/or Eakins turns out to not be one of those classic examples of a coach that just came into the league a little too early, then got a second chance and succeeded.

Calgary Flames: Pros and Cons

The Flames couldn’t win the Cup with two-time All Star goaltender, Mike Smith, on their roster, so they rolling with David Rittich and Cam Talbot– who joins Calgary from their intra-province rival Edmonton Oilers.

Speaking of the Oilers, that’s where Smith ended up. Goalie swap! But without any actual trading involved, since Talbot was most recently serving as a “Plan C” for the Philadelphia Flyers if Carter Hart, Brian Elliott and Co. weren’t ready to go down the stretch.

Anyway, back to the “C of Red”.

Calgary sent James Neal to Edmonton in exchange for Milan Lucic and ended up saving $500,000 per season for the remainder of Lucic’s contract (signed through 2022-23) in the process. The Oilers retained salary in the trade. You heard that right.

Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane are still unsigned RFAs and General Manager Brad Treliving has about $7.757 million to work with in cap space.

Get a deal done with Tkachuk and the Flames will go on without any interruption as a team that pleasantly turned a lot of heads in the regular season last year, then sputtered out in the First Round in five games to the Colorado Avalanche.

Bill Peters is ready for his second season behind the bench in Calgary and the roster looks set to remain in contention for a divisional berth, if not leading the Western Conference once again.

How would the Flames fail?

Simply put, if they flame out at the end of the regular season like they did last season– March was a bad month, which led to their demise in five games against Colorado in the First Round.

Los Angeles Kings: Pros and Cons

The good news for the Kings? Tyler Toffoli, Trevor Lewis, Kyle Clifford, Mario Kempe, Derek Forbort, Paul LaDue, Joakim Ryan and Jack Campbell are all pending-UFAs after next season and Carl Grundstrom, Austin Wagner, Sean Walker and Kurtis MacDermid are all pending-RFAs.

The bad news? Drew Doughty is signed through 2026-27 at $11.000 million per season, Anze Kopitar is making $10.000 million per season through 2023-24 and Adrian Kempe is currently an unsigned RFA.

General Manager Rob Blake has a lot to sort through this season, but he’s already made some corrections to his blunders in his first two seasons as an NHL GM.

For starters, he replaced Dion Phaneuf with Ryan in free agency, brought back his stable backup goaltender in Campbell on a one-year deal and didn’t give up on Ilya Kovalchuk, but rather hired an actual NHL head coach fit for the contemporary game in Todd McLellan.

Though Marco Sturm remains one of the best looking assistant coaches in the league, we’ll let this one slide, Los Angeles.

Are the Kings actually that much better than they were last season? Time will surely tell, but one thing’s for sure– they can’t possibly be much worse, right? Right!?!

If anything, the Kings are a wild card team at best or situated behind either Vancouver or Arizona at worst in the standings, but they should be lightyears from the basement in the division this season with some solid additions through the draft over the years in Alex Turcotte, Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Gabriel Vilardi.

Los Angeles should be able to (somewhat) bounce back from their regression last season, but at the same time, the year isn’t 2012 or 2014 anymore. It’s time to start cutting the chord with former “glue guys” turned placeholders on a roster that needs an influx of youth sooner rather than later.

How would the Kings fail?

If Jonathan Quick gets hurt in any fashion and Blake can’t get rid of at least one of the eight players on the 23-player roster over aged 30 or older.

Vancouver Canucks: Pros and Cons

The Canucks are looking to make it back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2015, but did General Manager, Jim Benning do enough this offseason to set Vancouver back on the right track for 2020?

Benning went out and acquired J.T. Miller from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Marek Mazanec, a 2019 3rd round pick and a conditional 2020 1st round pick in June, then signed 29-year-old defender, Tyler Myers to a five-year, $30.000 million contract.

Miller and Myers are two quality assets compared to previous transactions made in the offseason by the Canucks. For once, Benning didn’t overpay an aging veteran player, but he also hasn’t cleaned up what might be a costly (both in price and on ice) fourth line in a league that runs four lines deep.

There’s a very real chance that none of the players on Vancouver’s fourth line any given night are making less than $3.000 million per season.

That’s unfathomable in a salary cap driven sport and only speaks to the number of misguided happenings in asset management by the Canucks.

Come to think of it, Vancouver only has five players out of a possible 23-player roster making less than $1.000 million per season. Sure, nobody’s making $10.000 million, but all those $2.000 million-plus, $3.000 million-plus, $4.000 million-plus and $5.000 million-plus contracts add up.

At least Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser are worth watching night-in and night-out. Plus, Thatcher Demko should pan out to be one of the league’s better goaltenders.

There’s just one concern for Benning as the offseason continues– Boeser and Nikolay Goldobin are still unsigned RFAs.

And Boeser is certainly worth the four-year, $7.000 million cap hit he’s looking for. Too bad the Canucks only have $5.058 million in cap space though.

How would the Canucks fail?

By being close, but not close enough in yet another race for the playoffs. Things are heading in the right direction, however.

Arizona Coyotes: Pros and Cons

Mastermind GM John Chayka has landed this offseason’s biggest prize in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins– two-time Stanley Cup champion, Team USA representative and hot dog enthusiast, Phil “The Thrill” Kessel.

Kessel brings his goalscoring prowess to the Western Conference for the first time in his career, having been drafted by the Boston Bruins 5th overall in the 2006 NHL draft, then playing with Boston until being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2009 and then again the Pittsburgh in 2015.

No. 81 had 82 points in 82 games played last season, which was down from career-high 34-58–92 totals in 2017-18. Additionally, he hasn’t missed a game since 2010.

Along with Carl Soderberg– another offseason acquisition in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche– Kessel and the Coyotes are revamped and poised to make a run for the postseason.

Arizona’s only ranked low in this forecast because of nearly a decade of middle of the road rosters and missed opportunities since losing in the 2012 Western Conference Final in five games to Los Angeles.

The Coyotes haven’t been back to the playoffs since, but they’re trending upward.

With Nick Schmaltz, Jakob Chychrun and Oliver Ekman-Larsson locked up on long-term contracts, the core has really come into fruition while Chayka remains active in the draft and trade market.

Now they just need a little luck on their side to avoid losing Antti Raanta to the injury bug again.

How would the Coyotes fail?

If this forecast actually turns out to be true and Arizona finished 7th in the division, because otherwise who would actually want to see them fail?

Edmonton Oilers: Pros and Cons

Pro: New GM (Ken Holland) and a new head coach (Dave Tippett).

Con: Another new GM and a new head coach.

Pro: Connor McDavid!

Con: Plays for the Oilers.

Pro: They were able to trade Milan Lucic.

Con: While acquiring James Neal and retaining part of Lucic’s salary in the process, thereby spending more money than in the first place.

Pro: They should actually be better this year.

Con: We keep saying every year, even about a team that has the second-greatest player in the game behind Sidney Crosby on the roster.

Pro: There’s a lot of pending UFAs and RFAs on the roster.

Con: That means at least half of them are now going to have a career-year in a contract year and be overpaid either by Edmonton or other teams in the next offseason.

Pro: Two-time All Star Mike Smith signed a one-year deal to backup Mikko Koskinen.

Con: The average age of Edmonton’s goaltending duo is 34.

How would the Oilers fail?

How there’s any such thing as optimism besides having McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton is incredible. If they make it to a wild card berth, it’d take McDavid playing every position, probably.

DTFR Podcast #166- New New New York

Nick and Colby recap the headlines from the last month as well as take a look at all of the New York market teams and try to figure out if any of them are actually any good as Season Six of the podcast begins.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

DTFR Podcast #164- The Free Agency Mega-Hour

Nick, Cap’n and Pete recap the last two weeks of trades and first few days of free agency 2K19.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Bolts tie 1995-96 Red Wings, win, 6-3, in Boston

The Tampa Bay Lightning tied an NHL record for the most wins in a season (62, set by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings) with their, 6-3, victory over the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on Saturday afternoon.

Legendary Red Wings captain and former Lightning General Manager, Steve Yzerman can technically lay claim to being part of both seasons, as he was responsible for the makeup of Tampa’s roster before current Bolts GM Julien BriseBois took over prior to the start of the 2018-19 regular season (Yzerman stepped down citing a desire to spend more time with family).

Edward Pasquale (2-1-0 record, 3.96 goals against average, .882 save percentage in three games played) made 30 saves on 33 shots against for a .909 SV% in the win for the Lightning.

Tuukka Rask (27-13-5, 2.48 GAA, .912 SV% in 46 GP) stopped 16 out of 21 shots faced in the loss for the B’s.

Boston fell to 49-24-9 (107 points) on the season, but already clinched 2nd place in the Atlantic Division prior to Saturday’s loss.

Tampa improved to 62-16-4 (128 points) and finished 1st in the Atlantic Division (as well as the entire NHL, finishing with the 4th most points in league history).

Bruce Cassidy rested some players on Thursday against the Minnesota Wild and did so once again against the Lightning on Saturday, sitting Brandon Carlo, Patrice Bergeron, Torey Krug, Noel Acciari, Brad Marchand, while Chris Wagner (lower body), John Moore (upper body), Sean Kuraly (fractured right hand) and Kevan Miller (lower body) missed Saturday’s action due to injury.

Moore and Kuraly are likely to miss Game 1 of Boston’s First Round matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but will otherwise be considered day-to-day.

Miller is expected to participate in full practice on Monday.

With all the scratches for Saturday, Anton Blidh and Jeremy Lauzon were recalled from the Providence Bruins (AHL) ahead of Saturday’s matinee.

Cassidy kept Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci and David Pastrnak as his top line with Marcus Johansson, Charlie Coyle— suiting up in his 500th career NHL game– and Zach Senyshyn rounding out his top-six forwards.

Blidh skated on the left wing of the third line, centered by Trent Frederic with David Backes at right wing.

Danton Heinen, Joakim Nordstrom and Karson Kuhlman filled out the fourth line for Boston.

On defense, Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy returned as the first defensive pair after both defenders got the night off in Minnesota.

Matt Grzelcyk and Connor Clifton made up the second pair on the blue line and Lauzon suited up alongside Steven Kampfer.

Prior to puck drop, the Bruins honored several of their players with end of season awards.

DeBrusk was named the 2018-19 Eddie Shore Award winner, presented by the “Gallery Gods” for exceptional hustle and determination.

Marchand was named the 2018-19 Elizabeth Dufresne Award winner, determined by the Boston Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association for outstanding performance during home games.

Chara won the 2018-19 John P. Bucyk Award, chosen by John Bucyk himself for the greatest off-ice charitable contributions during the season.

Finally, Pastrnak (Third Star), Bergeron (Second Star) and Marchand (First Star) took home the end of season Bruins Three Stars (top performers at home games in 2018-19), chosen by 98.5 The Sports Hub– the flagship radio station of Boston Bruins radio broadcasts.

In addition to the season awards, Rask was honored for breaking the Bruins franchise record for most wins by a goaltender on Feb. 3rd in Washington and presented with a painting. He has 265 career NHL wins in 495 career appearances (all with Boston).

Krejci (20) opened the scoring at 14:38 of the first period after batting a loose puck out of the air and into the twine to give the Bruins a, 1-0, lead.

How did it happen?

McAvoy tried to work a pass over to Krejci on a two-on-one, but Braydon Coburn denied the passing lane, yielding a rebound off his body back to McAvoy for the forward progression towards the goal, whereby Krejci swatted the puck out of the air and into the net behind Pasquale.

Krejci’s goal was assisted by McAvoy (21) and Pastrnak (42). The goal also gave Boston their fifth 20-goal scorer this season (Pastrnak, 38, Marchand, 36, Bergeron, 32, DeBrusk, 27 and Krejci, 20).

Late in the period, Heinen (11) sent a wrist shot past Pasquale while Kuhlman was screening the Lightning goaltender to make it, 2-0, Bruins at 19:40.

Kampfer (3) recorded the only assist on the goal.

Entering the first intermission, Boston led on the scoreboard, 2-0, and in shots on goal, 11-7. The B’s also led in blocked shots (6-4), takeaways (6-4) and hits (10-9), while the Bolts led in giveaways (4-3) and face-off win percentage (83-17).

Neither team had yet to see any action on the skater advantage entering the second period.

Early in the second period, Nordstrom slashed Steven Stamkos and sent the Lightning on the game’s first power play of the afternoon at 2:48.

In the waning seconds of the power play, Erik Cernak (5) cut the lead in half, 2-1, with a power play goal at 4:41 of the second period.

J.T. Miller (33) and Yanni Gourde (26) tallied the assists and Tampa started swinging momentum in their favor.

Coburn later high-sticked Nordstrom at 12:44 and presented the Bruins with their first power play of the day, but things did not go well on the skater advantage.

For the (league leading) 15th time this season, Boston allowed a shorthanded goal against after Stamkos (45) scooped up the puck and broke into the Lightning’s offensive zone on his own and beat Rask through the five-hole to tie the game, 2-2, at 12:52.

Worse, the Bruins butchered an attempt to clear the puck out of their own zone moments later and Anthony Cirelli (19) let go of a shot from the face-off circle that deflected off of Heinen’s stick past the Boston netminder.

Miller (34) and Coburn (19) had the assists on Cirelli’s goal at 16:59 and Tampa led, 3-2, for the first time of the afternoon.

Boston challenged the call on the ice for goaltender interference, as Alex Killorn had briefly ventured into Rask’s crease, but the call on the ice was not overturned as Killorn did not inhibit Rask’s ability to make a save.

Cassidy lost his timeout as a result of the failed challenge and the score remained, 3-2, for the Lightning.

After Mathieu Joseph delivered a hit on Krejci late in the period, Pastrnak took exception to Joseph’s efforts and offered to exchange fisticuffs.

Instead, Pastrnak received a two-minute minor for roughing at 17:47. Tampa did not convert on the ensuing power play.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Lightning led, 3-2, on the scoreboard and, 18-17, in shots on goal (including an, 11-6, advantage in the second period alone).

Boston held onto the advantage in blocked shots (8-5) and takeaways (7-6), while Tampa led in giveaways (8-5), hits (22-18) and face-off win% (68-32) after two periods.

The Bolts were 1/2 on the power play and the B’s were 0/1 heading into the third period.

Less than a minute into the third period, Nikita Kucherov (41) wrong-footed Rask and scored on the backhand after breaking through Boston’s defense.

Ryan McDonagh (37) had the only assist on Kucherov’s goal 53 seconds into the third period and the Lightning led, 4-2.

With the goal, Kucherov tied, Alexander Mogilny for the most points in a season by a Russian born player (set in 1992-93). He would later add another point in the form of an assist to set the new record for the most points (128) by a Russian born player in a single season.

Tyler Johnson tripped Clifton at 5:12 and the Bruins went on the power play for their second time of the afternoon. Tampa’s penalty kill matched Boston’s power play efforts and the B’s were not able to capitalize on the skater advantage.

After Clifton delivered a clean hip-check on Joseph, Joseph retaliated and initiated a scrum in front of the benches about a minute later, resulting in matching minor penalties for cross-checking at 13:04 by Backes (against McDonagh) and Joseph (against Clifton).

Cernak and Frederic each received a ten-minute misconduct and were sent to their respective dressing rooms early.

While even strength at 4-on-4, Grzelcyk (3) sent a one-timer top-shelf past Pasquale to bring the Bruins to within one-goal at 14:03 of the third period.

Pastrnak (43) and Krejci (53) recorded the assists and Boston trailed, 4-3.

With the secondary assist on Grzelcyk’s goal, Krejci tied a career-high in points (73) set in 2008-09.

Just 13 seconds after Grzelcyk pulled his team to within one, Coburn (4) floated a shot glove side from the blue line past Rask to make it, 5-3, Lightning at 14:16.

Cirelli (20) and Girardi (12) tallied the assists on the goal.

With 2:56 remaining in regulation, Cassidy pulled his goaltender for an extra attacker, but it was to no avail.

Johnson (29) collected the empty net goal for the Bolts at 18:34 and made it an insurmountable, 6-3, lead for the Lightning.

Ondrej Palat (26) and Kucherov (87) had the assists on Johnson’s goal and Kucherov set the all-time record for points in a season by a Russian born player (41-87–128 totals).

At the final horn, the President’s Trophy winning, Tampa Bay Lightning finished the 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, Boston Bruins, 6-3, at TD Garden.

Boston finished the afternoon leading in shots on goal (33-22– including a, 16-4, advantage in the third period alone) and blocked shots (9-8), while Tampa ended the afternoon leading in takeaways (10-9), giveaways (14-8), hits (27-25) and face-off win% (64-36).

The Bolts finished Saturday afternoon 1/3 on the power play and the B’s went 0/2.

The Bruins fell to 34-7-5 when scoring first this season and 2-1-0 in the month of April, while only losing ten games in regulation since Jan. 1st.

Lightning strike three times in the third, beat B’s, 5-4

A three-goal third period comeback punctuated the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-4 win over the Boston Bruins on Monday night at Amalie Arena after Tampa originally allowed three goals against in the second period.

Steven Stamkos had a pair of goals and Anthony Cirelli had the game-winning goal in the final minute of regulation, while Andrei Vasilevskiy (37-9-4 record, 2.36 goals against average, .927 save percentage in 50 games played) stopped 13 out of 17 shots faced (.765 SV%) in the win for the Lightning.

Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask (26-11-5, 2.42 GAA, .915 SV% in 43 GP) made 23 saves on 28 shots against (.821 SV%) in the loss.

Boston fell to 46-21-9 (101 points) on the season, but remained in command of 2nd place in the Atlantic Division. Meanwhile, Tampa improved to 59-14-4 (122 points) on the season and in command of the entire league, having already clinched the President’s Trophy this season.

The B’s fell to 28-2-3 when leading after two periods, 8-4-0 in the month of March and 18-14-6 on the road this season as a result of the loss– just their seventh in regulation since Jan. 1st.

Kevan Miller (upper body), Marcus Johansson (lung contusion), Matt Grzelcyk (upper body), Torey Krug (concussion) and Sean Kuraly (fractured right hand) all remained out of the lineup, despite Johansson being a game-time decision.

As a result, Karson Kuhlman remained on the second line right wing alongside Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci since his emergency recall from the Providence Bruins (AHL) on Saturday.

Bruce Cassidy left the rest of his lineup the same as in Saturday night’s matchup against the Florida Panthers.

Stamkos (40) tipped momentum in favor of the Lightning after blasting one of his patented one-timers past Rask at 6:42 of the first period to give Tampa the lead, 1-0.

Ryan Callahan (10) and Mikhail Sergachev (21) tallied the assists on the goal.

Less than a minute later, Tampa’s leading scorer, Nikita Kucherov hooked David Pastrnak and was assessed a minor penalty at 7:28.

While on the power play, the Bruins tied the game with a power play goal from Brad Marchand (33) while Vasilevksiy dove in desperation thanks, in part, to a blind pass through traffic from Pastrnak to Marchand for the one-timer after Pastrnak received the puck from Patrice Bergeron.

Pastrnak (38) and Bergeron (43) had the assists on Marchand’s goal at 8:32 of the first period and the B’s tied the game, 1-1.

With his assist on the goal, Bergeron established a new career-high in points in a season with 74 points in 60 personal games played this season– surpassing his previous career-high of 73 points in 81 games in 2005-06.

Bergeron’s new career-high in points, of course, comes at the youthful age of 33-years-old.

Late in the opening frame, Stamkos (41) added his second goal of the game on a nearly identical one-timer from his usual spot on the ice to give Tampa the lead, 2-1.

Victor Hedman (42) and Sergachev (22) notched the assists on Stamkos’ second goal at 14:58 of the first period.

Shortly thereafter, Bruins defender, John Moore was crumpled by Adam Erne on a hit that left Moore favoring his left arm as he went down the tunnel to the visiting dressing room.

He did not return to Monday night’s action and was ruled out by the Bruins communication staff early in the second period.

J.T. Miller hooked Danton Heinen at 17:45 and Alex Killorn tripped Bergeron at 18:32, leaving Boston with an abbreviated 5-on-3 skater advantage for about 1:14 until a regular power play would resume.

The B’s did not convert on either power play opportunity.

Through one period, Tampa led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 9-4. The Bolts also led in blocked shots (5-4), takeaways (4-2) and hits (15-10), while the B’s managed an advantage in giveaways (2-1) and face-off win percentage (55-46).

The Lightning did not see any time on the power play entering the first intermission, while the Bruins were 1/3 on the skater advantage.

Kuhlman received a two-minute minor infraction for holding Sergachev at 5:05 of the second period, sending the Lightning on their first power play of the night.

Tampa did not convert on the ensuing opportunity.

Moments later, Charlie Coyle (12) tied the game, 2-2, after David Backes stole the puck in the offensive and fed Coyle with the puck on his stick.

Coyle deked and scored on the backhand at 8:42 of the second period with Backes (13) yielding the only assist on the goal.

Boston began to unwind over the course of the second and third period in discipline as Zdeno Chara hooked Kucherov at 9:46 of the middle frame, but the Bolts were powerless on the power play.

Brandon Carlo (2) sniped a shot past Vasilevksiy’s glove side for his first goal in 44 games at 13:41 of the second period.

Krejci (46) and DeBrusk (13) were credited with the assists as the Bruins led for the first time of the night, 3-2.

About a minute later, Marchand (34) rocketed a one-timer wide of the goal that caromed off the glass and bounced off of Vasilevskiy’s skate and trickled into the net.

Pastrnak (39) and Bergeron (44) had the assists on Marchand’s second goal of the night and the Bruins had scored three unanswered goals to lead, 4-2, at 14:32 of the second period.

After 40 minutes of play, Boston led on the scoreboard, 4-2, but trailed Tampa in shots on goal, 19-12.

The Lightning also led in blocked shots (9-6), takeaways (6-5), hits (24-15) and face-off win% (51-49), while the B’s led in giveaways (3-2).

Tampa was 0/2 on the power play, while the Bruins were 1/3 on the skater advantage heading into the third period.

The Lightning thundered their way back into the game with three unanswered goals of their own in the third period to overcome a two-goal deficit and beat the Bruins.

Hedman (12) kicked things off with a goal at 5:36 of the third period to bring Tampa within one, 4-3, after he followed through on Stamkos’ shot that went wide and redirected off the end boards behind the net.

Stamkos (51) and Miller (31) had the assists on Hedman’s goal and the Bolts set the tone for the final frame of regulation.

The comeback was imminent.

Pastrnak caught Ryan McDonagh with a high-stick and was assessed a four-minute double minor penalty at 6:45.

Boston successfully managed to go unscathed during their extended penalty kill, but couldn’t muster anything past Vasilevskiy.

Midway through the third period, Kucherov (38) pounced on an odd-skater advantage that fell flat for the Bruins and wristed a shot past Rask after Stamkos led the charge the other way.

Stamkos (52) had the only assist on Kucherov’s goal at 13:50 and the game was tied, 4-4.

Charlie McAvoy hooked Brayden Point at 17:02 and presented the Lightning with yet another power play.

Though the B’s managed to kill the penalty off, they were trapped in the vulnerable minute thereafter and failed to clear the puck out of their own zone.

Instead, Tampa kept the pressure on Boston and forced the puck to Cirelli (18) in the high-slot for the goal that gave the Bolts the lead, 5-4, at 19:07 of the third period.

Mathieu Joseph (12) and McDonagh (33) had the assists on the game-winning goal with 52.2 seconds left in regulation.

Cassidy used his timeout after Cirelli’s goal to try to draw up a plan, but his efforts were thwarted after Marchand picked up an interference penalty at 19:22.

For the first time since Jan. 14th in Philadelphia against the Flyers, the Bruins had blown a two-goal lead to lose in regulation.

At the final horn, Tampa had won, 5-4, and finished the night leading in shots on goal (28-17), blocked shots (11-10), hits (33-22) and face-off win% (54-46).

The B’s led in giveaways (5-4) and went 1/3 on the power play, while the Lightning finished Monday night 0/6 on the skater advantage.

The Bruins return home– after going 3-1-0 on their four-game road trip– to face the New York Rangers on March 27th, then host the Florida Panthers on March 30th before traveling to Detroit on the 31st to close out the month.

Boston finishes the season swinging through Columbus on April 2nd, making a stop in Minnesota on April 4th and wrapping up the regular season on April 6th at home against the Lightning.

Bruins thunder past Lightning, 4-1

After receiving 15 stitches after taking a puck to the mouth on Tuesday, Noel Acciari scored the eventual game-winning goal in the third period Thursday night, as the Boston Bruins defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-1, at TD Garden.

For the first time in league history, two teams met in the midst of a 14-game point streak. Tampa entered the night on a franchise record, 10-game, winning streak.

Tuukka Rask (21-8-5 record, 2.36 goals against average, .920 save percentage in 35 games played) made 20 saves on 21 shots against for a .952 SV% in the win.

Lightning goaltender, Louis Domingue (19-5-0, 2.92 GAA, .908 SV% in 24 GP) stopped 37 out of 41 shots faced for a .902 SV% in the loss.

The Bruins improved to 38-17-9 (85 points) on the season and remained in 2nd place in the Atlantic Division standings behind their Thursday night opponent, the Lightning, who fell to 49-12-4 (102 points) and remained in control of the Atlantic.

Boston improved to 25-4-5 when scoring first this season and 24-1-3 when leading after two periods. The B’s are 11-0-4 in their last 15 games and went without a loss in regulation in the month of February for just the 9th time in franchise history.

The last time Boston went without a regulation loss in one month’s time was in November 2011.

The Bruins finished February with an 11-0-2 record.

Kevan Miller (upper body) and David Pastrnak (left thumb) remained out of the lineup as Bruce Cassidy kept his lines the same from Tuesday night’s, 4-1, win over the San Jose Sharks.

Peter Cehlarik and Karson Kuhlman were recalled on emergency basis on Wednesday, but re-assigned back to the Providence Bruins (AHL) by puck drop Thursday night.

Steven Kampfer was the only healthy scratch for Boston with Miller and Pastrnak out due to injury.

Early in the first period, after taking a cross check into the frame of the net, David Backes dropped the gloves and went square dancing with Adam Erne.

It was Backes’ second fight in the last two games as both players were assessed five-minute major penalties for fighting at 2:54 of the opening frame.

Neither team could buy a goal or a penalty in the first period, as the Bruins and Lightning went back to their respective dressing rooms for the first intermission, tied, 0-0.

The B’s led Tampa in shots on goal (17-4), while the Bolts led Boston in blocked shots (8-2), takeaways (6-2), giveaways (4-3), hits (14-7) and face-off win percentage (58-42).

Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara, was assessed a two-minute minor infraction for cross checking Tyler Johnson at 4:54 of the second period.

The Bolts did not convert on the ensuing power play.

Almost midway through the middle frame, Victor Hedman was sent to the penalty box for interference at 8:11.

While on the power play, Bruins winger, Jake DeBrusk (21) ripped a wrist shot off of Lightning defender, Anton Stralman, and through Domingue’s five-hole to score the game’s first goal and give Boston the lead, 1-0, at 8:43 of the second period.

Torey Krug (39) and Rask (2) were credited with the primary and secondary assists.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Bruins led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and, 32-9, in shots on goal.

That’s right, Boston only allowed nine shots against entering the second intermission against the best team in the NHL– and even outshot the Bolts, 15-5, in the second period alone.

Tampa led in blocked shots (14-11), takeaways (9-5), giveaways (9-6) and hits (24-15), while the Bruins led in face-off win% (52-48).

The Lightning were 0/1 on the power play, while the B’s went 1/1 on the skater advantage heading into the third period.

Almost midway through the final frame of regulation, Hedman took a skate to the sin bin for the second time of the night for tripping Acciari at 9:29.

In the vulnerable minute after the ensuing power play, Chris Wagner sent a shot off of Domingue’s pads, generating a rebound, whereby Acciari (3) buried the loose puck in on the far side of the twine.

Boston led, 2-0, at 11:47 of the third period thanks to Acciari’s goal.

Wagner (6) had the only assist, but the Bruins were not done scoring.

Less than a minute later, Patrice Bergeron (22) received a pass from Danton Heinen and let go of a shot from the bumper through the five-hole of the Lightning goaltender to put the B’s ahead, 3-0, on two goals in a span of 45 seconds.

Heinen (14) and Acciari (5) tallied the assists on Bergeron’s goal at 12:32 of the third period.

Prior to Bergeron’s goal, Domingue had stopped 36 out of 37 shots against.

Brad Marchand (26) completed Boston’s run of four unanswered goals– including three goals in a span of 1:28– with a breakaway goal at 13:15.

Heinen (15) and Krug (40) notched the assists as the Bruins led, 4-0.

Almost 40 seconds later, Anthony Cirelli (13) tipped in a shot from the point by Ondrej Palat after the Tampa forward kept the puck in the offensive zone for the Bolts.

Palat (20) had the only assist on Cirelli’s goal at 13:52, as the Lightning trailed, 4-1.

Almost a minute later, Hedman hooked Charlie Coyle and went to the box for the third time of the night at 14:30.

Boston’s ensuing power play was cut short when Charlie McAvoy hooked Cedric Paquette at 15:54, resulting in 37 seconds of 4-on-4 action before an abbreviated power play for the Bolts.

Late in the third, Matt Grzelcyk cross checked J.T. Miller and was assessed an infraction at 17:59.

Tampa did not score on the ensuing power play.

With about 90 seconds remaining in the game, Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, pulled his goaltender for an extra attacker, but it was not successful as time expired in the action.

Boston completed the, 4-1, victory and snapped Tampa’s 10-game winning streak.

The Bruins finished the night leading in shots on goal (41-21), while the Lightning led in blocked shots (16-12), giveaways (16-7) and hits (35-22).

Both teams went 50-50 in face-off win%, while the Bolts went 0/3 on the skater advantage. The B’s finished 1/3 on the power play Thursday night.

Heinen (two assists), Krug (two assists) and Acciari (one goal, one assist) each had two points in the effort, while Tampa fell to 6-3 on the second night of back-to-back games this season.

Boston meets with Tampa two more times in the regular season, including once more in Tampa on March 25th and for their final game of the regular season at TD Garden on April 6th.

The Bruins kick off the month of March with the continuation of their six-game homestand on Saturday against the New Jersey Devils. Next Tuesday, the Carolina Hurricanes visit the B’s and will be wearing their Hartford Whalers throwbacks.

Boston takes on the Florida Panthers next Thursday (March 7th) and the Ottawa Senators that Saturday (March 9th) before hitting the road to Pittsburgh on March 10th.

Game of the week: October 29-November 4

As the calendar flips from October to November, the NHL’s powers are beginning to flex their muscles while the league’s less-talented members are already counting the days until April 6.

Some of that can be seen in the games already played this week (take a look at what a good Devils team suffered in its trip to Tampa), while there’s more than a few games coming up in the remaining four days that will help us better predict some teams’ playoff potentials.

NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 29-November 4
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, October 29
7 p.m. Calgary Toronto 3-1
10 p.m. Minnesota Vancouver 2-5
Tuesday, October 30
7 p.m. Calgary Buffalo 2-1 (OT)
7 p.m. New York Islanders Pittsburgh Penguins 6-3
7 p.m. Boston Carolina 3-2
7 p.m. Detroit Columbus 5-3
7:30 p.m. Dallas Montréal 4-1
7:30 p.m. New Jersey Tampa Bay 3-8
8 p.m. Vegas Nashville 1-4
9 p.m. Minnesota Edmonton 4-3
10 p.m. Ottawa Arizona 1-5
10 p.m. Philadelphia Anaheim 3-2
10:30 p.m. New York Rangers San Jose Sharks 4-3 (SO)
Wednesday, October 31
10 p.m. Chicago Vancouver 2-4
Thursday, November 1
2 p.m. Winnipeg Florida NBCSN
7 p.m. Dallas Toronto
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Penguins New York Islanders SN360
7:30 p.m. Washington Montréal RDS, TSN2
7:30 p.m. Buffalo Ottawa RDS2
7:30 p.m. New Jersey Detroit
7:30 p.m. Nashville Tampa Bay
8 p.m. Vegas St. Louis
9 p.m. Colorado Calgary SN1
9 p.m. Chicago Edmonton
10 p.m. New York Rangers Anaheim Ducks
10:30 p.m. Philadelphia Los Angeles
10:30 p.m. Columbus San Jose
Friday, November 2
2 p.m. Florida Winnipeg NHLN
10 p.m. Colorado Vancouver NHLN
10 p.m. Carolina Arizona
saturday, November 3
2 p.m. Ottawa Buffalo RDS
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Montréal CITY, SN360, TVAS
7 p.m. Edmonton Detroit SN
7 p.m. New Jersey Devils New York Islanders
7 p.m. Toronto Pittsburgh CBC, NHLN, SN1
7 p.m. Dallas Washington
8 p.m. Minnesota St. Louis
8 p.m. Boston Nashville
10 p.m. Carolina Vegas
10 p.m. Chicago Blackhawks Calgary Flames CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
10:30 p.m. Columbus Los Angeles
10:30 p.m. Philadelphia San Jose
SunDay, November 4
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Ottawa NHLN, SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Buffalo Sabres New York Rangers
9 p.m. Columbus Anaheim

As usual, there’s more than a few tilts that caught my attention on this week’s slate. I’m always a big fan of rivalries (New York at Pittsburgh, Chicago at Vancouver, Pittsburgh at New York, Buffalo at Ottawa and Ottawa at Buffalo) and players returning to their former home arenas (W Tom Kuhnhackl and F Joakim Nordstrom made their first trips back to Pittsburgh and Carolina, respectively, on Tuesday, while D Roman Polak is heading back to Toronto tonight), but we also get the added benefits of this year’s NHL Global Series between Florida and Winnipeg in Finland as well as an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal rematch between New Jersey and Tampa Bay.

However, with all of that being said, there’s another huge matchup happening this Thursday that rivals last week’s Toronto-Winnipeg showdown.

The reigning regular season conference champions are going at it tonight, so grab your popcorn and settle in to enjoy a great game!

Wait, what? This showdown isn’t on national T.V. in either Canada or the States, but a game between two one-win NFL teams is?

This is lunacy.

I’m not saying to stream this tilt by any means necessary, but I’m not saying not to stream this tilt by any means necessary.

Regardless of the legality of your decision, it’s a choice you certainly won’t regret as both the Preds and Bolts are off to hot starts this season, surely inspired at least somewhat by dreams left unfulfilled during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Both were their respective conferences’ No. 1 seeds this spring, but they both got knocked off on home ice in a winner-take-all Game 7 (the Predators fell to Winnipeg in the Second Round, while Tampa lost to Washington in the Eastern Conference Final).

At least Smashville got the Presidents’ Trophy, right? Not to mention its prestigious “Regular Season Western Conference Champions” banner.

Sorry, that’s the last time I’ll point out the Predators’ unprecedented award that should probably be penalized for excessive celebration.

Hopefully.

Just as they did last season, the 9-3-0 Predators currently sit atop the Central Division, the Western Conference and the NHL with the best record of all 31 teams.

The major reason for the Preds’ success is undoubtedly their goaltending tandem of 3-1-0 Pekka Rinne and 6-2-0 Juuse Saros. Even though they do have the luxury of playing behind the league’s 11th-best defense in terms of shots against per game (W Viktor Arvidsson‘s 12 takeaways, D Ryan Ellis‘ two blocks per game and F Zac Rinaldo‘s 2.3 hits per game have been major factors in Nashville’s 29.92 shots against per game), both have been integral in keeping the Predators’ goals allowed per game at 2.42 – the (t)third-best mark in the league. Both boast save percentages better than .915 and GAAs at or below 2.5, not to mention a shutout apiece.

After being activated from Injured Reserve yesterday (G Troy Grosenick made room on the roster by heading back to Milwaukee), it seems likely that Rinne will be the starter this evening. In his first five starts this season before going down with an undisclosed ailment, the Finn posted a .929 save percentage and 2.1 GAA – both of which are top-six among the 36 netminders with at least five starts to their credit.

Regardless of who’s in net, don’t focus too much on that or you’ll miss Nashville’s outstanding offense that ranks second-best in the conference and (t)sixth-best in the league by averaging 3.5 goals per game. In particular, no Predator has been as dominant as F Filip Forsberg, who’s 10-4-14 totals leave no doubt as to who’s the best scorer in Tennessee.

Forsberg’s 10 goals are (t)third-most in the NHL, trailing league-leaders F Patrick Kane (CHI) and RW David Pastrnak (BOS) by only one marker. After scoring a hat trick against Edmonton on Saturday (he scored all of Nashville’s goals in a 5-3 loss), the Swede was totally kept off the scoreboard Tuesday against Vegas, so he’ll be extra motivated to notch another tally tonight.

The team the Predators are leading for the Presidents’ Trophy are none other than the 8-2-1 Lightning, last season’s preseason darlings that have been ignored – rather unwisely, I might add – by the media in favor of division-rival Toronto so far this year.

The Leafs might be getting all the attention, but it’s business as usual in central Florida as the Bolts are leading the Eastern Conference just like last campaign. Tampa still boasts a dominant offense, not to mention a stellar goaltender and overpowering special teams.

Led from the second line by F Brayden Point and his 7-7-14 totals – not to mention RW Nikita Kucherov and F Yanni Gourde‘s respective 5-7-12 and 4-8-12 efforts – Tampa’s attack is among the most feared in the league, scoring 3.64 goals per game to rank third-best.

Only two days ago against New Jersey in an 8-3 victory, Point notched an outstanding five-point game, but if recent performances are any indication, he likely won’t find the scorecard tonight: his last five games saw him score 5, 0, 1, 0 and 3 points respectively.

Defensively, there’s not much to talk about with the Lightning since D Victor Hedman is still on Injured Reserve. The Bolts’ blue line has suffered during his absence, allowing a 12th-worst 32.36 shots against per game for the season.

However, who needs a defense when you have 6-1-1 G Andrei Vasilevskiy playing for your team? Vasilevskiy has already been confirmed to be starting this game and will look to improve upon his .935 save percentage and 1.98 GAA that both already rank top-five among the 36 goalies with at least five starts to their names.

If this game boils down to special teams, there’s no way the Lightning aren’t coming away with two points. Tampa Bay leads Nashville in both statistics, including owning the league’s top-rated penalty kill (93.2 percent) that will be more than enough to counteract anything the Preds’ fourth-worst power play (13.3 percent) can muster.

Similarly, Tampa Bay’s power play will be a Halloween hangover to the Predators tonight, as a 29.3 success rate is good enough to rank sixth-best in the NHL – especially when it gets to go to work against the 10th-worst penalty kill (75 percent).

If Nashville’s penalty kill is going to have any success, it should probably try to keep F J.T. Miller under wraps as much as possible. Of his 3-7-10 totals on the year, 3-2-5 have occurred with the man-advantage. If those numbers don’t communicate just how potent he’s been, Miller’s .571 power play face-off winning percentage and .429 power play shooting percentage should do the trick.

An interesting note surrounding this game is its location. While it would be assumed that the Lightning would have the advantage considering they are at home, their 5-1-0 record at Amalie Arena is challenged by the Predators’ outstanding 5-0-0 road mark. With that in mind, there is no doubt Smashville is going to throw everything it has at tonight’s host.

There’s no doubt that this is going to be a showdown of the ages, just as should be expected from the top two teams in the league. But which one wins?

That’s the tough question.

I’m going to go out on a limb and take the Predators tonight. I think their offense is more than good enough to take advantage of the Lightning’s weakened defense corps. That being said, Vasilevskiy is going to be a difficult wall to break (as should Rinne be for the Bolts), so I’m predicting only a 2-1 victory for the visitors.

Tampa Bay Lightning 2018-19 Season Preview

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Tampa Bay Lightning

54-23-5, 113 points, 1st in the Atlantic Division

Lost in the Eastern Conference Final to WSH, 4-3

Additions: F Andy Andreoff (acquired from LA), D Cameron Gaunce

Subtractions: F Carter Ashton (signed, KHL), D Mathew Bodie (signed, KHL), G Peter Budaj (traded to LA), F Erik Condra (signed with DAL), F Alex Gallant (signed with VGK), F Chris Kunitz (signed with CHI), F Matthew Peca (signed with MTL), D Andrej Sustr (signed with ANA)

Still Unsigned: D Jamie McBain

Re-signed: F Adam Erne, D Slater Koekkoek, F Kevin Lynch, F Cedric Paquette

Offseason Analysis: The 2017-18 Tampa Bay Lightning had their best season in franchise history. Well, regular season, that is. Jon Cooper led his team from behind the bench to a 54-23-5 record (113 points) and the first seed in the Eastern Conference all the way to the 2018 Eastern Conference Final against the Washington Capitals– their former division rival in what was once the Southeast Division.

It was their first postseason meeting since 2011 and the Bolts had home ice advantage in a Game 7. What could possibly go wrong? Washington was never supposed to get past the Second Round, let alone beat the Pittsburgh Penguins en route to landing in the Eastern Conference Final– plus Alex Ovechkin was always criticized for his Game 7 play in his career– and the Lightning had all of their offensive weapons, including Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

But Stamkos had no points in Game 7 against Washington, similar to the last five Game 7s he’s played. In six career Game 7s, Stamkos is pointless. Both literally and figuratively, if you may.

Tampa was shutout on home ice and their 2018 postseason run came to a crashing halt, one win shy of reaching their second Stanley Cup Final in three years.

For a team that’s made the Eastern Conference Final in three of the last four calendar years (2015, 2016 and 2018)– they’ve only gotten better, yet they haven’t had the results they’ve wanted (or expected) by now.

Steve Yzerman walked into the Lightning front office with Stamkos and Victor Hedman already on the roster, he left its day-to-day duties having drafted Kucherov (2011) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (2012), while signing an undrafted Tyler Johnson and acquiring Ryan Callahan, Mikhail Sergachev, Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller over the years.

Yzerman’s seamless transition from Tampa’s face of the franchise star in Martin St. Louis to Stamkos, Kucherov and Co. was destined to win a Cup while the former face of the Detroit Red Wings superstar was at the helm of operations.

But Yzerman stepped down as General Manager, leaving the duties of cap management and roster creation to now former assistant GM Julien BriseBois earlier this month.

BriseBois’ transition to power will be peaceful, as Yzerman was sure to lock up core members of the roster in Kucherov and McDonagh to extensions beginning in the 2019-20 season this offseason.

It’d be unfair to grade BriseBois’ offseason maneuvers over the last 16 days at the same weight as the rest of the GMs in the league, but it’s worth noting– neither Yzerman nor BriseBois were able to snag Erik Karlsson in a trade with the Ottawa Senators.

Instead, the biggest prize on the trading block this offseason went to the San Jose Sharks– a team the Lightning can only face in the postseason in the Stanley Cup Final. If they make it that far.

Yzerman chose not to re-sign Chris Kunitz and Andrej Sustr, seeing the former as too old for Tampa’s core and the latter as an expendable asset that was a healthy scratch most nights. He did, however, re-sign glue guy forwards Adam Erne and Cedric Paquette, as well as defender Slater Koekkoek to one-year bridge deals.

Their successful roster is largely intact, despite trading backup goaltender Peter Budaj to the Los Angeles Kinds for forward Andy Andreoff early this summer, but as Cooper seeks to decrease Vasilevskiy’s workload, Budaj’s 3.77 goals against average and .876 save percentage in eight games last season weren’t going to cut it– even with his injuries.

Budaj’s back with the Ontario Reign (AHL) after Jack Campbell beat him out for the backup job behind Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Louis Domingue looks to improve on his 2.89 GAA and .914 SV% in 12 appearances with the Lightning last season, after going winless in seven appearances with the Arizona Coyotes (4.33 GAA, .856 SV%) before being acquired by Tampa.

Budaj’s eight appearances and Domingue’s 12 games in a Bolts uniform left Vasilevskiy to suit up for a career-high 65 games last season. He had a 2.62 GAA and a career-high .920 SV% in what was a Vezina Trophy finalist year with a 44-17-3 record.

While Vasilevskiy is one of the top-starting netminders in the league, 65 games played in the regular season, plus a maximum 28 potential games in the postseason is nearly 100 games of hockey. Multiply that by 60 minutes and, well, you get the point (hopefully).

Cooper has to rely on Domingue and his defense to reduce the minutes Vasilevskiy has to stand on his feet (or head) in order to keep his number one goaltender from getting fatigued.

Goaltending is all about finding that sweet spot– both in the rhythm of the game while making saves and in the ebbs and flows of the season-long schedule (including the possibility of a deep postseason run).

Offseason Grade: C+

So that’s it really.

Tampa didn’t create a mega-defense, because they didn’t get Karlsson. San Jose did.

They didn’t cause a disturbance in the Force with two potential No. 91s that would’ve seen John Tavares assume a new identity on the roster, because the Toronto Maple Leafs signed the biggest free agent on the market.

And that’s okay.

For Tampa, an “average” offseason meant sticking with their guys– the ones that reached the Final in 2015, almost reached it in 2016 and were brought in for the Conference Final run in 2018. Other than nailing down a backup goalie, the Bolts are ready to defend their top of the table standing in the Atlantic Division.