Sunday, September 30, 2007

Enjoy
Go Pens


And So It Begins


Game time.

But someone forgot to pay the bills.
The lights wouldn't come on at game time, and the game was suspended for about 30 minutes.

Mike Cammalleri scores two goals for the Kings, as they beat the Ducks 4-1.

If this is the NFL, ESPN would give us a stat of a defending champion losing their first game of the next season and what has happened to the last 15 teams that did it.
Gay.

The game saw 18 penalties.
Recap

........................................................................

The leading scorer in the preseason?


Joe Pavelski: 200-point season.
Write it down.

......................................

Shawn Roarke gives us 82 reasons to rejoice in hockey's return. [ NHL.com ]

1. Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby taking the next step on his journey to greatness. Can he reach 147 points this season, which would mean he accomplished the same 27-point increase Wayne Gretzky had from his second season to his third?

8. The outdoor game in Buffalo on New Year’s Day. It sold out in mere minutes and features Crosby against goalie Ryan Miller of the Sabres. What better way to kick off a new year?

48. Speaking of Jordan Staal, what’s better than watching the teenager kill penalties in that relentless hound-dog style that netted him a rookie record of seven shorthand goals.

oh, and.....

59. Running into old friends at rinks across the country –- be they sportswriters, team personnel or players.

Someone forgot their target audience.

.....................................................................

Canadiens vs. Blues for all the marbles in the Tournament of Logos.
Give it a vote. [ NHLToL ]

There was big-league jobbing going on over there.
Some turd jumped in and rigged the voting, giving Montreal 60,000 votes.

It was probably some moron who thought he would make a difference in the world by rigging a poll on the internet.

Also...............


That guy from that website found this on SportsLogos.net as a submitted secondary logo for the Vancouver Canucks.

But wait.


It appears the logo for some Hostess-like company seeped into the subconscious of whoever designed the logo.

And someone decided to play on the "VANCOUVER" print on the new Canucks jersey.


What a jobber.

.........................................................

Oh, yeah, the Pens played Saturday night and lost.
They finish the preseason 1-3-2.

[<span class=[pit.<span class=
4 - 3

[ TSN ]

Game


Not much to talk about.
Everyone is a little too worked up about the defense.

Let's all take a deep breath.

And please.

If you think Danny Markov is still coming, you're a mess.

Picture: Danny Markov not playing for the Penguins.

Get used to it.

If the Penguins sign Markov, we will suspend ourselves for two days.

...........................................................................

BettmanBlog

What is it about major sports-league commissioners that makes everyone want to kill them and see their lives ruined?

In the Florida Panther season preview, we let a comment go through that was a spam comment that directed everyone to go buy Bettman-hate t-shirts.

FireBettman.com is a site that is so poop that we actually tried wiping our computer screen with toilet paper instead of hitting the back button.

a) Who has enough hatred for another man to start a blog about him?
b) Be glad the NHL is back and stop complaining about things you have no control over.
c) If Jesus Christ was the commissioner of the NHL, someone would start FireJesus.com.
d) To our chagrin, no one has some weird goth site at FireJesus.com or FireChrist.com.

We have so much faith that people care more about watching hockey than touching themselves over Gary Bettman's management of the league, we're gonna link the shirts.


More colors are available, so we suggest getting one with a red background so that the blood from people smacking you in the mouth for being a moron will blend in.

Bettman shirts at CafePress


In a related story, BusinessWeek released their list of Top 100 Power People in Sports.

Bettman came in at number 27.

Number 400,356,000,786,143,962 is the guy from FireBettman.com.

.............................................

We have another unreal site courtesy of the boys at [ Faceoff Factor ]

WhatIfSports.com.
Pit any two teams in history against each other in an algorithm's wet dream.

Our initial urge was to do the 1993 Pens/Isles series.
But who wants to even think about that.

So we tackled the 1996 Panthers/Pens series.


Sad.

Game 1 Box Score
Pens win 4-3 on a late goal by Neil Wilkinson.

Game 2 Box Score
Nedved with 2 goals in a 5-1 win.

Game 3 Box Score
Pens win 5-3.

Game 4 Box Score
Panthers stave elimination with a 3-2 win.

Game 5 Box Score
Lemieux scores 5 seconds in. Registers a hat trick in the first period.
Pens win 7-5, clinch series.

That's as real as it gets.
Nedved was a machine in this series.

Yeah, and Dave Roche had 30 minutes of ice time in game 5.
That surpasses his career total.

Homo

.......................................................................



OPENING FACEOFF COUNTDOWN

Seriously...5 days...

Saturday, September 29, 2007



..............................................................



.....................................................



13:21 of gameplay compared to 13:08 in the NFL.
The lack of disparity between the numbers obviously means--
We know you're not stupid. You know what it means.

But an NCAA primetime game on ESPN brings us 20 minutes less of commercial time than an NFL game.

And that's it.
So long football.

Out Of Time. Pens Lose


6 - 5


sick

If this was a regular season game.
Getting out of bed the next morning would have been hard.
But since it was a preseason game.
Whatev.

Evgeni Malkin almost tied the game with no time on the clock.
But no dice.

Game.


  • Danny Sabourin was mud
  • Daryl Sydor was directly responsible for three goals. Its still early. But wow not good times there.
  • If last night was any indication Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby may become unstoppable at times. Malkin was insane. Crosby was a step above.
  • The Sabres might not be as bad as everyone thinks.
  • EC with a sick move on the breakaway.
  • Crosby got boarded. Sick.
  • Gonch was solid.
All-in-all it was a fun game to watch. But it is still preseason.
Drop the puck already.

Pens vs Sabres tonight.
But it is a Helen Keller game so don't worry about it.

......................................
Opening Day

[lak.png][ana.png]

Kings vs Ducks
London

Watch it live. [ NHL.Tv ]


........................................
The amount of NHL season previews hitting the internet is bound to make everyone's testicles fall off and ovaries explode.

Eric McErlain from [ OffWing ] takes care of the NHL stuff for Deadspin. [ Deadspin ]

Fanhouse and their dream team of humans did their predictions. [ FanHouse NHL ]

ESPN goes all flash on us with their crap. [ Espn ]

Barry Melrose:



Melrose jobs Fluery.
"He is not a top flight NHL goalie."

Not to be homers but come on.
That statement is why Melrose is an analyst and not a coach.
We could go on and on about how Fluery had 40 wins last season. But its not worth getting mad about a guy who doesn't do his homework.

.............................................

[phi.<span class=
Steve Downie was given a 20-game suspension by the NHL.
If he even plays in the NHL this year. [ TSN ]

If he goes down to the Phantoms in the AHL, he may not even have to serve the suspension.
That would be a joke.


[<span class=
The Ducks have given the "C" to Chris Pronger. [ TSN ]
Nobody cares.

[<span class=
The NHL will be suing MSG $100,000 per day if they don't give the league complete control over the Rangers' website and other crap.
Does the NHL have the right to control all marketing, promotions, and website production of every NHL team? [ TSN ]

[chi.<span class=
Look out.
Brent Sopel has left the Wings and joined the Blackhawks. [ TSN again ]
This brings the Blackhawk's total of roster players that people know to around 5.

.........................................

Did the Worldwide Leader of Homos censor John Buccigross? [ Fanhouse ]
This dominant column of his alluded strongly to the fact that the NHL on ESPN is close to being a reality.

"NHL players want it, the NHL wants it and ESPN wants it," Buccigross wrote, "NBC and Versus somewhat holds the cards however, so we will have to wait and see; but my guess is yes. ESPN will have a piece of the pie."

But not anymore.
Apparently, the ESPN big jimmies saw it, and that section has now been 1984'd from the column.

..............................................



OPENING FACEOFF COUNTDOWN



Friday, September 28, 2007

Do It



Surprise, surprise we sent numerous emails to Capitals bloggers and got no response.
No biggie though.
Capital fans can't read anyway.

Division: Southeast
2006-07: Sucked
Playoffs: Yea right

Season Preview:




Go Pens


Next up, we go straight down to the A-T-L.

The Falconer from [ Do Thrashers Have Large Talons ] brings us the scoop from hotlanta.

Division: Southeast
2006-07:(43-28-11) 97 Points
Playoffs: 3rd seed, jobbed by Rangers in first round

Player to Watch:

Ilya Kovalchuk
(42G-34A-76pP)


Last Season
The Atlanta Thrashers finished atop their division but it was a roller
coaster ride. The team took advantage of a weak schedule in the first
half and built a nice lead in the division, only to see that lead slip
away as they faced better opponents in January and February. The team
acquired four key veterans (Eric Belanger, Alexi Zhitnik, Keith
Tkachuk, Pascal Dupuis) and got back on a roll in March and April to
finish with their first division title in team history and their first
ever playoff appearance. The joy ride came to a quick end though as
they were swept (although several of the games were 1 goal losses).
Last season's team was extremely average--the Thrashers finished tied
for 15th out of 30 teams in offense (GFA) and 15th out of 30 on defense
(GAA).

This Season
The city will host the NHL All Star game hopefully more playoff games
in the spring. Here some key changes for the team:
1) Major Shift at Defense: The Thrashers will see more roster turnover
of any Eastern playoff team other than the Islanders. Last year the
team started with Sutton, de Vries, Vishnevski and Hnidy on the
blueline. Those players have all departed their replacements are
Zhitnik, Klee, Enstrom, Popovic. Last year the team ranked just 25th in
shots against and they gave up far too many high quality shots on goal.
Improvement in that area would provide a major boost to the 2007-07
season.

2) Youth Movement: Four rookies have made the squad after the final
roster cuts. Brett Sterling was AHL rookie of the year and had nothing
left to prove there. He was a top scorer (Hobey Baker finalist) in
college and the AHL can he do it the NHL playing along side Ilya
Kovalchuk? Tobias Enstrom was one of the top defensemen in the Swedish
Elite League last year and has displayed terrific puckhandling skills
in the pre-season (poolies and fantasy players take note if he is put
on the 1st PP unit). Bryan Little was a 1st round pick who finished
near the top of the OHL scoring race and will try to make the jump
straight to the NHL, his game is still maturing so he may not make a
huge impact immediately. Mark Popovic is a steady stay at home
defensemen who has been close to making the NHL for a couple of
seasons, likely a 7th defensemen on the depth chart. The biggest
concern is that the three offensive rookies are all on the small side
which may hurt in the hitting department.

3) Special Teams
The PK unit was a disaster at times last season, but the addition of
Perrin and Dupuis could improve that area drastically. Hossa and Kozlov
receive regular SH ice time so expect them to get a few SH points. Last
year the PP unit got stale and very predictible, Enstrom might provide
the puck distribution that was missing last year after Marc Savard left
via free agency but it is unclear if he will be a regular on the PP
unit at this moment. Kovalchuk, Hossa, Kozlov and Zhitnik are locks to
play on the 1st PP unit.

4) Goaltending: Last year the Thrashers defense was among the worst in
the league at preventing shots. Starter Kari Lehtonen responded by
raising his SV% from .906 to .912 which ranked him 14th among league
starters. If the defense allow fewer high quality shots or Lehtonen is
able to take another step forward and crack the top 10 in SV% the team
will be in good shape. The backup netminder Hedberg was solid and Coach
Hartley indicated he will try to use a more regular goalie rotation
this coming season.

Likely Lines: The biggest question is where Little and Holik will play.

Hossa-Holik/Little-Kozlov
Kovalchuk-White-Sterling
Larsen-Perrin-Dupuis
Thorburn-Slater/Holik-Boulton

Havelid-Zhitnik
Klee-Exelby
McCarthy-Enstrom
Popovic

Projection: Personally I think that once you get past the top four or
five teams, the Eastern Conference is insanely competitive. I think the
Thrashers current roster could finish as high as 6th and as low as
10th. The team is also way under the cap so there is room to acquire
more talent if ownership wants to do in that direction again at the
trading deadline. Where the Thrashers end up will all come down to
injuries, luck and surprises (both good and bad). If their key guys are
healthy I think that they make the playoffs.

.............................................

Pensblog Take



We hate to brag but last year we told you Atlanta was going to win the Southeast.

That may not happen this year, but they should still be solid.
Alot of people have completely forgotten about Kovalchuk, and he had a down year.
The Thrashers defense is shaky, and in a now half-way decent divsion.
They might have missed their chance to make a run last year.

We are heading down to old Tabacco road.
Bob from [ Canes Country ] is the man behind the preview of the Carolina Hurricanes.


Divsion: Southeast
2006-07: (40-34-8) 88 points
Playoffs: Just watching

Leaders:

Eric Staal - Rob Brind'Amour
(30G-40A-70P) - (26G-56A-82P)

Cam Ward
(30-21, 2.93GAA )



Greetings to everyone at ThePensblog! The
he staff here has asked me to provide a season preview of your first opponent this year, the Carolina Hurricanes. Before I start that, let me just briefly say a few things about myself. I've been a hard core Hurricanes fan and season ticket holder for several years. After the lockout, I started blogging and eventually came up with my current blog, "Canes Country". Feel free to drop by and visit anytime! I happen to also be a fan of several of the Penguins players such as Mark Recchi, Gary Roberts, and Jordan Staal. You have a great, young hockey club here and I see nothing but positive things in the Penguins future! But enough about that, on to the Canes!


I'll start off in net, then work my way out. Cam Ward will be the starting goaltender again this year for the Canes. After winning the "Conn Smythe" and leading the Hurricanes to the Cup win in 2006, the youngster had a disappointing year last year, his first as a starting netminder in the NHL. While his win loss record wasn't bad at 30-21-6, his GAA and save percentage failed to make the top 30 in the league. Once again his backup will be John Grahame. Johnny was signed as a free agent last year and is an expensive backup at 1.4 million per year. He's been a big disappointment and I'm willing to bet that this will be his last year as a Cane. The good news for Hurricanes fans is that Ward has been working out hard all off season and has reportedly lost 20 pounds and feels as quick as he ever has. Will that be enough to help him get back to his "Conn Smythe" form? He will need to be in top form because there is no reason to expect Grahame to improve on his 10-13-2 record from last year.

In 2006-07, the Canes blueline had a horrific season. Due to numerous injuries, the team had to carry as many as 10 defensemen on their roster throughout much of the year. It was like a revolving door back there. Frank Kaberle missed 55 games, Bret Hedican missed 32, Tim Gleason missed 25, and the list goes on. The starting 6 this year is supposed be those three along with Mike Commodore, Nic Wallin, and Glen Wesley. Wallin and Wesley missed 15 games each as well last year. The 7th defenseman as it looks right now will be Dennis Seidenberg, a youngster who was acquired from Phoenix about half way through last year. He has very limited experience as a starting NHL defenseman. The three other guys who were on the roster last year are long gone. Andrew Hutchinson was traded to NY in the Matt Cullen deal, Anton Babchuk signed in Russia for the year, and David Tanabe is a free agent who has yet to be signed by anyone. Many Caniacs are hoping that the Canes sign him for some insurance, and I can't say I blame them.

Last year, this offensively challenged group was the lowest scoring defense in the entire NHL. Hedican still is a huge question mark again this season because he's been suffering with a bad hip. He's going to try to give it a shot, but he's a hipcheck away from spending another 30 games on the DL. Kaberle has already been under the knife again this offseason. He recently had some minor knee surgery and will miss all of training camp and the preseason. Glen Wesley isn't getting any younger, (age 39), and one can't expect him to be able to make it through a whole year injury free. What does this all mean? If they don't sign anyone else, the Canes will be relying heavily on some unproven depth from the minors. Look for unknown players like Casey Borer, Noah Babin, and Brett Carson to fill in the gaps, and it wouldn't surprise me to see one of them in there for the game against the Pens. This certainly is the weakness of the team once again this year.

Now we will look at the Canes primary strength, their forwards. Team captain Rod Brind'Amour just seems to keep getting better every year. Look for him to win most of his faceoffs, he's always one of the league leaders in that department. The Canes will be very strong up the middle as Eric Staal and Matt Cullen join Brind'Amour there. This year will be a big test for Staal. Can he return to his 100 point effort from 2 years ago? Ray Whitney, Erik Cole, Justin Williams, Cory Stillman, Andrew Ladd, and Scott Walker will be joining them in the top nine. Whitney, Cole, and Williams are all 30 goal scorers. Stillman has been a consistent 80 point a year man throughout his career. (He's coming off an injury plagued season last year as well.). Ladd is a highly touted youngster who should break out this year. Walker is the team's tough guy who still chips in with 20 goals or more. I can't help but feel that as a group, those are the top 9 forwards in the league. But will they be able to put up enough points to compensate for a relatively weak defense? The 4rth line has some offensive punch as well with newly acquired Jeff Hamilton joining regulars Chad LaRose and Craig Adams.

In summary, while I am concerned about the Hurricanes defense I still believe that they have enough talent to win the Southeast Division this year. I think that they will finish the season with about 100 points. Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford likes to leave himself some salary cap room for playoff acquisitions, so I believe that if the Canes are playoff eligible, they will make a trade before the deadline to bolster their defense and that will help to make them a dangerous team come post-season. Of course, injuries are the key to everything. If the team can stay healthy, it should be an exciting year and anything can happen. If they can't, they could easily have a repeat of last year's disappointment.
...............................................
Pensblog Take



As Bob mentioned. Last year was disappointing. But you have to take in consideration that the Canes had tons of injuries.
If all goes well. The Canes could be the team no one wants to play in the playoffs.
We're going to have to say the Canes are most likely going to win the division.

A trip to Sunny Florida is next.


Mike from [ Southeast Shootout] previews the Florida Panthers for us:


Divsion: Southeast
2006-07: (35-31-16) 86 Points
Playoffs: No dice

Player to watch:

Olli Jokinen
(39G-52A-91P)




Hi, I’m Beinfest4Prez from the Panthers Daily Puck and the Southeast Shootout. In the real world, I go by Mike. However, my penname comes from my favorite baseball team, the Florida Marlins and their wise (some might say, genius...at least more than Dave Littlefield!) general manager, Larry Beinfest. I was born and raised in South Florida and have been raised on hockey since I could remember. I’ve been around just a few years more than the Panthers (4 to be exact) and they played their first home game ever on my fourth birthday. Its been a love affair ever since.

Offseason

The Florida Panthers finished with 86 points in the 2006-07, again improving the point total (albeit by one point) from the previous season to the next. However, even another December to April run by the Panthers and Eddie the Eagle was not even enough to save them from the horrors of Alex Auld and November (rumors abound that Alan Cohen and the managing board of the Panthers are petitioning Gary Bettman to remove the month of November from the NHL schedule; No word on the NHL’s response, yet). As Olli Jokinen and Co. sat down for another long off season, there was a sense in the community that perhaps, the Panthers finally had a level headed GM with a plan. There were inklings of this throughout the 2006-2007 hockey season. Limiting players like Chris Gratton’s playing time due to inability to catch up to the new NHL, bringing up David Booth, and trading away Gary Roberts for one of the Penguins own rising stars, Noah Welch.

There was a clear need for the Panthers this offseason:

  • Get a good goalie.
  • Lock-up the core players to long term deals.
  • Add speed, grittiness, and depth to the roster.
  • Draft a bluechip defense prospect, and whatever else you can get.

    As the Panthers sister team, the Anaheim Ducks, marched to Stanley Cup glory (and thereby, ensuring the Cup spends another summer in the Sun Belt!) Jacques Martin, Randy Sexton, and all the boys set out to make their mark on this long suffering fan base’s thirst for stability and the playoffs.

The Panthers had several UFAs after the season ended. Among them included Jozef Stumpel, Ed Belfour, Martin Gelinas, and Ville Peltonen. The first domino to fall on the UFA list was Panthers forward Ville Peltonen. After a slow start last season, Peltonen became one of the more solid players on the team and showed the team they had a secret weapon (well, besides Steve Montador!) in shootouts. Pelts boasted 17 goals and 20 assists along with plus 7 rating. Most of his success came later in the year as he became more comfortable in the North American style and was finally healthy of his dislocated shoulder, suffered in training camp.

Quietly for the rest of May and the start of June, the Panthers began negotiating on a long term deal for the key core players identified by Martin, Sexton, and key offseason front office signing, Joey Nieuwendyk. Defenseman Bryan Allen, who paired with Jay Bouwmeester, would at times dominate opponents for long stretches when on the ice together. It was clear after the season ended that Bryan was a key component and the only validation left to trading away Roberto Luongo. In the middle of June Bryan signed for a 5-year deal worth about 14 million. Later on the same day, the Panthers traded Chris Gratton to the Tampa Bay Lightning for several draft picks. Not much more than a week later, Nathan Horton, who had again set new career highs in all his stats (31 goals, 31 assists, +15) signed for a 6-year deal worth $24 million, proving that not all GMs in this league are just there to throw money at bodies.

June 22nd, the evening of the 2007 draft: Several rumors are flying around attaching the Panthers to trading for players such as San Jose backup goaltender, Vesa Toskala and Anaheim backup goaltender, Ilya Bryzgalov. However, using a couple of the second round draft picks gained through trades (Bertuzzi to Detroit; Gratton to Tampa) and a first rounder in 2008, the Panthers picked up Nashville star goaltender, Tomas Vokoun. When the news broke, cheering erupted at the Panthers Draft Party. With a swift stroke, Jacques Martin had righted the wrong of the evil taskmaster, Mike Keenan.

The pieces began to fall into place. Jozef Stumpel signed a two-year deal worth about $5 million dollars or so and the Panthers didn’t qualify notable players like Alex Auld and Juraj Kolnik. The Panthers signed backup goaltender Craig Anderson to a two year, $1 million deal, thus assuring that Eddie the Eagle wouldn’t soar over Miami (and the requisite night clubs) anymore. On July 1st, the Panthers struck fast and hard, signing Richard Zednik and former Panthers first round draft pick Radek Dvorak to two-year deals respectively and signed former Avalanche centerman Brett Maclean to a three year deal. All three players not only added depth to the roster but speed, grittiness, and defensive responsibility. While the Panthers didn’t end up signing players like Daniel Briere and Slava Kozlov, they did add depth and chance deals. Both Dvorak and Zednik have the talent and ability to reach 20 goals again; however, if both aren’t healthy then the team will cut their losses with only two year deals. Maclean has the ability to post 15-25 goals consistently, and look for him to improve further under Jacques Martin’s system.

The rest of the offseason moves continued to show why Jacques Martin is a very patient and level-headed GM:

  • Steve Montador, resigned to a one year deal
  • Stephen Weiss, resigned to a six-year deal worth close to $19 million
  • Signing Cory Murphy out of the Swedish Elite League to play Power Play Quarterback (next Brian Rafalski? Only time will tell.)
  • Qualifying players like Janis Sprukts who have a lot of potential but have no room for on the roster and want to play full-time in Europe
  • At the draft, the Panthers selected Keaton Ellerby first, fulfilling their blue-chip defensive prospect need. Others drafted included two possible steals in Michael Repik and Evgeni Dadonov who were both rated much higher than their draft position would indicate.

Forward Lines

    Left Wing Center Right Wing
    Peltonen Jokinen Stumpel
    Zednik Weiss Horton
    Olesz Maclean Dvorak
    TBD (likely Kamil

    Kreps)

    Campbell Booth

Defensive Pairings

Jay Bouwmeester Bryan Allen
Mike van Ryn Ruslan Salei
Noah Welch Cory Murphy
Slava Mezei Steve Montador

Outlook

Five years of improvement in the overall points total and the Panthers still haven’t made the playoffs. This is the year that South Florida has been waiting for. Eerily coinciding with the year of the rat again on the Chinese calendar, the Panthers will look to resurrect that great and memorable team this year. It began with the reunion game. And this year, without a doubt, it shall end in the playoffs. Going out on a limb, with the improvement of all the young players, the development of JayBo into a serious Norris Trophy contender, Nathan Horton and Olli Jokinen hitting the 40 goal plateau and possible 100 point plateau for Olli, and the acquisition of elite goaltender Tomas Vokoun, the Panthers will win the Southeast Division this year. It is my duty as such, since the rest of the world wide publications vastly underrate the team itself, to boldly call for the Panthers rise to their first division title in the short history of this franchise. Go Cats!


...........................................

Pensblog Take

At first glance it seems like same old Panthers.

But actually the more you look at it, the more it seems in the realm of possibilities that the Panthers could put something together.

Oli Jokinen is the real deal. But his supporting cast is mud.

If Peltonen and Horton step up, the goaltending may be solid enough for them to make a late season run.

Being that this is really our first full season to get a crack at previewing teams, we decided to contact other bloggers to have them tell the stories of their respective team's season.
We will be running a team per day, possibly two teams, possibly six, all through September.

.............................................

We start in the Southeast division.
John Fontana was kind enough to lend his words about his team the Tampa Bay Lightning.
[ Boltsmag ]

................................................

Division: Southeast
2006-07: (44-33-5) 93 points
Playoffs: 7th seed
Elimated: Owned by Devils

Leaders:

Vinny Lecavalier- Martin St. Louis- Brad Richards
(52G-56A-106P)- (43G-59A-102P)- (25G-45A-70P)



Hi everyone, John Fontana from Boltsmag.com here. Just for what it’s
worth I’m 28 and have been blogging on Boltsmag since February 2004,
making Boltsmag one of the longest running hockey blogs out there.

The Tampa Bay Lightning – a bane for the Pens last season if you recall
– have a number of questions about them that I think can be best
addressed by acknowledging my top concern down the stretch last season
and then working our way from there.

There’s a top concern in the hockey world when people look at the Bolts
and there is a top concern for me that I’ve had a few friends identify
with: The Lightning has been a one line team the past season with the
departure of Fredrik Modin (traded to Columbus before last season for
Goalie Marc Denis – more on that later) and weak play by former wing
Ruslan Fedotenko. With the top line assured to be a scoring threat with
the dynamo that was Vincent Lecavalier with Martin St. Louis on his
wing, the team became one dimensional once you took the top line off
ice. Brad Richards on the 2nd line worked with a plethora of wings and
yet didn’t quite click with any of them. And while the grit on the 3rd
and 4th lines were there, there was a desperate lack of scoring
contributions from these lines.

Lecavalier and St. Louis were a deadly force last year, make no mistake,
but the key to stopping the Lightning was to neutralize their contributions.

Flash forward to this upcoming season and there are three new forward
dynamics that will play into things: Jan Hlavac returns to the NHL
after 3 seasons of European exile, Chris Gratton was re-acquired by the
Bolts (his 3rd tenure with the team) to serve as a 3rd line center… And
much reviled former Pen (and former line-mate of Brad Richards during
Rimouski Oceanic’s memorial cup season of 2000-01) Michel Ouellet have
joined the fray. Hlavac and Ouellet are penciled in to join Richards on
the 2nd line and hopefully provide a second scoring line for the
Lightning. Gratton will serve in place of injured captain Tim Taylor as
3rd line center with Jason Ward on his wing complimented by either Ryan
Craig or Nick Tarnasky.

Now the official item that stands out to everyone else in the league is
the Lightning’s goaltending situation. Marc Denis was acquired before
2006-07 with loads of hype surrounding him. With that hype came
other-world expectations… And with that pressure came more-than-human
play between the pipes. I have to admit I liked Denis in net more than
former netminder John Grahame (who has a tendency to commit too early on
saves and otherwise play like a chicken with his head cut off). But as
I said above, Denis proved mortal in net. Johan Holmqvist played well
at times as the seldom #1 in Denis’ steed (9-1 in shootouts) but also
played like he belonged in the AHL at others (a terrible record versus
weak in-division rival Florida).

Improved play in goal will be vital this season but just as vital will
be play in front of goal by the Tampa Bay defense. Blocking shots and
crowding lanes and making it difficult for opposing defenses is just as
vital as routine playmaking by the netminders. Though the loss of Cory
Sarich on the blueline (to Calgary) may be felt, the addition of former
Bolt Brad Lukowich – who is better at blocking shots, as compared to
Sarich who was a physical force left to poke-check in the Lightning’s
defensive system – should even things out. The return of Dan Boyle,
Filip Kuba, as well as young Turks Paul Ranger and Shane O’Brien will
make up the top two pairings (most likely) in Tampa. The #6 defensive
role should be a battle between Lightning prospects (such as former
collegiate standout Matt Smaby, Andy Rogers, Vladimir Mahlik) as well as
depth additions such as Bryce Lampman (Rangers), Dan Jancevski (Stars)
and Doug Janik (TB – 6th/7th D-man last year).

All in all, the Lightning have made lateral moves in an effort to bring
back a double threat on offense while stabilizing and improving the
defense. How well that works will remain to be seen until the puck
drops on opening night… And doubts will remain in goal until Denis,
Holmqvist or Karri Ramo step up and prove themselves beyond the status
quo in net.
.....................................................
Pensblog Take



Bottom line:

The Lightning are going to go as far as the goaltending allows them.
Vinny Lecavalier is at the point in his career where he can dominated all day.
St. Louis is money, and Richards will job 30 goals.
You know they will somehow beat the Penguins.

Lightning are going to the playoffs mark it down.

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