Five points separate first and last place in the Southeast Division. Two points, a single win, is the difference between second place and fourth in the division. It's early. The Bolts and tonight's opponent, the Carolina Hurricanes, are only playing their 12th game of the season tonight (and the Washington Capitals, the division leader, not yet playing their 10th game).
If the standings at current are an indication of the balance of the division for the remainder of the season, then it's going to be an all-out war between Southeast Division teams as the season moves forward
Mattias Ritola is back in the lineup tonight for the Lightning. He's been forced to sit while Tom Pyatt, Blair Jones, and Ryan Shannon have all seen playing time. It's part of the burden of the Bolts carrying 14 forwards - guys who contribute end up sitting.
To that end, despite the fact he has yet to score his first career NHL goal, Brett Connolly has not been asked to watch any games from the press box yet. Goal scoring is not the only contribution that is expected of players, and Connolly is doing all of the right things in the early going. He's just not marking the scoresheet so often. His efforts on the line with Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier are part of what's enabled Vinny's resurgence this season (which was the features in both the Times and Tribune today).
Speaking of players in and out of the lineup, Marty St. Louis and Ryan Maloen were both kept out of practice yesterday. St. Louis had a "body maintenance" day, while Malone does have an undisclosed upper obdy injury. Ryan skated this morning in Raleigh and is expected in the lineup tonight against the Canes.