It's spring like weather in the Tampa Bay area, but one aspect of the winter has found its way to the Tampa Bay locker room and gone viral... Well, it is viral to begin with.
Reports this morning from the local beat writers say forwards Nate Thompson, Teddy Purcell and Brendan Mikkelson have all been felled by a flu bug, and their status for tonight is questionable. Newly acquired defenseman Keith Aulie is also out as the team needs to iron out a work Visa for the former Maple Leaf.
What does that mean for the Lightning? Once again, the team's lineup is shuffled, with Trevor Smith, Mike Angelidis and Evan Oberg being recalled from Norfolk - where they were sent back to just yesterday. Forward Pierre Cedric Labrie will also be joining them in Tampa. This is in addition to forward Brandon Segal (recalled from Norfolk yesterday), defenseman Mike Commodore (acquired from the Detroit Red Wings), and Brian Lee (acquired from Ottawa yesterday in the Matt Gilroy trade) and you have a grand carousel of a lineup that's set to take on Les Habitants de Montreal.
And, trust me; the Canadiens want to take advantage of the situation. It'd help them climb out of the Eastern Conference cellar.
Yes, things are grim in Montreal this season, or even dysfunctional: Coach Firings, player dismissals, Ken Campbell's disrespectful and ignorant musings (wait, that's normal, never mind), Scott Gomez and his goal scoring drought (which came to an end recently), and their current four game losing streak. The Habs are taking their turn at the bottom of the Easter Conference standings.
But will they stay there? The Lightning are all of four points in front of Montreal, having played one less game than the Canadiens this season as well as playing in the weaker Southeast Division as to Montreal's hard-knocks Northeast division. I don't think these teams will flip-flop in the conference standings, but the muck at the bottom of the Conference is so thick that it could easily happen. Or not.
At any rate, while the Lightning adjusts to a new lineup, while new players adjust to new surroundings, there is one absolute that remains for the Bolts to rally around: #91 and his offensive might. Stamkos continues to lead the league in goals (43) and is 2nd in the NHL in points (75). Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin was enabled by the Lightning this past weekend, in that grand drubbing at CONSOL Energy Center, to catch up to Stamkos in the goal scoring race (he now has 37) and take back the lead in the points race.
Of course, this is a team sport, and one player and his statistical quests don't trump the entire roster... That being said, for a team that is out of contention*, it's a rallying point for the squad. It's a goal to reach - to help Steven Stamkos get to the mountain that is the Rocket Richard trophy and - perhaps - the Art Ross trophy as well.
For those wondering, Commodore will wear #23, Brian Lee will dawn the #15, and Keith Aulie will wear #3 when he joins the team.
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