With five games to go in the Tampa Bay Lightning season, the Bolts open up their final homestand of 2011-12 with games against Winnipeg's former-Thrashers franchise tonight and the Washington Capitals on Monday. These are fan appreciation days at Times Palace, with an assortment of promotions.
But while the end is nigh for the Lightning season, tonight also marks a beginning. Collegiate standout J.T. Brown is scheduled to make his NHL debut in tonight's contest against Winnipeg.
But who is J.T. Brown? We told you that he's put up some nice numbers in his time with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, but that only tells you the numbers. What can you expect from the 21-year-old forward? What does he bring? Who does he compare to?
Well, for those who are skeptical about Brown and his game, what if I invoked the name Steve Downie in comparison? Does that pique your interest and make you more curious about J.T. and what he does out on ice? Bruce Ciskie, who followed Brown's career as a UM-D Bulldog, did a write-up regarding Brown and his signing in TB:
A player of Brown's caliber doesn't come around very often, especially undrafted. He has game-breaking speed, tenacity, edge, and serious goal-scoring ability. Are there holes in his game? Sure. No one is perfect, and Brown has yet to truly harness all of his talents on a consistent basis.
Someone who has Brown's speed and skill set was bound to be coveted by teams at the next level. The only question about his transition to the NHL, in my view, will be his ability to keep an edge to his game while gaining better control of his emotions. I think he did a better job this year than last in terms of avoiding unnecessary penalties, but he still took a few (he actually had more penalty minutes as a sophomore than as a freshman). There is a fine line where making adjustments to one's truculence level negatively affects the overall package. The Lightning need to find a way to keep Brown from taking unnecessary penalties without taking all the emotion out of his game.
The reason for this is simple. JT Brown doesn't help the Tampa Bay Lightning one iota if he's sitting in the penalty box.
I see Downie in this - without the baggage and reputation. But that's just me.
Brown will be wearing #49, and is expected to play all five of the remaining games for the Bolts.
Winnipeg has playoff aspirations still. No, seriously, they still have a chance; a very miniscule chance at that, but a chance. They're 6 points out of playoff contention right now, with five games of their own left to be played. They need to win all five to have any kind of chance what-so-ever to make the playoffs for the second time in franchise history.
Yeah, the franchise history didn't start this season. It just continued in a new city. Note that, Canadian media.
For the Lightning, the good news is that Nate Thompson will be making his return to the Lightning lineup - or at least that's the plan. The Alaskan Assassin wants to finish the season playing, not on the bench healing. Reading into that, you might conclude that Nate is not at 100%, but it remains to be seen.
Sebastien Caron will get the start tonight in what could be the last game for the "Bolts" alternate jerseys (more on that in a moment). Caron played 14 minutes in Thursday's loss to the New Jersey Devils, turning away all four shots he faced. He'll get one more start this season - likely one of the back-to-back games against the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday and Thursday (respectively).
Today being the final Saturday home game of the season, the Lightning will be wearing the "Bolts" blue Alternate jerseys like usual. But is this the last time these sweaters are worn? Tampa Bay, as you know, changed their primary home and road jerseys (as well as the team logo), but one thing that they didn't do was alter the alternate jersey set up to coincide the new logo for the team. Evidence of that are the shoulder patches on these jerseys - using the 2007-2011 team logo.
It's up for discussion if the Lightning make modifications to their third jersey (and if they'll be minor altercations or an all-out revamp), but next season is the 20th anniversary season for the Lightning. That's reason enough to think that a 3rd jersey change may be looming.