Fnding center; Tampa Bay Lightning at San Jose Sharks preview

USA TODAY Sports

The first of back-to-back contests to close out the west coast trip, Tampa Bay seeks to get back on track and get itself in order against the San Jose Sharks... But can that happen while players remain out while recovering from injuries?

Where: SAP Center, San Jose, California
When: 10:30 PM EST | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio)
Opponent CoverageFear The Fin, Sharkspage, Battle of California

Things are getting close to returning to a degree of normalcy on the Tampa Bay Lightning roster, though they won't truly be "normal" for quite some time (with thanks to certain incidents that transpired more than a week ago).  Sami Salo has returned to the lineup, Mark Barberio is back at Jon Cooper's disposal, Dmitry Korobov (after making his NYHL debut Tuesday in the City of Angels) has been optioned back to the Syracuse Crunch (which may or may not translate into a return of Keith Aulie).  All of this and Tom Pyatt is nearing his target date to return after breaking his collar bone earlier this season.

This is all great news except for that one crucial cog that's escaping my memory right now.  Somebody isn't here...  Oh, yeah... Steven Stamkos.

No one who could have been called up from Syracuse in the wake of Stamkos' injury could have been expected to fill the void left by #91.  There is one Steven Stamkos in Tampa Bay and one Steven Stamkos alone.  Expecting (pro rookie) Nikita Kucherov to step in to fill the void is fallacy; thinking the Bolts would call up Vladislav Namestnikov was a reach (at least in the immediate aftermath of the Stamkos injury).

But having a center step into the lineup and contribute is a necessity, and if he's getting the opportunity to play next to Martin St. Louis and with Alex Killorn, that further propels the expectations.

Brett Connolly isn't doing that.  It's a real small sample size but in four games post-Stamkos, he has five shots on goal, zero points.  His ice time varies between 12 to 14 minutes a night. While he's proving to be okay in the faceoff circle (23 wins and 26 losses in 49 total draws) he's not doing one key thing that is required of him: getting on that score sheet.

Maybe it's the out-of-position aspect?  I can totally understand that if it's the truth (more responsibilities playing center).  Whatever the case, it's an awkward moment for Brett and the team.

I'm not panicking over this as so much waiting (as you should too).  The lineup should change on the return of Tom Pyatt (who also can play center), but it's dependent on Jon Cooper being willing to sacrifice chemistry on the lower lines to re-invigorate the offense. Chemistry will also be a requirement (which means playing around with the lineup), but basically what could work would be shifting Valtteri Filppula to the top line, Tyler Johnson to the second line, Pyatt becomes inserted on the third line, and the fourth stays the same.  Pyatt's experienced on that third line and playing center (if he isn't experienced as-so-much with Ondrej Palat and Richard Panik on his wings).

I'm not Jon Cooper, though.  I'm also not Steve Yzerman, but it's an internal option to rectify things without further interrupting the Syracuse Crunch season.

At any rate, we once again forge ahead into the night as the Bolts partake in The HockeyTM on the west coast as they visit San Jose to take on the ever-so-formidable-in-the-regular-season San Jose Sharks.  Last time these two teams met at the HP Pavilion SAP Center (another perfect arena name down the toilet, sigh) was just before Christmas in 2011. It was a major game for the Bolts as it marked the return of the dynamo-that-makes-the-Lightning-go Martin St. Louis after taking a puck to the eye at practice two weeks earlier.

It didn't help; the Bolts were drubbed by the Sharks.  With how the Bolts have played in the first two games of this trip, that final score is worth noting and fearing.  San Jose is once again a formidable force in the west.  They stand at 13-3-5 in the Pacific Division with 31 points.  First year NHL'er Tomas Hertl (he who inspired Joe Thornton's wang-tastic celebration) leads the team with 12 goals on the season; Patrick Marleau has 10 to his name while Thornton leads the team with 22 points (2 goals, 22 assists).  All this achieved in a neat 21 games this season.

Those guys and a very potent roster will undoubtedly bring the heat, and it'll be Anders Lindback in net against them tonight (with Ben Bishop likely starting tomorrow in Anaheim).

Another note:  Andrej Sustr is out tonight on defense.  That'll probably lead to either an 11/7 roster tomorrow for the Lightning or simply a switch between him and Mark Barberio.

Other Game Coverage:

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