There have been many questions floating around about NHL teams in general going into training camp. Some teams defy prediction, and others are extremely predictable. The Tampa Bay Lightning right now probably fall more to the "predictable" side of things. Last season gave them a taste of success through adversity, and there's probably no reason to change a game plan that helped them get to playoffs despite devastating injuries to key players. If everyone stays healthy, then there's no real reason to change things drastically.
Many of the younger players now have a full NHL season under their belts going into the season opener next week. They're a bit older, a bit wiser, and a bit better prepared. So if they can avoid any sophomore slumps, then they help make the Lightning a team to reckon with.
However, there are still some unanswered questions floating around....
Will last season injuries affect players early on this season?
So far this preseason, the answer seems to be no. But three or four games doesn't really prove much. After 15 games or so, that ought to be the real test. Early indications appear that last season injuries to Ben Bishop and Steven Stamkos aren't going to be an issue, however.
Can goaltender Ben Bishop recreate his performance from last season?
This may be the biggest question facing the Lightning at the moment. Bishop had an unreal season last year, in terms of his numbers. And he did that while playing with an injured wrist as well. In theory, it seems that a player ought to do better when healthy, so he should not only match those numbers but better them if he stays healthy. But it's a peculiarity of human nature to be more focused when you're injured to try to get through a game than when you're healthy. So only time will tell with this.
Will goaltending prospect Andrei Vasilevskiy be as good as advertised?
Again, early indications lean towards yes. But the NHL game is much different from the KHL game. If, for no other reason, the size of the ice rink. I will defer to Clare Austin's expertise in all things goaltending, but the coaches have been very impressed thus far, at least.
Was the problem with the defense last season really injuries or a result of how the team plays?
Having watched Jon Cooper teams play for the past four years now, this is a tricky question to answer.
While he's always stressed defense at all times, his teams have had a run-and-gun style about them that isn't inherently defensive. The defensive responsibilities for the team overall seem to fall on the individual's ability, rather than something built into the system. It's always seemed to boil down to you can try to score all you want, but if there's a defensive breakdown somewhere, then that's the player's fault.
Basically, his game theory has always appeared to be that the best defense is having a great offense. So the short answer is no, the defensive problems from last season weren't due to injuries. Injuries just exposed the fact that the defense in place was young and untried, so they weren't able to recover from their mistakes fast enough.
Can the Lightning stay out of penalty trouble?
Judging from how this preseason has gone so far, I'd so no. No, they won't. I hope they have plenty of cookies for them in the penalty box - and that their special teams rock - because Lightning players will probably be spending some more quality time there yet again this season. It's not that they're a team that lacks discipline so much as they're a team who makes mistakes and can't recover from them, so they take penalties instead.
Can Jon Cooper really get this team to the Eastern Conference Final, as predicted by so many preseason previews?
If they don't, then it's because of extenuating circumstances. They're not exactly a shoe-in, but anything less than the Eastern Conference Final isn't them playing to their full potential. Whether they win and go on to the Stanley Cup Final or not is another story entirely, but in a weak Eastern Conference, they ought to at least be one of the last two teams playing.