Will Ben Bishop once again be the workhorse goaltender, or will there be a sounder tandem that relieves him of pressure?
Going into the month of September, it was thought that the reliance of the Lightning and pressure put on #1 goalie Ben Bishop (who appeared in 62 regular-season games, posting a 40-13-5 record with a 2.32 GAA and a .916 save percentage) would be reduced by way of Andrei Vasilevskiy being his backup and taking a solid share of starts. The 21 year-old Russian netminder and 2012 1st round draft pick is thought to be the goalie of the future for Tampa Bay and a transition process would likely play out over time from Bishop to Vasya.
This was sidetracked when it was revealed that Vasilevskiy had vascular surgery to deal with a blood clot in his shoulder and will be out for 2 to 3 months. This temporary complication takes on a greater weight with a prospect camp injury to #3 organizational goalie Kristers Gudlevskis. The club had given Ray Emery a pro tryout to win a roster spot, that tryout ended on Sunday when the Lightning cut him. They also claimed goalie Kevin Poulin from the New York Islanders. Gudlevskis and Poulin are both competing for that backup role at the moment.
As it stands, it looks like Bishop is due to remain the workhorse for at least the start of the season (through November). He's repeated several times in camp that his torn groin (suffered in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final) is healed and he's ready to do the job required of him.
There is a chance that, if the opportunity presents itself, Tampa Bay might obtain a more versed goaltender to share duties with Bishop. For the time being, the spotlight shines on Gudlevskis and Poulin to step up and earn a roster spot... which may or may not lead to a steady share of starts.
Will the power play shine for the Bolts or will another middling effort be the result?
Former coaching assistant George Gwozdecky was hired to both help young players transition o the NHL game and coach the power play, the players seem to have adapted just fine while two seasons of the power play overseen by Gwozdecky never broke the 19% conversion rate threshold for the season (finishing 13th in the NHL in 2013-14 with a 18.5% rate and 15th in the NHL last season with an 18.8% conversion rate). Gwozdecky is now out, having parted ways with the club in the summer, and head coach Jon Cooper is now in charge of the power play unit.
The talent is there for an effective power play unit, but adapting to the man-advantage and knowing how to work around penalty kill units is likely to be a process under the new coaching style. The team also needs to be willing to take more chances - we're not talking something excessively bold but the necessary risk of shooting - to improve conversion rates. The players had too often gotten into a positioning and over-passing medley during the power play that seemed keener on retaining possession of the puck than losing it on a shot.
Will Andrej Sustr step up on defense or will the club finally give up on him?
Signed as a college free agent in the spring of 2013, the 6' 8", 24 year-old defenseman has been given plenty of opportunities with the Bolts in his two full seasons of professional hockey. He'd only played sparingly at the AHL level (20 games total between his signing in March 2013 and the 2013-14 season) and played 72 games last season with the Lightning where he was a plus-10 and averaged 17:42 in ice time.
He just didn't make fans very comfortable out there. He may have been paired with Anton Stralman when Victor Hedman was out of the lineup, but he also came off like a deer in the headlights in some situations.
With the likes of Slater Koekkoek and Nikita Nesterov pressing for more NHL ice time this season, pressure builds for Sustr to perform or he'll find himself to be a 7th defenseman on the club - carried for security and the occasional 11 forward, 7 defenseman roster split for games. If his game remains where it is, he might turn into a more valuable trade asset than an asset of the nightly lineup.