Some fans call him the Hot Pocket and others call him the Dump Truck. The most pressing nickname of the moment for the Lightning's Cedric Paquette has been "Missing in Action" though. Paquette was knocked out of the lineup during a preseason game against the Dallas Stars in late September and has not played in a game - preseason or regular -- since. Head coach Jon Cooper had projected Paquette to return to the lineup during the Bolts recent road trip and with the back-to-back affair in Boston and Detroit, there was an opportune time for Paquette to step into the lineup. That didn't happen though, the bottom-6 forward stayed out of action.
Paquette participated in the morning skate today, spending time on the fourth line with Brian Boyle and Vladislav Namestnikov. From the assessment made by Tampa Bay Times beat writer Joe Smith, Paquette will make his season debut tonight in the place of J.T. Brown. Seeing it's the team who he suffered his leg injury against, an opportunity to resume action where he left off seems fitting.
The insertion of Paquette seems to be the only large-scale shift in the Lightning lineup this evening. Andrej Sustr may return to action on defense (he skipped the loss to the Red Wings, replaced in the lineup by Nikita Nesterov) but seeing he's been playing most every game this season it's not really a change.
Fans and third-parties might look at this game and give it a collective shrug - early season and cross conference play (the first Western Conference opponent for the Lightning this season), it won't have direct effect on Tampa Bay or Dallas in the standings though a win is a win and of course those bear weight. For the players involved, though? There's a bit of weight being added to things:
Cooper said Stars might have most dynamic top 2 lines. Bishop: "You almost have to treat it like a playoff game, worry about our net first."— Joe Smith (@TBTimes_JSmith) October 15, 2015
While the Detroit Red Wings top line of Dylan Larkin, Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader are firing on all cylinders so far this season, the Stars line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Patrick Sharp comes off more weighty on paper (if not statistically at the moment), while the club's second line of Antoine Roussel, Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky have 10 points between them (4 goals, 6 assists).
Oh, and beware the offensive gusto from the crease as well: Antti Niemi is tied for fifth on the Stars in scoring with 2 points (2 assists) in 2 starts.