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Tampa Bay Lightning at Detroit Red Wings preview: Last night at the Joe

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A short postmortem on two very similar seasons.

Hockey: World Cup of Hockey-Pre Tournament-Team Europe vs Team North America Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay Lightning at Detroit Red Wings: GAME 74

Time: 7:30 PM Eastern Time

Location: Joe Louis Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: FS-D, SUN

Opponent SBNation Site: Winging it in Motown

Preview:

The season is winding down, and in an effort to keep the preview from being nothing but stress and gloom and doom, I thought I’d interview the crew about where we stand. KyleWIIM was good enough to field questions for the Red Wings, and Geo, Waffleboardsave, John, and Matt answered for the Bolts.

Feel free to answer these questions yourselves, I’ll post them below at the top of the comments!

RC: If you were GM for a day, what would you do to the Red Wings?

Kyle: For now, there's not much that can be done. It's all about waiting it out. I'm not going to tell my team to walk out there and tank for the best draft pick. Just stay the course, and stick to playing your best. I'll worry about moves and trades in the offseason.

RC: If Blashill absolutely had to do one thing that you told him to do, what would it be?

Kyle: Keep young players in the lineup.

RC: What are your dream line combinations, if you could pick from the NHL, AHL, and other prospects in the Red Wings system?

Kyle:

Tatar - Zetterberg - Mantha
Athanasiou - Nielsen - Nyquist
Svechnikov - Larkin - G. Smith
Abdelkader - Nosek - Bertuzzi

Ouellet - Green
Hicketts - Saarijarvi
DeKeyser - Hronek

Mrazek / Howard (whichever one sucks less at the time)

RC: Why do the above combinations work for you?

Kyle: Combination of veteran talent and young talent.

RC: What line matching would work best against TBL, and does Blashill do this enough?

Kyle: First lines need to go head to head, then mix up match-ups to optimize the lineup among bottom-nine. I don't think Blashill does a bad job with match-ups, but he doesn't have a lot of star power to work with.

RC: Has there been a season that you've hated as much as this one?

Kyle: No, absolutely not. I hate this season and I'll probably hate the next several seasons.

Raw Charge Staff answered these questions too.

RC: If you were GM for a day, what would you do to the Tampa Bay Lightning?

Geo: This one is a bit of a trick question, because the obvious answer is to call-up Slater Koekkoek and force Jon Cooper to play him. Unfortunately at this point in the season, that's just not possible any more with the recall rules. But since we're saying "today," I'd make a deal with Vegas to send them a 2nd round pick to take Jason Garrison in the expansion draft.

Matt: GM for a day? Honestly I'd spend my entire day delving into the day to day workings of what Steve Yzerman does. There isn't anything major I'd do to the Lightning at this point in time (primarily because nothing can really be done at the moment). So I'd want to know how everything works in the organizational hierarchy.

RC: If Jon Cooper absolutely had to do one thing that you told him to do, what would it be?

Waffle: Stop lawyering at us!

Matt: Stop putting Drouin on the third line.

Geo: Give young players a longer leash. He has a habit of punishing, and punishing fairly harshly, young players that don't play the game perfectly. I don't think it's the best teaching method and would prefer to see him take the attitude that Torts has taken with the Blue Jackets this year. Let them play, take their mistakes as teaching moments and use positive reinforcement instead of putting the fear of god in them that they'll be stapled to the bench if they make even a small mistake on the ice.

RC: What are your dream line combinations, if you could pick from the NHL, AHL, and other prospects in the Lightning system?

Matt:

Namestnikov - Stamkos - Kucherov
Palat - Point - Drouin
Killorn - Cirelli - Erne
Dumont - Paquette - Brown

Geo:

Ondrej Palat-Steven Stamkos-Jonathan Drouin
Adam Erne-Tyler Johnson-Nikita Kucherov
Matthew Peca-Vladislav Namestnikov-Brayden Point
Gabriel Dumont-Cedric Paquette-Michael Bournival

RC: Why do the above combinations work for you?

Matt: Top six is built on lines that have chemistry while the third line embodies the "gritty scoring line". The 4th line remains the "little engine that could" and just forechecks and provides energy for the team.

Geo: It's tempting to put Kucherov up there with Palat and Stamkos, but he can drive a line all by himself. Drouin can be a MSL-esque playmaker and goal scorer that could push Stamkos to 100 points again. Palat is the kind of two-way player that does all of the small things right on both sides of the puck, and that can help cover up any defensive mistakes by Stamkos and Drouin and push the play back up the ice. He's an underrated player around the league and if he was a center, he would 100% win a Selke by the end of his career. Instead, he'll be relegated to getting a handful of votes and never be a finalist.

Erne is a guy that I'm projecting into the future a little bit, but he's got power-forward skill and the speed to keep up with Johnson and Kucherov and could be a potent first line and here they end up as the second line.

The third line is another one where I'm projecting. It gives you three speedy centers making up a line. All three can shoot and pass and play with a ton of speed.

That fourth line was together for a while in January. They were a high energy group that would go up and down the ice screaming in French at each other and anyone else on the ice that could hear them. They have speed, they have energy, they have hitting and forechecking. The only thing missing is the ability to hit the broadside of a barn. If they're going to score, it's because they're greasy goals. But they're the kind of group that you could send up against a top line and not feel like they're going to get pummeled.

RC: What line matching would work best against the Red Wings, and does Cooper do this enough?

Matt: Cooper has never really had a major issue matching up against the Wings line wise. So whatever Cooper goes with normally works against Detroit.

Geo: Right now, the Lightning are running so many AHL-caliber players that it's hard to be confident in matching up lines. Cooper does have a tendency to put his top line up against opposing top lines and has mostly had success doing that in this recent stretch. When Kucherov, Point, and Palat have been together, they can hang with almost any line in the league.

RC: Has there been a season that you've hated as much as this one?

Matt: 2008 was a crap season. Yeah we got Stamkos for it, but being dead last and absolutely being a mockery of an organization really turned me off the team for a few years. It's one thing to be bad, it's another to be bad and be looked at like an incompetent joke of an organization.

Waffle: The year they missed the playoffs/Boucher got fired. not sure which was worse. Back then there was so much HOPE. But this year it was about expectations.

Geo: I don't think so, but 2013-14 comes close. That was another year where the team dealt with some untimely injuries. Much like this year, Stamkos was playing lights out hockey to start the year and then missed a significant chunk of the year with an injury. Ben Bishop also went down right at the end of the season and without a solid back-up and with a slow and aging blue line, the Lightning didn't have much hope of moving past Montreal in the playoffs. But that season did serve as a springboard to making it to the Finals the next year.

John: Wait, wait, wait...what is this thing about abhorring the 2016-17 season so much? We had a local columnist who called it the most disappointing in Tampa Bay sports history… Think about that for a second, with all the chronic disappointment that’s stood out in the NFL and the er(a)ror of OK Hockey Group LTD (also known as OK [Not Really] Hockey)…

Are fans really supposed to label this such a horrible, horrible season that it is at the top of the pops in the puke department? It’s a letdown, yeah. It’s nothing in the follies-of-the-sport department compared to 2008-09 when OK Hockey Group took over the Bolts.

Oh, that actually started in 2007-08, which was affected by Palace Sports and Entertainment selling the Lightning franchise before William Davidson’s death. Assets mostly froze and that stunted the team up until the sale was nearly complete, then trading a marquee asset like Brad Richards was given the green light by incoming owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie.

While John Tortorella lost his job in the summer of 2008, it wasn’t due to sound hockey reasoning so much as an impulse by Koules and Barrie. The Lightning had been competitive under Torts up until that season of sale in ’07-08. He wasn’t someone to blame, and his firing wasn’t a true hockey move. Koules hired Barry Melrose to take over. That move alone gave you an idea of where the Lightning was going to go. Melrose, returning to an NHL coaching role after 13 years away, coached all of 16 games that season before being canned (5-7-4).

His replacement, Rick Tocchet, conflicted with the corps of players at his disposal such Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Vaclav Prospal. To cut to the chase, the Bolts finished the season 24-40-18, getting 66 points (five less than the previous season). While there was a glimmer of hope from rookies Steven Stamkos and Steve Downie, the general picture of the franchise became a bloody mess.

It’s stuff like that – the season after a disappointment being worse – that tops the disappointment sector. To be competitive and go far consistently is a major challenge and sports fans know that (or should know that damned well). The pomp, the pre-season hype, it’s just that – hype – and actually playing the games and going through the trials of injuries and mistakes and the competitive changes by opponents… that’s what makes a season.

Comparison chart:

Lines updated from Lightning game notes press release.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Vladislav Namestnikov - Jonathan Drouin

JT Brown - Gabriel Dumont - Luke Witkowski

Adam Erne - Yanni Gourde - Joel Vermin

Defense

Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin

Slater Koekkoek - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Peter Budaj

Detroit Red Wings

Forward Lines

Tomas Tatar - Henrik Zetterberg - Gustav Nyquist

Anthony Mantha - Frans Nielsen - Riley Sheahan

Andreas Athanasiou - Dylan Larkin - Justin Abdelkader

Luke Glendening - Tomas Nosek - Drew Miller

Defense

Dan DeKeyser - Nick Jensen

Niklas Kronwall - Mike Green

Xavier Ouellet - Robbie Russo

Goaltenders

Petr Mrazek

Jimmy Howard