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Quick Strikes: Lightning win over the Flyers, World Juniors continues, All-Star captains chosen

All the news in the headlines, and more!

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Edmonton Oilers Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning returned home last night to Amalie Arena, happy to be there after an extended road trip out west. The Lightning took on the Philadelphia Flyers, and the big question of the night was mostly about Tampa’s potential scratches.

The Lightning leave the holiday break with their first genuine roster question of the year. Erik Cernak’s emergence during Anton Stralman’s extended injury has made it difficult to keep the rookie out of the lineup. But that gives the Lightning seven players who deserve playing time and only six spots on the blue line.

We weren’t the only ones talking about the Lightning’s wealth of talent on the blue line.

The game last night marked another milestone for forward Nikita Kucherov, who broke yet another franchise record.

Philadelphia pushed the contest to overtime, but thankfully Alex Killorn was up to the challenge. He scored just 18 seconds into the extra frame, ending the game with a 6-5 score in favor of the Bolts. In addition to him and Kucherov, the other player of the night was the Lightning’s captain, Steven Stamkos.

Over his last 13 games, Steven Stamkos has scored 15 goals. He’s tied with Brayden Point for the team lead and has garnered a total of 22 points in that span (this includes his four-point night this evening). He broke Martin St. Louis’ record for most goals in a month and he passed Brad Richards for the third most assists in franchise history. Stamkos is still an elite player in the NHL. A slow start doesn’t change that.

Dimitri Filipovic of ESPN wrote an especially poetic ode to the Lightning in his weekly article, referring to the team as one “blessed with the most lethal offensive attack in the game.”

Any way you slice it, the Lightning have been truly unstoppable this season. At five on five, they’re in the top three in shot share, goal differential, actual goals generated and expected goals scored. On the power play, only the Winnipeg Jets create goals more efficiently on a per-minute basis, and no team has scored more total goals overall.

Lightning forward Danick Martel hasn’t seen his car since 9/22, which was the day he was claimed on waivers by the Bolts. But he has a rental in Tampa and a dream to chase, so he doesn’t mind.

He said that life is just as chaotic as it was when he learned that he was going to a new franchise. He’s still living in a hotel in Tampa, still waiting for his chance to get a permanent role on the team, although he’s compensated better for it these days.

One of the issues discussed in Alan’s preview linked in the section about last night’s game was Philadelphia’s front office and coaching changes. Those shifts have echoed down to the Flyers’ AHL club, too. Yesterday, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms announced that Kerry Huffman has been named Interim Head Coach for the remainder of the 2018-19 season. They also named Terry Murray an Assistant Coach for the remainder of the 2018-19 season.

“Kerry Huffman has the full support of the entire staff and everybody in the locker room.” said Phantoms Owner, Jim Brooks, “and Terry is a great guy and was our first coach here in Lehigh Valley. He brings a ton of experience and we feel this is an awesome opportunity for Kerry and to have Terry Murray back with us to help out and provide his coaching knowledge will be great for us.

Elsewhere in the hockey world, the World Juniors Championship marched on. Lauren continued her awesome series with a recap of day one, published yesterday morning, covering the highlights of all four games played on Wednesday.

Boxing Day has come and gone, and there were a lot of things we learned from the eight teams that played. Namely, that I should never make predictions again, because I don’t know anything. There were some surprises, some worries, and some wild things that we saw unfold on the first day of the 2019 World Junior Championships. Let’s dive into what happened yesterday.

EP Rinkside continued their own coverage of the tournament, taking on a different angle with a list of NCAA players on Team USA to watch.

Hopes of gold, and a repeat, on home soil were dashed for the United States last year. But Team USA, who has medalled in three consecutive tournaments at the IIHF World Junior Championship — including gold on Canadian soil in 2017 — will give reason for plenty of optimism in Vancouver and Victoria. And expectation.

The United States has won gold three times in the past nine years — the most of any country. They will command plenty of attention. So too will plenty of their roster.

(Yes, I edited that blurb and changed it’s paragraphing. Don’t judge me.)

EP Rinkside also discussed team Finland’s struggles on North American ice.

This year, it’s a reasonable bet to assume that Finland’s medal-less stretch will continue. This isn’t necessarily a shot at their roster. It comes mostly from the trend of Finland struggling on North American ice over the past decade.

Both of their gold medals wins came in Europe, while most of their worst performances have come on the smaller ice surface. In 2009 and 2017 they ended up in the relegation round, in 2010 and 2011 they played in the placement round, and in 2015 and 2018 they lost in the quarterfinal. Their best finish in the past decade in North America came in 2012 when they lost in the bronze medal game in Alberta.

Lightning prospects and Syracuse Crunch players Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk have a friendship that’s been well document. The AHL, through Crunch broadcaster Lukas Favale, sat down with them to discuss the history that they share.

The Crunch are still battling injuries, and head coach Ben Groulx gave an update in Kevin Lynch, Mitchell Stephens, and Brady Brassart. Basically, they’re starting to skate, and they are on schedule. Lynch could return in as soon as 10-14 days.

Did someone say prospect(s)? Check out what Lightning prospect Jonne Tammela did with the Orlando Solar Bears last night.

Here’s the always nifty winfographic for the Crunch’s win Wednesday night over Binghamton:

Yesterday, the NHL announced that Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (Atlantic), Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (Central), Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (Metropolitan) and Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (Pacific) have earned the captaincies and first roster spots for the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend. The positions were voted on by the fans.

From Dec. 1-23, fans worldwide were able to cast their votes at NHL.com/Vote and via the NHL App. Fans were permitted to select as few as one player and a maximum of four players per ballot, without regard to position. The maximum number of ballots cast per day for each user was 10.

The vote was particularly profitable for Matthews.

Tom Hunter over at Mile High Hockey covered MacKinnon’s capturing of the vote, while Pension Plan Puppets chimed in over Matthews’ accomplishment. Jaspers’ Rink covered Ovechkin’s nod, and I’m sure Copper and Blue will put something up once they wake up (#EastCoastBias - I wrote this around 2:00 EST)

Speaking of Ovi...

New York Ranger defender Neal Pionk is certainly not experiencing a sophomore slump. The second-year pro has 19 points in 33 games.

Over the last two seasons, Pionk is second only to Brady Skjei in points among Rangers’ defensemen. He trails Skjei by just three points despite playing in 53 fewer games. In his first 61 games in the NHL, Pionk has picked up 33 points. To put that into perspective: the two highest-scoring seasons for Rangers’ rookie defensemen since the 1994 Stanley Cup are Skjei with 39 points in 80 GP in 2016-17 and Michael Del Zotto with 37 points in 80 GP in 2009-10.

Kim Boutin has been named The Athletic Canada’s Person of the Year (pay-walled).

Are you thirty years or older? Do you remember playing with the original Nintendo Entertainment System? Did you have Blades of Steel? Here’s a fun article about that classic video game.

Created by video game company Konami, Blades of Steel was originally a coin-operated arcade game released in 1987. It was ported to the NES in 1988, various home computers in 1990 and the Game Boy in 1991. But 30 years later, it is the Nintendo version that is best-remembered. Blades of Steel came out in a simpler time. It was just realistic enough to be cool, but easy enough that anyone could learn to play it in five minutes.

Finally, in this unlocked article from The Athletic from a few days ago, former Sports Illustrated senior writer Austin Murphy discusses what it’s been like going from writing for SI to delivering packages for Amazon.

As Amazon reaches maximum ubiquity in our lives (“Alexa, play Led Zeppelin”), as online shopping turns malls into mausoleums, it’s been illuminating to see exactly how a package makes the final leg of its journey.