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Quick Strikes: Lightning, Crunch look to avoid the mid-winter scaries

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Just like the Monday Scaries, the mid-winter scaries are a thing. Really.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at San Jose Sharks John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Both the NHL and the AHL are approaching the middle of the season, a period that happens to fall at just about mid-winter. Both the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Syracuse Crunch are doing well - the Lightning still leads the league, while the Crunch is holding onto second in the North Division by a point - but both teams also know they still aren’t quite where they need to be in order to avoid the mid-winter scaries.

Overall, the Lightning is certainly still trending in the right direction.

I didn’t come up with this whole scaries concept on my own. Yesterday, Alan broke down what went wrong for the Lightning right around this time last year, and asked some important questions about this season’s team.

For anyone involved with the team, this is an exciting time. But this isn’t the first time the team has looked this good through the halfway point. They did almost the same thing last year. But things changed in the second half of the season.

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The Lightning have already shown they can be a great team. Just like last season. The question is whether they can sustain this level of play. The post season is a crapshoot. Being the best team in a seven game series doesn’t guarantee anything. But if the Lightning can avoid the sludgy play from this time last season, they’ll put themselves in the best position possible come the playoffs.

Scoring is just about the most sure-fire way to beat those scaries back, right, Nikita Kucherov?

Victor Hedman has his family to help him with those scaries.

It’s easy to see how Victor Hedman remains humble, salt of the Earth, despite his fame as a NHL superstar.

”I’m proud of course, but he’s still our little Victor, the little brother,” Olle says.

J.T. Miller is hoping he’ll be back on the ice for the Lightning soon, assisting in the battle to stay on track.

Of course, having a little fun is always a good way to chase those scaries away. Don’t believe me? Just ask Yanni Gourde and Louis Domingue.

Speaking of fun - Join Anton Stralman tomorrow night at American Social Tampa.

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Cameron Gaunce of the Syracuse Crunch is a steady presence on the ice for the AHL team, and he’s one of the vets that will be essential to Syracuse as they look towards the spring.

Also integral to the Crunch’s effort to keep the scaries at bay is forward Carter Verhaeghe, who has seen a resurgence in his career since joining Syracuse and the Lightning organization.

Two off-seasons ago, Tampa Bay decided to ship Crunch goalie Kristers Gudlevskis to Bridgeport in exchange for Verhaeghe. While Verhaeghe’s style wasn’t necessarily a match for the more gritty approach of the Islanders, it was a perfect fit with the free-wheeling Lightning. He made his debut with 17 goals and 31 helpers in 58 games for Syracuse last season.

Putting out a consistent effort is Crunch head coach Ben Groulx’s recipe for keeping those scaries away. Let’s be honest - he probably knows a thing a two, seeing as he’s heading to the AHL All-Star game at the end of the month for the second time in three seasons.

Syracuse captain Gabriel Dumont clearly agrees with his coach. Bein’ average ain’t no way to chase a scary or two away.

You could always gamble your scaries away with the Crunch. Their annual poker tournament is coming up.

You could also watch some reality TV. Connor Ingram seems to be enjoying this strategy. I think.

Being giving can be a great distraction from any impending scaries, and the Crunch has just the ticket. The organization is offering complimentary tickets to furloughed federal workers for their Friday, Jan. 11th home game. That contest is against the Cleveland Monsters, and it won’t feature forward Kole Sherwood, as he has been suspended by the league.

The Orlando Solar Bears had a tough post-holiday spread, going 1-2 in the last week. They, too, will be looking to fight off the middle of the season scaries while also battling the roster changes and transitions that come naturally with an ECHL team. The latest movement for Orlando to juggle was defenseman Oleg Sosunov being recalled to Syracuse.

But forget about that - those local to the area can also join the Solar Bears for some fun.

Other NHL teams are looking to avoid the mid-winter scaries, too. But sometimes, doing that involves looking towards next season instead of worrying about the current ones. For the New York Rangers, could that plan involve moving Mats Zuccarello?

Suddenly, the Rangers don’t have close to enough to even compete. They have lost three straight while being outscored by an ungodly 18-3, the most brutal hat trick of consecutive losses since the three in Alain Vigneault’s third, fourth and fifth games behind the New York bench in San Jose, Anaheim and St. Louis in which the aggregate score against was 20-5. Their fight seems to have vanished into the winter night with Santa Claus’ sled.

A great way to at least feel good about your team win or lose is by supporting their You Can Play nights. Philadelphia Flyers fans can do that in February.

It’d be easy for his roller-coaster week to let get him down, but new Flyers goalie Mike McKenna isn’t about to let a few bumps in the road rain on his parade.

Saturday afternoon McKenna was already in orange and black after Flyers equipment manager Derek Settlemyre wrapped his leg pads, glove and blocker with an adhesive of the new team colors.

“(Settlemyre) is a wizard with this stuff,” McKenna said. “It looks pretty mean. It kind of reminds me of Walt in “Slap Shot.” What can you do but laugh, really? I mean, it looks awesome and I’m really happy about it, but it’s pretty funny. I basically have a roll of tape on my head here. It doesn’t change how I play though. It’s just color.

“I mean, there’s probably a lot of punch lines out there associated with what I’ve done and you have to be able to laugh at yourself in life. I take my profession really, really seriously, but there is some inherent dark comedy to this too.”

Jonas Siegenthaler of the Washington Capitals knows how to beat those scaries back - patience, my friends. Patience.

As his teammates hit the showers and head out, he’s in no rush while he takes the time to reflect and recharge before taking on the rest of the day.

Siegenthaler is no stranger to patience. You can see it, as well as determination, in his eyes as he modestly discusses his success and road to the NHL. While he’s soft-spoken, excitement comes through his smile as he reflects on reaching his lifelong goal.

Over in the NHL’s Western Conference, the Vegas Golden Knights are facing the scaries with all the bravery of a teacher drinking on Sunday school night.

....over the next 24 games (mid-November until today), the Golden Knights saw their PDO level back out. They went 17-4-3 while posting a 102 PDO (.918 sv%, 10.6 sh%). The team’s goals per game increased a whole goal (2.50 to 3.45), but it was honestly the work of Marc-Andre Fleury that made the real difference. Fleury played 21 of the 24 games since November 16th and stopped 92% of the shots he faced. Those aren’t Vezina numbers by any means, but they are more than enough to help a positive shot share team win a lot more games than not. Which is exactly what happened.

Vancouver is hoping that Thatcher Demko is ready to help stabilize the Canucks in goal.

“We’ve been patient with Demmer,” said Canucks head coach Travis Green, who was in charge in Utica when Demko first turned pro. “We’ve said it from Day 1 that we want to make sure we do right by him. He’s matured as a goalie, as a person. I’ve got a lot of confidence in Demko.

“I believe in him. I think he’s going to be a good goalie in the league. This is the right time to bring him up, so I’m happy that we made the move.”

Back on the AHL side of things, North Division leaders Rochester are pushing to keep the wolves at bay.

Paywalls aren’t fun, and they aren’t a way to beat those scaries away, but here’s a section of highlights from The Athletic for those of you with a subscription. I’m throwing them in at the end because they didn’t fit into my theme and I’m petty like that.

-A look into the Zach Parise-Ryan Suter deals.

-What does it mean to have a high hockey IQ?

-Ministicks: The threads that connect.

-Should junior hockey teams be more involved in how their players get and find transportation?