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Lightning Round: Are we really mad about the Tampa Bay Lightning?

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There are fewer holes this year than last year, which is all we wanted over the summer.

NHL: DEC 17 Senators at Lightning
TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 17: Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) during the NHL Hockey match between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Senators on December 17, 2019 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL.
Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I feel like we, as a fanbase, have been talking more about the people who complain about how bad the Tampa Bay Lightning are, rather than thinking it ourselves. Sure, there was a time when they were underperforming and we were frustrated by it, especially with how last season went.

Long summers are not something this fanbase is used to, but I think after the small hiccup at the beginning, this team has made the changes we were asking for over the summer and become more well-rounded as a group. They seem rejuvenated and hungry for another run, and that’s great.

The Bolts were an unreal team last season, steamrolling through the regular season with an historic run. However, I think by the end of the season, we knew they had flaws that could be exploited by the right team. Because fate is cruel, exactly that opponent came and ruined it all for us.

This year, the Lightning won’t be breaking any records in the regular season — that mission has already been accomplished — but eyes are on the playoffs and from what we’ve seen from the team, they appear more adaptable and fierce than they were in the past.

The top players have each had to deal with their own struggles over the past nine months. Steven Stamkos, the captain, taking responsibility for last year and managing both his personal goal-scoring, and leading his teammates through a hard summer. Victor Hedman was injured to start the year, but has looked amazing since playing in front of his people in Sweden. Brayden Point had a contract negotiation to deal with all summer... plus surgery??

Nikita Kucherov has seemed to have the hardest time of them all. After an MVP season, Kuch has gotten himself suspended in the playoffs, and while still finding ways to perform to his standard offensively, was benched for almost half a game on Monday for a turnover. All players go through ups and downs, but better it happens for these players now than in five months.

Surrounding them is a growing and diverse group. Anthony Cirelli is a star, there is no doubt about it. Alex Killorn has taken a step in every area of the ice to become a strong complimentary top-six player. Big Gourde and Little Gourde (Pat Maroon and Yanni Gourde) are two thirds of an amazing fourth line with Cedric Paquette that brings speed, skill, special teams, toughness, and energy to the lineup.

Tyler Johnson has been great this year, really dynamic. I did not like his play last year and was wondering if it was time to move on from him. I don’t feel that way anymore. He’s been vital to the top-six. Mathieu Joseph hasn’t had the best season, but the Lightning have been able to be patient with their sophomore and he’s starting to improve on the ice with some easier competition.

Ryan McDonagh has been worth every penny he’s being paid. On the ice, he manages and develops his partner, Erik Cernak, against top competition, easing the load for Hedman and recent partner Jan Rutta. Mikhail Sergachev, who has been given more ice time as the season has gone on, has become a luxury in terms of pushing secondary scoring with summer steal Kevin Shattenkirk.

The only real problem this team has had is some shooting regression and inconsistent goaltending to start the year. The shooting is already starting to improve, and not only is Andrei Vasilevskiy nothing to worry about, but behind Curtis McElhinney there are strong depth options in net on the Crunch that could come up if necessary.

I’m not worried about this team, and while I’ll never take anything for granted, I’m really hopeful for a great season and playoff run.

Lightning Links

  • Geo compiled the All-Decade Tampa Bay Lightning. What does your team look like? [Raw Charge]
  • A Teddy Bear goal in Orlando!
  • ‘“He made a choice to go down there and help our guy,” MacCallum said. “He’s clearly a kind soul.”’ [CBC Sports]
  • Sunil Agnihotri wrote a really nice piece on ohw dependent the Edmonton Oilers are on Connor McDavid and why it’s not a recipe for success. [The Super Fan]