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Getting to Know the New Central: The Tampa Bay Lightning

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Last season’s champs are ready to defend their title.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Tampa Bay Lightning at Dallas Stars Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Things have been shaken up in the NHL this season. A short schedule, baseball-like short series against the same team, and most noticeable - new division alignments. For the Tampa Bay Lightning the only familiar faces are the Detroit Red Wings and the Florida Panthers. Although, throughout their existence they have dabbled with a few of their new neighbors like the Carolina and Chicago.

So, for our new division friends, here is a quick rundown of the Lightning. Check out the question and answer posts from the other teams:

Detroit Red Wings

Nashville Predators

Florida Panthers

Carolina Hurricanes

Chicago Blackhawks

Dallas Stars

1) How would you describe your team’s style of play?


The Lightning plays a fast-paced style, one that many offensively oriented teams emulate in some capacity. They rely on their transitional speed, and a low-high offensive strategy to stretch defenses thin. However, Tampa Bay is also a strong defensive team that doesn’t allow opponents to generate many quality chances.

2) What players should opposing fans know the name of - and why?


There is a laundry list of players opposing fans should know of on Tampa Bay. The biggest name folks should get used to and still haven’t, is Brayden Point. He set a new franchise record for goals in a single postseason en route to a Stanely Cup. He supplanted 400+ goal-scorer Steven Stamkos as the top center on the team. He combined with Nikita Kucherov to establish the deadliest line in last year’s playoffs. He is the embodiment of what the Lightning want in a forward.

As a bonus, opposing fans should also pay attention to Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev. These three are going to be a core part of Tampa Bay’s future.

3) Why could your team win the division?


Bruh

Tampa Bay Lightning Victory Rally & Boat Parade Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

4) Why could your team be the caboose of the division?


A season-long injury to Nikita Kucherov hurts Tampa Bay, but it doesn’t sink them. It merely moves them from the massive favorite to win the division to a regular favorite. However, an injury to Andrei Vasilevskiy would certainly put the team in a far more precarious position. Curtis McElhinney is a solid backup, but I remain skeptical he can keep a high level of play for long stretches of time. There is no other goaltender in the Lightning organization who could plausibly come up and take starts away from McElhinney if Vasilevskiy were out for an extended period of time. So, fingers crossed that the injury bug stays away from the Big Cat.

5) On a scale of baby kitten to Tiger King, what’s the potential of the heated matchup of your team with your new division mates?

I wouldn’t say any matchup is “Tiger King” level, but there are two that could get close: Columbus and Dallas.

Columbus, due to the sweep in the first round of the 2019 playoffs, but that matchup’s heat has lessened a lot from Tampa Bay’s perspective after they knocked them aside in five games during last season’s Stanley Cup run.

Dallas, because the Stanley Cup Final was a dogfight of a series that could’ve gone the distance had Dallas’ offense not lost its spark in the final.

Until the Florida Panthers become a consistent hockey team capable of real damage, I view them as a nuisance. That organization has been a mess in all facets, but if they can find an identity and stick to it, they could finally be a reliable opponent.

Carolina is an odd team to gauge. The games between Tampa and Carolina have always been entertaining, but never heated in a way that would carry over to other games. That said, Carolina is going to have a big say in this division moving forward.

Nashville, historically, has done well against Tampa Bay, but these two clubs don’t play each other often. However, things tend to get spicy when they do meet up. Given the infrequency of the matchups, I feel as though Nashville won’t be able to handle Tampa Bay’s offense in repeated meetings. Additionally, I have no idea how to gauge this team. On paper, they look formidable, but ever since their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017, they’ve been more pretender than contender.

Detroit and Chicago are tire fires in my opinion; Detroit more than Chicago. I could see Detroit bringing up some old hatred from the playoff matchups a few years ago, but this Red Wings team (albeit better than last season’s abysmal group) isn’t likely to be a hot matchup for Tampa Bay. As for the Blackhawks, they’re down Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach, their goaltending is questionable, to say the least, and their defense is...there. They will still score goals thanks to how they play, but there is little hate between Chicago and Tampa Bay since their 2015 meeting in the Stanley Cup Final.

Predictions:

  1. Tampa Bay
  2. Dallas
  3. Carolina
  4. Nashville
  5. Columbus
  6. Florida
  7. Chicago
  8. Detroit