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Thoughts on the first few days of Tampa Bay Lightning training camp

Getting back to playing the game of hockey

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

With the Tampa Bay Lightning enjoying a day off from their preseason training camp it’s a good time to check in and see how things are going with them. The short answer - fine. Everything is fine. Coach Jon Cooper admitted that the team has looked a little rusty, but that’s to be expected coming off of a break. They are getting better as they remember how to hockey. The most important thing is that there are no reported injuries so far (finds the largest Ponderosa Pine nearby and furiously knocks on it). With less than a week to go until the season opens, it’s now about making sure everyone is up to speed on the systems and getting into game shape.

After being declared “unfit to play” for the first couple of days, Sean Day played in the Blue/White scrimmage on Wednesday night. That leaves only Erik Cernak and Jan Rutta as the only players not to appear in a practice yet. Due to some immigration issues they had to quarantine a little bit longer, but are expected to be at practice on Friday.

That will shake some things up in regards to the defensive pairings. For the most part it looks like Victor Hedman and Luke Schenn have been paired together while Ryan McDonagh has skated alongside Cal Foote. Cernak likely slots into the right side on one of those pairings and could bump Foote down to a pairing with Mikhail Sergachev (who opened the scrimmage with Ben Thomas). With the squad still split into two groups it’s hard to know exactly what the final pairings will be when the season stars but expect Coach Cooper to lean on experience and familiarity.

One of the biggest focuses so far in camp has been in regards to the revamped power play that will be missing Nikita Kucherov. Having a wealth of offensive talent really helps in this case. The first unit power play ran through Kucherov in the right circle last year because of his ability to make the proper reads. With the puck on his stick he had plenty of options - shoot, pass it to Brayden Point in the slot, back to the point, or over to Steven Stamkos if the lane was open. More times than not he made the right choice.

Early on in camp Point has taken that position because he offers a lot of similar skills as Kucherov. He’s smart with the puck and an excellent passer. His shot isn’t quite as deceptive as Kucherov’s, but it’s good enough to keep goaltenders and defenders honest. Tyler Johnson moves into the slot or “bumper” position that Point had previously occupied. It’s interesting that Coach Cooper is going with a more skilled player in front rather than a large body like Pat Maroon or Alex Killorn, but an indication that he favors a player that has the ability to shoot quickly or make an extra pass as opposed to just size.

There will likely be a lot of tinkering throughout the season in regards to the power play configuration as the head coach tried to figure out the right chemistry. The same will go with the regular lines, but early indication is that he will lean to keeping things rather similar to what we saw in the playoffs. Steven Stamkos, who by all indications is 100% ready to go, has slid into the top line with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat. Always nice when you can replace Kucherov with a guy who has over 400 career goals on his resume.

According to reports from camp, the next two lines are somewhat familiar as well as Anthony Cirelli has centered Killorn and Johnson while the Barclay Goodrow/Yanni Gourde/Blake Coleman line that was so effective in the playoffs was together as well. Alex Volkov has been sprinkled in the mix on the line with Cirelli.

Again, with such a short camp limiting the amount of practice time available for the coaching staff to mess around with combinations, they seem to be relying on familiarity to start things off. That may give them an advantage at the start of the season over teams that are trying to work in new players.

Having a chance to look over the training camp roster, there really aren’t many things that stick out. None of the returning players switched numbers (newcomers Jack Finley is wearing “62”, Gage Concalves “93”, Cristovel Nieves “59”, Andreas Borgman “5”, Sean Day “74”, Alex Green “57”, Dmitry Semykin “78”, Devante Stephens “58”, and Christopher Gibson “33”).

There hasn’t been much fluctuation in the reported heights and weights when compared to last training camp, and most players are reporting at lower weights than they did for the Return To Play camp in the summer. One player that did stand out was Alexander Volkov who was listed at 185 pounds last year and is coming in at 195 this year (the same weight he was listed at for the RTP camp). The added weight could help him in 50/50 battles for the puck and shouldn’t affect his skating. Other than that, the only notable change is that Mitchell Stephens apparently lost an inch of height and is now 5’11” instead of 6’0”.

The team returns to the ice on Friday with another split group practice at the TGH Ice Plex. They will practice at Amalie Arena on Saturday and Sunday before having their final scrimmage Sunday night. It does appear that the game will be livestreamed on their website, giving fans a chance to see their first live look at the defending Stanley Cup Champions. A final practice on Tuesday and then the season starts on Wednesday. Get ready!