In what has to be a welcome site for Tampa Bay Lightning fans, center Brayden Point was on the ice zooming around with his teammates at practice in Las Vegas:
Brayden Point is the last player on the ice for the #Bolts today BUT he is wearing a regular white jersey— Gabby Shirley (@Gabby_Shirley_) December 20, 2021
The fact that he is in Vegas with the team and has shed the no-contact jersey are excellent signs that his return is eminent. Previously, Coach Cooper has indicated that it’s likely that Point will return after the holiday break, which would be the game tentatively scheduled for the 28th against the Montreal Canadiens - pending approval of cross-border travel. If that game is postponed than the Florida Panthers on the 30th would be the next game.
Whenever he suits back up, it’ll be a boost for the Lightning. While the team has gone a very respectable 10-2-1 in his absence, there has been a sense that the offense has been held together with rosin and stick tape. Inserting their number one center back into the line-up will allow Coach Cooper to re-swizzle his top lines and help alleviate some pressure on the other forwards. With Point back, it’s likely that the newly acquired Riled Nash will cycle out of the line-up.
It should also help out the Lightning power play which is plodding along at an anemic 15% in the 13 games he’s been out of action. Granted, they were only successful 17.5% of the time in the 13 games prior to his injury (add the three games at the start of the season with Nikita Kucherov and it jumps to a respectable 20%) but that’s still better than what they are doing now.
If he slots back into the center of the ice on the power play, than teams have to worry about him firing off shots in the slot, which will keep them from automatically collapsing on Steven Stamkos in the left circle, giving the captain more room to fire off his one-timer.
Whether it’s tonight or next week, whenever he returns Brayden Point will be a welcome sight for the team and the fans.
Lightning / NHL News
Ondrej Palat more valuable than ever [Tampa Bay Times]
Palat’s game isn’t flashy, and a lot of what he does doesn’t end up in the scoresheet, but he’s still one of the most important players on the team. With the first line on the sidelines, Palat has kept plugging along doing the right thing on the ice more often than not.
Lightning look capable of a three-peat [NBC Sports]
Hey national media, nice to see you’re coming around to the fact that the Lightning are still one of the best teams in the league despite their injury woes. Fun stat they point out:
Since the start of the 2017-18 season the Lightning have a 165-55-14 record in games where he is the goalie of record, while owns [sic] a .923 all situations save percentage (tops in the league) and a .929 even-strength save percentage (tops in the league). That record for Vasilevskiy would average out to a 127 point pace over 82 games.
Ten Thoughts as the Lightning Continue to Thrive [The Athletic]
It took three thoughts until he got to Andrei Vasilevskiy. Let’s admit it, as the goalie goes, so go the Lightning. Everything else is nice, but it doesn’t work without the Big Cat.
Dirk Shadd’s Year in Review [Tampa Bay Times]
He is one of the best in business. Dirk Shadd has been shooting photos in the Tampa Bay area for more than two decades. Chances are if you’ve seen an iconic photo of a local athlete, Shadd took it. Here he groups his favorite photos from the last year together - from a jubilant Lightning squad to a shirtless Kuch to a not-quite-sober Tom Brady to a diving Randy Arozarena, it’s all there.
The Arizona Coyotes are paid up:
City of Glendale city manager Kevin Phelps confirms that Coyotes fulfilled payment of approximately $930 k re: Dec. 20 deadline and also agreed to a future schedule of payments for rest of season: "They've satisfied what we asked for."— Katie Strang (@KatieJStrang) December 20, 2021
As more organizations shut down for the week (Edmonton, Columbus, Montreal, and Ottawa) it looks like the NHL is going to give the rest of the league a little longer Christmas break. Monday night the league announced they will halt play on Wednesday and resume on December 26th. For the teams that haven’t shut down yet it means they may miss a game or two before picking things up after Christmas. While the Lightning are scheduled to play the Vegas Golden Knights tonight (along with the Washington Capitals playing the Philadelphia Flyers), they would postpone the Thursday tilt against the Arizona Coyotes and head home early.