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Lightning Round: Firing on all cylinders

The Lightning are showing no signs of slowing down.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Nashville Predators Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning are off to one of the best starts by a defending Stanley Cup champion in quite some time. While they are only eleven games into the season, they are also already eleven games into the season. That’s roughly 20% of this COVID-shortened season.

Last season, just prior to The Pause, they lost 7 of 10 games. Since then, including the round robin and playoff games, they’ve won they’re last 26 out of 34 games. So far this season, they’ve only failed to pick up three points out of a possible twenty-two. That’s not too shabby. Last night’s game had trap game written all over it. They had controlled play the night before against the same team, had a couple of days off coming up, and a big series against the Florida Panthers looming. While they did start a little slowly, they eventually found their game and scored six straight goals against the Predators.

The power play looked like it’s old, efficient self as it appears they’ve adapted to life without Nikita Kucherov. They are also getting secondary scoring, last night it was Mathieu Joseph, the night before it was Anthony Cirelli. Meanwhile, the top line keeps rolling right along as Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point lead the team in scoring.

At some point in the season there will be a lull. They will lose a few games in a row. It’s just the nature of the NHL season, even one that only has 56 games (hopefully) in it. The nice thing about having veteran, Cup-winning leaders on the team is that they know they have the talent to pull through any momentary lapses in play.

For now, as fans, we can sit back and enjoy watching them play at a high level.

Lightning Links

The Lightning beat the Predators for the fourth time this season. It was a close game until it wasn’t. [Raw Charge]

They’re easily the best team in the NHL at this juncture and they seem to be clicking on all cylinders. It will be interesting to see what lulls hit Tampa Bay this season because right now there isn’t a ton to be displeased with. However, their next two games could prove to be interesting as they face off against the surprisingly strong Florida Panthers.

It was a rough night for the folks who had to recap it over at On the Forecheck [On the Forecheck]

OTF’s Three Stars of the Night

There were no stars tonight. That was hard to watch.

Some fun facts from our friends at the Lightning:

  • The Bolts six-game winning streak is the longest in the NHL this season.
  • The 9-1-1 (19 points) start matches the best start in franchise history which came in 2017-18.
  • Mathieu Joseph recorded his first career power play goal in the NHL.
  • The Lightning are 4-0-1 this season after allowing the game opening goal.

Bonus Mikhail Sergachev stat: with his three assists last night, Sergachev now has 115 career points in a Lightning uniform. He now ranks 32nd all-time in franchise history. #MikhailMilestone

Anthony Cirelli’s offense is coming along just nicely. [Tampa Bay Times]

But while he is selective about when he shoots, Cirelli has put pucks on net at a higher rate than any of the Lightning’s top-line players. Of all skaters with at least 20 shots on goal, Cirelli’s through percentage, which is the rate of shots that get to the net, is a team-high 73.3 percent, far better than last season’s 54.6.

Hockey Links

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a new General Manager, and it’s a former rival. Ron Hextall will be guiding the Penguins for the near future as he accepted their job offer on Tuesday. With an aging core, an uninspiring cast of prospects, and a lack of draft picks next year, he’ll have his work cut out for him. Good thing they also hired Brian Burke and his casual disregard for the proper use of neck wear. Expect truculence and pugnacity in their near future. [Pensburgh]

“To me, Pittsburgh is a take-your-breath-away destination for any GM or president of hockey ops,” Burke said. “I’m so excited for the opportunity. The Penguins are a storied franchise with outstanding ownership in Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, and Pittsburgh is just a great hockey city. Ron Hextall and I are very fortunate. We can’t wait to get started.”

In Columbus, things are...interesting. While Patrick Laine hasn’t had the best start to his tenure with the Blue Jackets, there might be more to his benching last game than just defensive awareness. [The Columbus Dispatch]

An NHL source said Laine “mouthed off” to one of the Blue Jackets’ assistant coaches, and another source with knowledge of the situation confirmed that account. It’s unknown what Laine said, or whom he said it to, but whatever it was prompted head coach John Tortorella to keep the team’s newly acquired star stuck to the bench in a 2-2 game.

One player in Columbus that Tortorella isn’t going to be able to bench in future games is Mikko Koivu. In a bit of a surprise, the veteran center announced his retirement on Tuesday, bringing his long career to a quiet end. For fifteen seasons, the younger brother of Saku Koivu. skated around the ice for the Minnesota Wild where he set records for games played, points, and assists. He played seven games for the Blue Jackets this season. [Hockey Wilderness]

In then end, it’s Minnesota’s decision to make - regardless of NHL history. The Wild will have to balance Koivu’s numbers with what he meant to the team, the organization, the community and the state of Minnesota. His numbers were strong when compared to the rest of the Wild, but they’re not elite NHL stats. But there can be absolutely no doubt that Mikko Koivu was a strong leader on and off the ice, a great teammate, a fantastic ambassador for the game and beloved by fans.

The Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers join the list of teams that had to reschedule games due to the ongoing battle against COVID. The game was postponed after it was announced that there was reportedly a positive case on the Flyers. Hours after that, Claude Giroux and Justin Braun were added to the COVID protocol list. While that doesn’t mean either of those players tested positive, it’s not great news for the team or the league. [Broad Street Hockey]

The Flyers are now just one of the multiple teams that have had their season uprooted because of the NHL trying to carry on through this global pandemic. The Minnesota Wild and New Jersey Devils are trying to set records with how many players they can fit on the NHL’s COVID protocol list, as the former is essentially building a full roster, trying to catch up to the Devils, who at one point had 17 players on the list.

One of the teams looking to return from a long break of not playing hockey is the Buffalo Sabres. For the first time in a week, the Sabres returned to the ice as they held their first practice since being shut down due to health protocols. They are still without nine of their players and their head coach. []

“And I also sense an opportunity for this group to pull together and to say, ‘OK, this is challenging. This happened. It’s unfortunate, but we’re going to rally together and go to work.’ And part of the message to the group that I had was certainly don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for us. We have to get through this. And we have to do it together.” — GM Kevyn Adams