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Lightning Round: The Bolts are not top tier contenders?

Meanwhile, the Bolts won again last night

New Jersey Devils v Tampa Bay Lightning
TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 27: Mathieu Joseph #7 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils during the first period at Amalie Arena on January 27, 2022 in Tampa, Florida.
Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning are looking to win three Stanley Cups in a row for the first time in the modern cap era, a feat that would put the Lightning straight into the dynasty stratosphere.

But this season they’ve lost some talent because of the salary cap, and after major injuries to top players in the first half of the season...the Lightning are still tied for second in the President’s Trophy fight.

ESPN did their mid-season look at who the sure-fire Stanley Cup contenders are in 2022, and the Lightning didn’t make the top tier, settling for second one. Greg Wyshynski wrote a good article, but I have to disagree with what he said about the Lightning. His article notes that “if” the Lightning can reduce chances against, “then” they’ll be back in the top tier.

The Lightning were never going to be the All-Star calibre team they were last year, so an increase in their expected goals against was expected. But that number that was cited is coming down from something extraordinary to merely second in the NHL. The Lightning’s defense is not a problem, and they’ve done it while missing their two best forwards, bar none, for the first half of the season, and their entire right side of the defense for much of the last few months.

The Lightning are going to be the favorites going into this postseason. Because they’re the reigning champions, and even having to lose a lot of good players, they’re still among the best, beating teams playing any style you ask them. Whether or not the Bolts finish top in their division or top in the NHL, they’re going to be a tough out, if they get knocked out at all.

And for the record, here is my tiered list of contenders:

Tier 1: Lightning, Hurricanes, Avalanche
Tier 2: Leafs, Knights, Panthers
Tier 3: Penguins, Bruins, Wild

Lightning Links

The Lightning beat the New Jersey Devils last night after playing some break-neck hockey against the league’s youngest team. Killorn, Joseph, and Cirelli all scored in the win. [Raw Charge]

“Tampa Bay repeatedly disrupted New Jersey’s zone entries and force them to defend while up a skater. An early partial breakaway by Anthony Cirelli led to the Devils scrambling to stop him and giving up a penalty shot. Cirelli failed to score on the penalty shot, but momentum was altered and a short time later Joseph made the play of the game.”

Here’s Bryan Burns with his three things after the Lightning’s win. [NHL dot com]

But the Bolts elevated their play after a lethargic start, and, buoyed by a critical four-minute penalty kill in the second, one in which they exited the kill plus-one in the goal department, the Lightning fended off the Devils 3-2 to post their sixth win over the last seven contests.

“I’ve got to give the guys credit for coming back in this one and grinding it out,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said after his team’s 29th victory of the season.

Before the game, the Lightning added some extra bodies to the Taxi Squad in case some of their guys couldn’t go. Rutta and Palat were making their returns to the lineup after injuries. [Raw Charge]

“Prior to their game tonight with the New Jersey Devils, the Tampa Bay Lightning recalled defenseman Darren Raddysh and forward Cole Koepke from the Syracuse Crunch and placed them on the taxi squad. With Ondrej Palat and Jan Rutta returning from injury it’s likely these moves were precautionary in case one of them aren’t able to go following the pre-game skate. With today’s morning skate optional, the pre-game warm-up will be the best test to see if they are ready for a full game.”

Quinton Byfield scored his first of many NHL goals last night.

And Trevor Zegras dangled his way to another highlight reel.

Now we get to the difficult stuff.

Evander Kane spoke to Kayla Grey at TSN yesterday, the same day he signed with the Edmonton Oilers after the NHL closed their investigation into him breaking AHL COVID protocols. Kane has a cap hit of over $2 million with the Oilers, though most of that is prorated so he’ll only be taking home league minimum with some performance bonuses.

After the ECHL conducted their investigation, Jacob Panetta has been suspended for the rest of the season (38 games) for his racist gesture at Jordan Subban last week. Panetta was released from his ECHL team over the weekend.

Jake Virtanen was charged by Vancouver PD on Thursday with sexual assault. Virtanen was bought out by the Canucks last summer.