Quick Strikes: Brad Marchand and Tom Wilson are in mid-season form

and the Tampa Bay Lightning will win the Stanley Cup.

The Bolts

Russians. We love em. Geo takes a look at which teams have been the best at drafting our slavic-speaking friends and why it’s the Tampa Bay Lightning. [Raw Charge]

Since the easing of restrictions (and the fall of the Soviet Union), Russian players have had a big impact on the NHL. Their style and creativity have changed the way the game is played in an incredible fashion. We still see many Russian offensive gurus making their way into the NHL, like the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov.

Andrei Vasilevskiy and Louis Domingue share their goalie love!

Who will win the Stanley Cup? The Tampa Bay Lightning. [NHL dot com]

I might be taking the easy way out with this answer, but Brayden Point, to me, looks like he’s reached another level to his game.

He’s always been a quick skater, but he just looks so much faster this preseason. There were a couple of plays, particularly in the exhibition game at Orlando’s Amway Center, where it was almost unfair how quickly he was able to track down a puck carrier or blow by opponents as he made a move to the net.

Who will win the Stanley Cup? The Tampa Bay Lightning. [Tampa Bay Times]

Victor Hedman is coming off a Norris Trophy season. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is the Lightning’s most important player. And if we had just a little more conviction, we’d go out on a limb and pick Brayden Point because he is going to have a monster season. But the answer remains Nikita Kucherov and, if all goes as expected, he will post another 100-point season.

Who will win the Stanley Cup? The Tampa Bay Lightning. [ESPN]

Our NHL writers, analysts and editors weigh in with their predictions for the 2018-19 season, including division winners, Stanley Cup Final matchup, Cup winner and preseason picks for the major awards.

Who will win the Stanley Cup? The Tampa Bay Lightning. [Blueshirt Banter]

Stanley Cup Final: Tampa Bay Lightning over Nashville Predators. I think the Predators thought they could return to the Stanley Cup last year after reaching it in 2017, but being eliminated by the Winnipeg Jets was a rude awakening. If they didn’t before, they certainly recognize what it takes to get back there, even if they managed it the year before. The Lightning not only have an outstanding forward group, but a great defensive core as well.

Who will win the Stanley Cup? The Tampa Bay Lightning. [Dom]

Well, if they do it, this will be the lineup that they use (for the most part).

Tampa and Orlando’s new hockey partnership is already paying dividends in the community. [Pro Hockey News]

“The biggest reason is that it just makes complete sense from a business perspective and a hockey perspective. We’re what, sixty miles away [from Tampa]. I know from my house in Winter Garden it takes and hour and five minutes with no traffic,” Solar Bears President Chris Heller said during an interview as Orlando opened its training camp on Monday.

Why Danick Martel could be 'the next Yanni Gourde' for Lightning

Danièle Sauvageau getting impatient as NHL coaching doors remain closed. [The Athletic]

Danièle​ Sauvageau has​ been waiting,​ a decade and​ counting.​ She​ has​ been​ waiting​ for​ so​ long​​ now, that her patience has waned. Recently, when the Maple Leafs hired her former star player Hayley Wickenheiser as the assistant director of player development and added Noelle Needham as a scout, Sauvageau was back in the spotlight and doing the media rounds.

The Prospects

Oh, yeah, that’s the good stuff. It’s pretty outstanding the quality of players the Syracuse Crunch have helped nurture in the AHL. Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Yanni Gourde are all players who weren’t seen as anything until they were noticed in the AHL kicking names and taking ass with the Crunch. Now they’re key pieces to what could be a Stanley Cup Champion this Spring.

Jason Iacona previews the North Division ahead of the 2018-19 AHL season. [Chirps from Center Ice]

Welcome to Day Three of the Chirps from Center Ice AHL Previews for the 2018-19 season. Today, we find ourselves in the North Division. On Monday we started in the Pacific Division and yesterday we covered the Central Division.

No affiliation changes here, Cleveland comes over from the Western Conference. Penguins play everyone in this division at least twice but for the Laval Rocket and Belleville Senators whom they do not play at all. Home games listed in bold.

Oh no, Connor Ingram. Put the camcorder down.

Da rink! She ready!

The Game

Tom Wilson has been suspended 20 games by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. He will be forced to forfeit a “crap ton” of money as compensation as well. [Sportsnet]

This is the fourth suspension of Wilson’s NHL career with all of them coming in the past 13 months. On Sept. 22 he got two games for a late, high hit on Robert Thomas of the St. Louis Blues in a pre-season game; less than two weeks later he was assessed a four-game ban for boarding Samuel Blais also of the Blues; he then earned a three-game ban in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a hit that left Pittsburgh Penguins rookie Zach Aston-Reese injured.

In related news, Brad Marchand committed assault on Lars Eller because he’s a little whiney crybaby who can’t take a loss like an adult. The Washington Capitals beat the Boston Bruins 7-0. [Japers Rink]

Some ugliness: punk itty-bitty rodent antagonist Brad Marchand didn’t like Lars Eller’s “wave” to Boston’s bench after Washington’s seventh (lol) goal, and starting throwing fists at Eller before he knew what was happening. Malt Licker Brad Marchand socked Eller good twice, and a bleeding Lars had to go and get stitches before returning for the final seconds.

Jack Eichel has been given the captaincy of the Buffalo Sabres. He will remain in his roles as head coach, general manager, and owner. [Die by the Blade]

The Sabres did not have a captain last season, instead naming several alternates - including Eichel, alongside the now-departed Ryan O’Reilly; Zach Bogosian and Kyle Okposo.

Eichel will be the Sabres’ first captain since Brian Gionta several seasons ago. He now joins the ranks of players like Chris Drury, Pat LaFontaine and Gilbert Perreault.

Matt Murray is helping the kids with his new initiative called “Saves MATTer” [Pensburgh]

Every save Matt Murray makes during the 2018-19 season will carry a little extra importance than previous years. Not only will each save keep the Penguins opponent from scoring, but for each save Murray makes, the goaltended will be donating $30 to youth-based charities.

Murray’s new saves program is called “Saves MATTer” and will benefit youth programs in Pittsburgh and his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario. For each save, $15 will go to the Ward Home in Pittsburgh and the other $15 will go to Children’s Aid Services and Dilico in Thunder Bay.

Only Gritty can beat this shark in a dance-off.

Highlight of the Night: Honestly, it was a tie between Auston and Elias, so here’s both.