Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos

2011-12 season preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

2010-11 record: 46-25-11, 103 points; 2nd in Southeast, 5th in East

Playoffs: Defeated Pittsburgh 4-3 in Eastern quarterfinals, defeated Washington 4-0 in Eastern semifinals, lost to Boston 4-3 in Eastern finals

After new GM Steve Yzerman’s first summer of moves, people expected the Lightning to improve last season. Few expected them though to fall one win short of the Stanley Cup finals. While it might be difficult to match that encore effort, the Bolts still employ an enviable trio in Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier. Their top players give them a fighting chance against any team, as their East opponents found out in the 2011 playoffs.

Offense

Stamkos became the cover star of NHL 12 and signed a hefty new contract, but St. Louis was the Hart Trophy finalist for a reason: he’s one of the best right wings in the league. Stamkos would be a threat on most teams, but St. Louis’ pitch-perfect passes make him a top five sniper. Those two shouldn’t have much trouble rekindling the magic from the first half of last season, but keeping that going for a full campaign would make the Lightning even scarier.

Then again, Tampa Bay could use some help. Unless he plays with them on the top line (as he did fairly often during the playoffs), Lecavalier will be responsible for generating much of the team’s secondary scoring. The Lightning’s hopes of wrestling the Southeast title from Washington probably rests on the work of Leavalier, Ryan Malone, Steve Downie and breakthrough playoff player Teddy Purcell.

The East’s second-highest scoring offense might dip a little bit with Simon Gagne and playoff surprise Sean Bergenheim having departed, but Tampa Bay’s top-end players should fill the net enough to make up much of the difference.

Defense

On paper, Tampa Bay’s defense is pretty bad. That played itself out in the regular season, as the Lightning allowed 240 goals (just seven less than they scored). For starters, Mattias Ohlund just isn’t the same stellar Swedish blueliner that he was during his prime years with Vancouver.

That being said, the Lightning improved after the addition of Eric Brewer late in the season. He logged big-time minutes and helped the Bolts deal with some tough matchups, especially in their sweep of Washington.

Brewer’s steadiness and the continued development of Victor Hedman give the Lightning some reason to believe that their defense will be better this season, although it is likely to still rank as an area of weakness.

Goalies

Last season, things just weren’t working with Mike Smith and Dan Ellis, so Yzerman shrewdly traded for Dwayne Roloson. While Roloson’s numbers were up and down during the regular season, he gave the team a stabilizing presence in net during the playoffs. His often-dazzling playoff performances earned him another contract.

The obvious worry is Roloson’s age. A potential Eastern contender is weighing its hopes on the shoulders of a man who will turn 42 on Oct. 12.

Thankfully, Yzerman found a solid backup in Mathieu Garon. That doesn’t change the fact that the Lightning is taking a substantial (if short-term) risk with Roloson, but at least they can spell their old goalie when necessary.

Coaching

Guy Boucher stands out thanks to his charm, that 1-3-1 system and a facial scar that demands ‘James Bond villain’ jokes. He would be noteworthy for his coolness alone, but Boucher produced fantastic results in his first season as an NHL coach. Naturally, he’ll face a significant challenge to match that debut campaign.

Breakout candidate

Hedman could make a big leap. He’s getting the experience needed to adjust to the NHL game and has the greed-based motivation of a contract year on his side, too.

The big Swedish defenseman probably ‘broke out’ already, though. If you need a more obscure player, how about Mattias Ritola? The former Detroit Red Wings prospect could have a shot of stepping into Sean Bergenheim’s role if the bounces go his way.

Best-case scenario

Roloson produces an outstanding season, but most importantly gets plenty of rest with Garon receiving 25 starts. Lecavalier finally earns his ridiculous paycheck by producing a healthy point-per-game season while St. Louis and Stamkos work their magic for even more impressive results. The defense comes together thanks to a maturing Hedman and the leadership of Brewer. Tampa Bay makes another deep run in the playoffs, only this time it gets over the hump and makes it to the Cup finals.

Reality

The Lightning are really rolling the dice with Roloson. Again, Garon is a capable backup, but not necessarily the ideal choice if Roloson gets injured – which is a realistic fear given his age. Even if Rollie stays healthy, who’s to say that he’ll be able to put together another great season? Whether it’s due to ability or opportunities, he hasn’t carried a big workload many times in his career – Roloson’s only played 60-plus games twice.

Depth scoring might also be a concern, especially if Lecavalier struggles again with injuries. One can’t help but worry that Boucher’s system won’t be able to cover up that defense’s blemishes for another season, too.

All that negativity aside, the Lightning should challenge for the Southeast title and fall somewhere in the fourth- to sixth-seed range. As long as they make the playoffs, they have the talent to make anyone sweat in a best-of-seven series.

WATCH LIVE: Dallas Stars at Minnesota Wild

Dallas Stars center Jason Spezza (90) and Minnesota Wild right wing Justin Fontaine (14) chase the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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The Minnesota Wild hope to turn things around, yet facing the Dallas Stars certainly ratchets up the degree of difficulty.

On the other hand, sometimes that’s the best way to regain confidence: overcome an especially formidable obstacle.

Whether the Wild flounder or rebound, you can watch the action on NBCSN and stream it via the link below.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

After 8-1 loss to Isles, Oilers send Reinhart to AHL, make Schultz healthy scratch

Edmonton Oilers' Justin Schultz (19) and New York Rangers' Dominic Moore (28) fight for control of the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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Not surprisingly, Edmonton’s 8-1 loss to the Islanders on Sunday didn’t pass without consequences.

The Oilers announced this morning that defenseman Griffin Reinhart had been sent down to the AHL. Additionally, defenseman Justin Schultz is expected to be a healthy scratch tonight in New Jersey.

Reinhart was a team-worst minus-4 versus the Isles.

Schultz, whose name has been coming up in trade rumors…

…was a minus-2.

“He needs to watch a game and reflect on his play and what his impact is offensively and defensively,” coach Todd McLellan told reporters of the decision to sit Schultz against the Devils.

Darnell Nurse and Adam Clendening, scratches in Brooklyn, will replace Reinhart and Schultz in the lineup.

Turris understands Drouin’s situation, says requesting trade out of Phoenix ‘saved’ him

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Kyle Turris was far from an accomplished NHLer when he requested a trade out of the Coyotes organization. In fact, when he was dealt to the Senators in 2011, the third overall pick in the 2007 draft had just 46 points in 137 NHL games.

Since then, Turris has emerged as Ottawa’s top center, with the promise of a big payday in the summer of 2018 when his current $17.5 million deal expires and he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

It’s for that very reason that he can understand Jonathan Drouin‘s position with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“It’s tough,” Turris told the Tampa Bay Times. “Everyone has mixed feelings, and especially not being an established player. Then people are doubting that you’re doing the right thing, you really have to have confidence in yourself and your ability to do it.”

Though Turris, now 26, took a “lot of heat from the media…and people within the organization” and recalls the time after his trade request was made public as a “tough, tough go,” he believes the opportunity he received with the Sens “saved” him.

As we’ve written in the past, you don’t have to agree with how Drouin is handling things — maybe it ends up hurting him; he still has a lot to prove — but there have been young players who have chosen similar paths, and it’s worked out well for them.

Drouin, by the way, has 40 points in 89 NHL games.

Simmonds tells AV ‘I’m not a dirty player,’ says he had ‘no intention of hurting’ McDonagh with punch

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Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds has taken exception to criticisms from Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault, in the wake of Simmonds concussing Blueshirts captain Ryan McDonagh with a punch over the weekend.

“Vigneault can say whatever he wants. He’s the coach, that’s his opinion,” Simmonds said, per CSN Philly. “I don’t really care. I’m protecting myself; guy comes to cross check you in the head. I didn’t know what he expected. I had no intention of hurting him and I feel bad about that. That’s not what I want.

“I may play physical and I like to take the body. I fight occasionally. But by no means am I a dirty player, trying to run around and injure guys.”

Simmonds was tossed from Saturday’s game after punching McDonagh, but wasn’t suspended by the league. McDonagh missed New York’s next game — Monday’s 2-1 win over the Devils — and the lack of supplemental discipline incident irked Vigneault, who had words for both the officials and Simmonds.

“An All-Star player gets sucker-punched, goes down,” Vigneault said following the Flyers game, per The Record. “I wonder if that’s (Sidney) Crosby, what happens? What are the consequences?”

At this point, it’s probably worth noting the Flyers and Rangers play each other on Sunday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Worth circling that one on the ol’ calendar, methinks.