Steven Stamkos

Lightning honor Congressional Medal of Honor recipients

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On Wednesday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning honored recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor during a pre-game ceremony.

Tampa Bay is currently hosting the 2019 Medal of Honor Convention and had the Lightning invited 46 of the 70 living recipients to attend a special event including a ceremonial puck drop with Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby.

The Medal of Honor was created in 1861 by President Abraham Lincoln. It is the nation’s highest, and rarest, military decoration. The medal is bestowed by the President of the United States, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against the enemy of the United States.” Fewer than 3,500 individuals have received the medal, half of which have been posthumously. There are currently only 70 living recipients, one of the lowest numbers in history.

The esteemed group featured nine honorees from the War on Terrorism, 34 from the Vietnam War, two from the Korean War and one from World War II.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Penguins, Lightning on two different paths

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

As two of the NHL’s best teams over the past five years there is always a championship expectation for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. With both coming off of similarly disappointing postseason exits in 2019 (combined postseasons win between the two teams: zero) there was no doubt plenty of additional pressure on both teams at the start of this season.

For the Penguins, it is about regaining the identity that helped make them a back-to-back Stanley Cup champion and trying to maximize the remaining window they have in the careers of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. You only get players of that caliber for so long, and you owe it to them — and the franchise — to put them in the best possible situation to win. Anytime you do not win, and especially when you lose like they did to the New York Islanders, it is going to feel like a missed opportunity.

For the Lightning, it is about shaking the bad memories of so many recent postseason disappointments and finally breaking through with a championship for what is probably the league’s most talented roster on paper. After blowing 3-2 series leads in two different Eastern Conference Finals, as well as a 2-1 series lead in a Stanley Cup Final, the 2018-19 season seemed like it was finally going to be the year for Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman as they rolled through a 62-win regular season. What followed was the most disappointing of their postseason shortcomings, losing four consecutive games to the eighth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets.

[COVERAGE OF LIGHTNING-PENGUINS BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

So far this season the two teams have been on slightly different paths in their quest to reach the top, even if there isn’t much difference in their overall records.

The Penguins entered the season with several questions, ranging from the state of their defense, to their forward depth, to how the power play would look without Phil Kessel following his offseason trade to Arizona. As if that wasn’t enough, the team has been dealt a brutal hand with early injuries as Evgeni Malkin, Alex Galchenyuk, Bryan Rust, Nick Bjugstad, Jared McCann, and Brian Dumoulin have all been sidelined for a total of 38 man-games due to injury. Despite that, they have not only managed to win the majority of their games, they have carried the play more often than not, even in defeat. Even their two most recent losses (Vegas and Florida) probably had more to do with some bad puck luck than bad play.

They are playing smart, they are limiting odd-man rushes against, they are playing sound defensively, and they have received strong goaltending from the duo of Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry. Add in more dominance from Crosby and they are keeping pace with the rest of the top teams in the Eastern Conference with a lineup that has been pieced together through call-ups.

There is an argument to be made that they have probably overachieved given the circumstances.

It’s been a slightly difference experience so far for the Lightning.

Other than Brayden Point, who missed the first three games of the season as he continued to recover from offseason hip surgery, they have been 100 percent healthy from the start and have had the roster they have wanted to have at their disposal. Despite that, neither the results nor the process are what they want to be.

Entering Wednesday’s game they have won just four of their first eight games and they are probably fortunate to have won as many as they have. At times they have looked like a fraction of the team that dominated the regular season a year ago. In one early game against Carolina they recorded just three shots on goal over more than 40 minutes of hockey. In another, they were dominated by an Ottawa team that has just one win on the season (the win against the Lightning).

Overall there is nothing about their performance that is close to being up to their level of expectation.

Andrei Vasilevskiy has struggled in goal, their penalty kill is among the worst in the league, and their overall 5-on-5 performance has at times just simply been bad. Entering play on Tuesday they are 26th in the league in shot attempt percentage and 24th in scoring differential, both signs that they are not yet carrying the play in those situations. Given the roster they are returning it has been a rather underwhelming start.

Wednesday seems like a great opportunity to get things trending back in the right direction.

They are rested, they are at home, and they are playing a banged up, tired Penguins team that just dropped a 4-2 decision on Tuesday night against Florida.

It is still too early to be too worried, but at some point they would probably like to start playing closer to their level of expectation. Everything is set up for them to start getting there on Wednesday. If they can not take advantage of the situation in front of them it might be another red flag in a start that has already had too many of them.

NBC Sports will showcase a group of Congressional Medal of Honor recipients that are being recognized by the Tampa Bay Lightning in pre-game ceremonies as part of its Wednesday Night Hockey coverage. Jeremy Roenick will interview Medal of Honor recipients during pre-game and game coverage on Wednesday night, and NHL Live will air a feature with interviews of both current Lightning players and Medal of Honor recipients.

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. Jeremy Roenick will report on-site from Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will call Penguins-Lightning.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Lightning show off quick-strike offense in win over Canadiens

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The Tampa Bay Lightning entered the 2019-20 NHL regular season with an obvious chip on their shoulders. Despite winning 62 games last year and running away with the Presidents’ trophy, a first-round sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2019 playoffs left a perennial championship contender with something to prove.

On Wednesday evening, the Lightning reminded the Montreal Canadiens, and the rest of the NHL, that they have the ability to strike at a moment’s notice. Braydon Coburn, Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson each lit the lamp in the span of 2:08 to lead the Bolts to a 3-1 victory over the Habs.

Andrei Vasilevskiy recorded 33 saves and Nikita Kucherov added two assists as the Lightning captured their third win of the season. Tampa Bay heads to Boston Thursday to conclude an early six-game road trip.

Jeff Petry opened the scoring for Montreal with a power-play blast at 15:46 of the first period. Max Domi assisted on the play and has picked up six points (three goals, three assists) in the previous four games. But the Lightning answered with a surge of their own.

Coburn tallied the equalizer late in the first period when his shot from the high slot sailed past Carey Price at 19:53 of the opening period. Then, Stamkos and Johnson scored early in the second period to give Tampa Bay full control of the contest.

The Lightning have so much offensive firepower, but they have to caution themselves against relying on their quick-strike ability.

Stamkos led by example on the ice, notching two points, but also sent his teammates a minor warning through the media following a loss on October 6 against the Hurricanes.

“We just continue to be the freewheeling team that thinks that we can just come into games and win because we’re skilled,” Stamkos told reporters. “We keep falling back into the same old bad habits that we’ve been doing, that cost us the season we had last year. Unless we change things, it’s going to be a really, really, really long year.”

The Lightning have not gotten off to the smoothest of starts this season, posting a 3-2-1 record and somehow finding themselves on the outside of the Eastern Conference Playoff picture on the young season.

In the past two years, the Metropolitan Division has supplied both wild card teams in the East, but this year figures to be different with several changes in the Atlantic. The Buffalo Sabres are off to a tremendous start with Ralph Krueger behind the bench. In Florida, the Panthers made a number of offseason additions and brought in three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach Joel Quenneville. Additionally, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins expect to be near the top of the standings when it is all said and done.

From the Lightning perspective, the division will be much more competitive, and a slow start could have big ramifications in terms of playoff positioning, making this early divisional game more important than it is viewed on the surface.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Point shines in return as Lightning dismantle Maple Leafs: 3 takeaways

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The Tampa Bay Lightning were happy to welcome one of their most important players — Brayden Point — back to the lineup on Thursday night and he wasted no time making a huge impact in a 7-3 dismantling of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Three quick takeaways from the Lightning’s big win…

1. That Point contract is going to be a steal for the Lightning 

As soon as the terms of Brayden Point’s three-year contract with the Lightning were revealed it was obvious that it was a huge win for the team. Point is already one of the NHL’s best all-around players thanks to his elite scoring and often times overlooked defensive impact, and at age 23 he is probably still only getting better. After missing the first three games of the season following offseason hip surgery, Point was back in the lineup on Thursday and wasted no time making an impact. He opened the scoring just 2:28 into the first period before adding another goal and an assist later in the game to finish with three points. The line of Point, Steven Stamkos, and Nikita Kucherov was almost unfair with each of them recording at least three points in the win (Stamkos and Kucherov both had four points).

2. The Maple Leafs haven’t exactly erased their defensive concerns just yet

The Maple Leafs have done a lot of work to try and fix their blue line — probably the one Achilles Heel the team had the past few years — by adding a bunch of new faces over the past few months. Jake Muzzin came over from the Los Angeles Kings at the trade deadline, while Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, and Rasmus Sandin were all new additions at the start of the season. So far, the early results are not promising. They have now allowed 19 goals through the first five games, including at least three goals in every single home game. We know they can score, and we know the top of their lineup is great, but until they prove otherwise their ability to prevent their opponents from scoring is going to be a significant concern. The common trend with this team over the past few years is that when Frederik Andersen is on his game in net they can look like an unbeatable team. When he is not — as he has yet to be this season — things can quickly start to unravel for them.

3. Pay close attention to Anthony Cirelli this season

Not that the Lightning need another outstanding young player, but they may have one in Cirelli, a second-year forward that chipped in three assists in Thursday’s rout of Toronto. Playing on a 62-win team that had a league MVP and a number of other award winners it was easy for his rookie season to kind of get overlooked. But with 19 goals, 39 totals points, and quite a few Selke Trophy votes (one second place, five third place, 12 fourth place, and 23 fifth place) he has already shown he can be a force all over the ice. Just another impact player for a team that is already full of them.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Five biggest surprises of NHL’s opening week

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We’re already through the first week of the 2019-20 season and there have been plenty of interesting storylines and surprises. There’s never been a greater amount of parity in the NHL and that makes for some fun nights. Even though it’s incredibly early, we’re going to run down some of the biggest surprises so far.

There’s an excellent chance that a lot of these trends won’t hold up, but they’re still significant enough for the hockey world to take notice.

Here we go:

Mika Zibanejad is lighting it up:

How good has Zibanejad been for the Rangers through one week of action? Well, he’s already picked up four goals and four assists in just two games. That puts him on pace for 328 points, which we’re pretty sure he won’t hit. He posted a goal and three assists in the opener against the Winnipeg Jets and he shredded his old team, the Ottawa Senators, with three goals and an assist on Saturday night.

The 26-year-old was fantastic for New York last year too, as he posted a career-high 30 goals and 74 points in 82 contests. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see that the Rangers won that Zibanejad for Derrick Brassard swap that happened in July of 2016.

His start to the season puts him in some pretty good company:

That’s impressive!

Stamkos isn’t impressed with Lightning’s play: 

The Tampa Bay Lightning ran away with the President’s Trophy last season only to get bounced by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Through three games, the Bolts have a 1-1-1 record which isn’t catastrophic by any means. If you look back to last season, they didn’t hit their third loss until the 10-game mark, so they have work to do if they’re going to match that.

After blowing a 3-1 lead against the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday, Steven Stamkos made sure to send a message to his teammates and the entire organization.

“Today was a [terrible] game for us,” Stamkos said, per NHL.com. “Unless we change things, it’s going to be a really, really long year. We rely so much on our goaltending and our power play and the passing. It’s three games into the season, that’s the good news. There’s lots of times to correct these things. I don’t want to get too down, but it’s frustrating knowing the group we have in here and we keep continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results.”

No one expected Stamkos to utter those words this early.

[NHL Fantasy Hockey: Olofsson, Haula highlight this week’s best adds]

• The Stars and Sharks have no victories: 

A pair of teams that made the playoffs last season have failed to come up with a win in their first three games of the year. The Sharks have dropped decisions to the Vegas Golden Knights (twice) and the Anaheim Ducks. To make matters worse, San Jose has only found the back of the net three times in three games. That’s clearly not good enough.

The good news, is that Evander Kane has finished serving his suspension for making contact with an official, so he should give his team a boost in their next game which is Tuesday night in Nashville. Again, there’s no reason to panic yet, but the Sharks need to get their act together soon.

The Stars are in the same boat. Dallas was an overtime goal away from making it to the Western Conference Final last year, but that hasn’t translated into success this year. There’s good news, as all three of their losses have been by a single goal.

Dallas’ top guys have to get going in a hurry if they’re going to get back on track. Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov have no points in three games, while Tyler Seguin and Joe Pavelski each have a point.

• The Detroit Red Wings are…fun? 

Not many experts picked the Red Wings to make the playoffs this season, but some of their young veterans have sent a clear message to the rest of the league during opening week.

The Wings are off to a 2-0-0 start thanks to two wins over Nashville and Dallas. Tyler Bertuzzi had a four-point night against the Predators and followed that up with an assist against the Stars, while Anthony Mantha had three points against Nashville and four goals against Dallas.

Mantha currently has a share of the lead in goals scored with Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews.

“[Mantha] gets exponentially better when he’s playing with confidence, and that’s what you are seeing now,” head coach Jeff Blashill said after Sunday’s win. “When he’s moving his feet and going like this, you are looking at a guy who is 6-foot-5 with speed and great hands and he’s showing that whole package.”

The 25-year-old had a career-high 25 goals in just 67 games with the Wings last season. Is this the year he hits 30?

The Buffalo Sabres aren’t bleeding goals:

Yes, most teams are two games into their season, but what fun would it be if we didn’t read too much into some of these trends. The Sabres, who entered the season with question marks on defense and in goal, have only allowed three goals in their first two games.

Goalie Carter Hutton has stopped 46 of 49 shots he’s faced against the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils and that’s been good enough to earn two wins. Hutton deserves a lot of credit, but his teammates do too.

The Sabres have been really good!

Before we get all excited about the prospect of Buffalo finally being good, we have to remember that they got off to a strong start last year, too. They eventually fell apart and never recovered. Is this the year they get over the hump? Is this the year they shock the NHL? Well, we only have to wait another 80 games before we find out for sure.

What’s coming up this week?
Jack Hughes vs. Connor McDavid, Tues. Oct. 8, 7 p.m. ET

• Sharks vs. Predators, Tues. Oct 8, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

Phil Kessel plays game No. 1,000 on Sat., Oct. 12, 9 p.m. ET vs. Avalanche

WEDNESDAY NIGHT HOCKEY
Devils vs. Flyers, Weds., Oct. 9, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

NHL on NBCSN
Kings vs. Canucks, Weds. Oct. 9, 10 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.