Addition of Brett Connolly one of several lineup changes for game against the Hurricanes
The Lightning made it clear it isn't going to show much patience when the team goes through rough patches. So, after two consecutive games in which the team struggled, Tampa Bay made several lineup changes for Friday night's game with the Hurricanes.
Brett Connolly, called up Thursday from AHL Syracuse, will play on a line with center Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. That pushed struggling wing Richard Panik (zero goals and minus-9) down to the fourth line with center Nate Thompson and B.J. Crombeen.
Left wing Alex Killorn takes Ryan Malone's place on a line with center Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis. Malone is on a line with center Valtteri Filppula and right wing Teddy Purcell.
On defense, Mark Barberio comes in for Andre Sustr. So, the game scratches are Sustr, wing P.C. Labrie and defenseman Keith Aulie.
All of the moves are being made to add a spark of offense to a team that has struggled lately scoring goals and getting shots on net. The breaking point was a dreary 2-1 loss to the Devils on Tuesday in which the Lightning was outshot 22-17. That after Sunday's 4-3 shootout win over the Panthers in which Tampa Bay scored on two of its first three shots but generated little offense thereafter.
The offensive struggles have been most noticeable among the forwards. Stamkos and Marty St. Louis are doing fine, but Malone, Purcell, Killorn, Filppula and Panik combined have two goals combined in their past seven games.
"We've gone a little bit stale here," coach Jon Cooper said. "Let's see if we can manufacture something."
The problems are somewhat complicated. The team wants more shots on goals but Cooper doesn't want its forwards to rush to create shots. As an example, he explained that on rushes into the offensive zone in which the numbers are even on both sides, holding the puck and waiting for the defense to join in would be preferable to taking a quick shot and perhaps losing the puck.
"The last couple of games we enter the (offensive) zone and we're one (shot) and out," Cooper said. "We've got to temper the expectations a bit when we enter the zone. Everything doesn't have to go right to the net. Let's get everybody involved and get some goals the old fashioned way, get (pucks) to the net and bang home some rebounds."
Other stuff from the morning skate: Connolly was called up from Syracuse despite having zero goals and just one assist in six games. But Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman says the stats are deceiving because Connolly has actually played well. Connolly agreed. "I've been killing penalties and my work ethic is there," he said. "I've been good on both ends of the rink. I'm getting chances, which is the main thing. They will eventually go in for me." ... Cooper said Connolly didn't get a fair chance to show what he could do the last time he was up as he played just 9:38 in an Oct. 17 game against the Wild. Expect Connolly to get a longer stay and more minutes this time around. "It's tough to generate a lot of tings when you're playing, six, seven, eight minutes," Connolly said. "At the same time, you've got to play well and that's what I'm up here to do. I'm excited." ... Killorn is no stranger to playing with Stamkos and St. Louis as he did so a bit last season. he is another player who believes it is just a matter of time before he starts contributing. "Marty and Stammer have been holding up a lot of the load lately, but it will pick up," he said. "As long as the chances are there you can't be too angry. Getting frustrated is not going to make anything that much better. You just have to keep shooting on net." ... With eight goals and 15 points in eight games, Syracuse right wing Nikita Kucherov is the AHL's rookie of the month.