Last chance for bubble guys
What happens in Tuesday's final preseason game will go along way to determining the Lightning's final two cuts (assuming Jeff Halpern, Paul Ranger and Nick Tarnasky go on injured reserve), hockey ops chief Brian Lawton said. The team has to be down to 24, including extra goalie Karri Ramo by 3 p.m. eastern time on Oct. 3.
It would seem as if the cuts will come from the forwards as the team is set on defense with seven healthy players and Ranger, rehabbing a right shoulder injury, waiting to be cleared to play. Once Ranger is cleared, a decision will have to be made, but doesn't seem a lot of sense sending anyone down now. That means Vladimir Mihalik may actually make it through, though certainly nothing is in stone.
It would seem Michel Ouellet has to show something. Jason Ward had two goals in his last game. Is that enough to secure a spot? Do David Koci's fists earn him a spot? It does not seem likely Radim Vrbata is in danger, but he has struggled and will not play against HC Slovan.
The other factor in forming a lineup is how Tampa Bay wants to use its players. What if it decides it likes Jussi Jokinen better at center than wing. If that is the case, where does that leave Ryan Craig, who would seemingly be behind Vinny Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos, Jussi Jokinen and Chris Gratton? Back at wing?
Still so many moving parts. One more game to figure it out.
"The first two games are so crucial to us, we want to have the right lineup in," Lawton said of the season-opening games, Oct. 4 and 5 against the Rangers in Prague. "I think we probably have several right lineups."
Other notables: Tarnasky is practicing, but still could be put on injured reserve to help with the numbers crunch. ... Mihalik and defenseman Andrej Meszaros, both from Slovakia, are expecting friends and family to be at the game. ... Meszaros has zero points in the preseason but says he doesn't care. "I don't have to have a point. ... I'm a team player and as long as we win, I'm happy." ... Several Lightning players signed autographs for 45 minutes at a local sporting goods store in the morning. Players also signed on the ice after an open workout at Samsung Arena. ... The league was trying to secure a different charter plane for Tuesday night's ride back to Prague to avoid the hassles experienced Sunday with Czech Airlines.