Line of Marty St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone seems primed to pick up where it left off
There was plenty to like at Monday's two scrimmages at the Ice Sports Forum. A lot of the prospects, who were pitted against the NHL players, showed a lot of why all of a sudden Tampa Bay's feeder system isn't as shallow as it once was.
Goaltender Jaroslav Janus, who is playing for a contract, was terrific in two games, stopping 25 of 28 shots; center James Wright had a goal and an assist and had six shots in the first of the two scrimmages in which he played; right wing Carter Ashton can't stop going to the net and had the hit of the day when he ran over 6-foot-7 defenseman Vladimir Mihalik; center Richard Panik did not get a point but had three shots on goal and showed some skill; left wing Alex Tanguay had three goals in his first-ever game action for the Lightning; and right wing Steve Downie wasn't bad playing with Tanguay and center Vinny Lecavalier.
But for any fan who wants to believe the Lightning has a chance to sneak into the playoffs next season, the play of the line of center Steven Stamkos, right wing Marty St. Louis and Ryan Malone, was something to behold. Sure, it was a just scrimmage, but there was no sign of tentative play. There were crisp passes, and there was play-making that made you think the line is ready to pick up where it left off.
Want stats? St. Louis, who busted his butt as if it were a playoff game, had a goal and four points. Stamkos and Malone each had a goal and three points. That's three goals and 10 points in about 30 minutes work. Not too shabby.
"We understand each other's game," St. Louis said. "It's not like we never played together. I think we all bring something to the table, and we're trying to be in spots where we're going to be the most successful, and get the puck to guys where they're going to be the most successful. It was a good scrimmage for us to build on and try to move towards a good start to the season."
Each had a shining moment. For St. Louis, it really was tracking down Alex Hutchings from behind, lifting Hutchings stick and staling the puck just as Hutchings was to shoot on a breakaway. On offense, the play of the day ended in a Malone goal. It began with a nice contain at the blue line by Mike Lundin, who sent the puck into the zone to Malone. Malone passed to St. Louis, who in tight quarters got it back to Malone, who scored into an empty net.
Stamkos' best moment was a cross-ice pass in the offensive zone to a charging Drew Miller, who took the puck in perfect firing position and scored.
"Steven Stamkos is at another level," coach Rick Tocchet said.
Good stuff, and sure to only get better as camp progresses.
Funny there was some talk the first day of camp about how St. Louis might get a chance to play on a line with Tanguay and Lecavalier. And he St. Louis, the consummate interchangeable part, still might play there some. But after watching how well the Stamkos line played last season, and watching it Monday, it will be very hard to break that up.
"We just try to keep it simple," Malone said, "move the puck and support each other. It's a good start, but we have a long way to go."