Friday, June 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning rookie Brett Connolly, challenged to improve, raises his game

TAMPA — When Brett Connolly has a breakaway, he usually is so caught up in the moment, not much crosses his mind.

It was different Saturday against the Blues, and as Connolly bore down on goaltender Jaroslav Halak, he said he thought, "This could break me out of a slump."

But Halak gloved Connolly's wrist shot and the goal drought for the Lightning's rookie right wing is now 40 games.

"It's frustrating," Connolly said Wednesday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, "but it will happen. I just have to keep working on my game."

This, though, is not a story about failure. It is about how Connolly has transformed from a player who was benched and called a defensive liability to one playing with more of the confidence and creativity expected of the No. 6 overall pick of the 2010 draft.

Goals are just another hurdle.

"I'm crossing my fingers for him," coach Guy Boucher said. "He's been playing great. He's got it all, and in the next years he's going to be a really good player."

No one is calling Connolly a finished product, not even close — "He still has a lot to learn and a lot to improve on," Boucher said — but it is notable how far he has come.

Just last month, Connolly, 19, was benched for three games in a stretch of seven. There also was the 16-game stretch in January and February in which he played fewer than 10 minutes, and Boucher's assertion Connolly needed to clean up his defensive game.

And not just in a specific area.

"Just overall," Connolly said. "Being aware, being on top of my checks, one-on-one battles, my play along the boards, not throwing the puck away, being patient. I have a lot more time than I used to think. Before, when I had the puck on the wall, I felt like I have to get it off my stick right away."

Now he surveys the ice before moving the puck, makes plays instead of turning the puck over and shows the hand skills needed to maneuver the puck through heavy traffic.

"He just needed that confidence," linemate Ryan Malone said. "It helps when you know you're going to go back on the ice. If you're thinking the whole time, 'If I make a mistake, I'm going to be on the bench,' it's tough to play hockey that way. Now the coaches believe he has the right direction."

Connolly's resurgence is one of circumstance, too; His minutes rose after Dominic Moore and Steve Downie were traded, and Vinny Lecavalier was sidelined Feb. 18 with a fractured hand.

But as Boucher said, "He's played good, so he's getting more time. If others played better than him, he would be getting less."

Connolly, 6 feet 2, 181 pounds, is averaging 11:08 of ice time but has played more in nine of his past 13 games, and Monday against the Sabres he had a career-most 16:48. He has four assists in those games, four goals, 12 points in 46 games on the season.

"I feel a lot more comfortable," Connolly said. "It's been a lot more fun of late to play. It's been good, and I'm going to improve even more the last 10 games."

If only he would have scored on Halak.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected] View his blog at lightning.tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @LightningTimes.

. Tonight

Lightning vs. Oilers

When/where: 7:30; Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa

TV/radio: Sun Sports; 970-AM

Key stats: Lightning C Steven Stamkos has just two goals and three points in his past six games. … Oilers G Nikolai Khabibulin has not played at the Tampa Bay Times Forum since helping the Lightning win the Stanley Cup in Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final. He is 4-3-0 in seven games against Tampa Bay with a 1.85 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. … The Lightning has not beaten the Oilers since January 2008 (0-2-1). … Edmonton C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins leads all rookies with 22 power-play points and 19 power-play assists.

Comments
2018-19 schedule unveiled: Lightning opens with five straight at home

2018-19 schedule unveiled: Lightning opens with five straight at home

NHL schedules all balance out at the end, but the Lightning will open 2018-19 with five straight home games and end the season with its last four on the road.The Lightning released its schedule Thursday evening for the upcoming season, with all sorts...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Without a first-rounder, Lightning still could have busy draft weekend

Without a first-rounder, Lightning still could have busy draft weekend

The Lightning doesn't have a first-round pick in this weekend's draft, but that's not to say the weekend couldn't be busy for general manager Steve Yzerman and his front office.The Lightning sent its top draft pick to the Rangers in February as part ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Islanders hire Barry Trotz as coach fresh off winning Stanley Cup

Islanders hire Barry Trotz as coach fresh off winning Stanley Cup

DALLAS — The New York Islanders have hired Barry Trotz as their new head coach. President of hockey operations Lou Lamoriello announced the move Thursday at the NHL draft, two weeks after Trotz won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals and thr...
Published: 06/21/18
Lightning’s Victor Hedman salutes survivors in Norris Trophy acceptance speech

Lightning’s Victor Hedman salutes survivors in Norris Trophy acceptance speech

The victims and survivors of three tragedies — the mass shootings in Las Vegas and at Parkland Stoneman Douglas High School, and the bus accident that killed 16 members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team — were a big part of Wedne...
Published: 06/21/18
Lightning’s Victor Hedman wins NHL’s Norris Trophy

Lightning’s Victor Hedman wins NHL’s Norris Trophy

Victor Hedman, a relentless part of the Lightning's push to the Eastern Conference final last season, was honored Wednesday night with the Norris Trophy, given to the NHL's top defenseman."To the Lightning organization, Mr. Jeff Vinik, Steve Yzerman ...
Published: 06/20/18
Lightning announce home opener: Oct. 6 vs. Panthers

Lightning announce home opener: Oct. 6 vs. Panthers

The Tampa Bay Lightning will announce their full 2018-19 schedule on Thursday, but the league announced each home opener Wednesday, with Tampa Bay playing host to the Florida Panthers at Amalie Arena on Saturday, Oct. 6.The Lightning will know their ...
Published: 06/20/18
Norris Trophy could be good consolation for Lightning’s Victor Hedman

Norris Trophy could be good consolation for Lightning’s Victor Hedman

Victor Hedman is talking from a hotel room in Las Vegas and admits he's a little jet-lagged."Actually, very jet-lagged," Hedman says.That's what happens when you take a flight from Sweden to the party capital of the world.But he knows exactly what he...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Mike Hoffman traded twice in wake of harassment, cyberbullying claims

Mike Hoffman traded twice in wake of harassment, cyberbullying claims

The Ottawa Senators traded winger Mike Hoffman on Tuesday, hoping to solve an ugly off-ice issue involving star defenseman Erik Karlsson and his wife. The Senators sent Hoffman to the San Jose Sharks, who then dealt him to the Florida Panthers. All t...
Published: 06/19/18
Salary-cap increase makes for ‘more fun’ NHL offseason

Salary-cap increase makes for ‘more fun’ NHL offseason

Thanks, Vegas. That’s what NHL general managers are saying this offseason after the Stanley Cup Final run of the expansion Golden Knights contributed to what’s expected to be a healthy increase for the salary cap. With elite center John Tavares, No. ...
Published: 06/19/18
Barry Trotz resigns as coach of Stanley Cup-winning Capitals

Barry Trotz resigns as coach of Stanley Cup-winning Capitals

Barry Trotz abruptly stepped down as coach of the Washington Capitals on Monday after failing to agree to terms on a new contract, a stunning move that left the newly minted Stanley Cup champions without a coach with the draft later this week and wit...
Published: 06/18/18