Saturday, February 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning tinkers to maintain success

The recall of right wing Brett Connolly from AHL Syracuse, and the significant shuffling of lines before Friday's 3-0 victory over the Hurricanes, was a good indication the Lightning is not going to be patient with dips in performance.

It will even be proactive to get ahead of what it sees as developing problems.

That, it believes, is the best way to preserve the momentum gained from a 10-4-0 record.

As coach Jon Cooper said, "You can't fall behind. You've got to be in the hunt. People argue you have to win the games in March and April. Yeah, you have to win those, but you have to win the ones in October and November if you want to give yourself a chance, and so far, so good."

As good as October was to Tampa Bay — with a franchise-record eight wins — Cooper and general manager Steve Yzerman didn't like some of the trends.

For one, the team ended the month with an average 26.5 shots per game, 28th in the 30-team league.

It isn't getting enough production from left wing Ryan Malone (one goal, seven points) and right wing Richard Panik (zero goals, five points and minus-9), and rugged left wing Pierre-Cedric Labrie has not been hard enough to play against.

Then there was Tuesday's off-putting 2-1 loss to the Devils in which Tampa Bay mustered just 17 shots.

So, what did the Lightning do against Carolina?

It moved Alex Killorn from the second line to the first. Moved Malone from the first line, where he was having trouble keeping up with speedy Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis, to the second.

Panik went from the third line to the fourth. Labrie was scratched, and Connolly likely began a longer look to see if he can stick with the team.

Starting with superior goaltending and the players' greater commitment to team defense, this season's team is structurally superior to last season's, so the comparison might not be completely accurate. But you can't help but recall how the bottom eventually dropped out after last season's 6-1-0 start.

And though Yzerman said he is not necessarily drawing lessons from one season to the next, he clearly does not want to allow complacency to creep in.

"Not fall in love with ourselves and have a good gauge of how we're actually playing, whether you win or lose," is how St. Louis described it.

"We assess our team after every game," Yzerman said. "We look at what's going good and what's not going well."

And when they believed they needed to act, they did. We'll see how it all works out.

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