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Lightning journal: Rolling four lines is key to early-season wins

Jon Cooper: That Tampa can play four lines is why the Lightning are effective
Lightning center Cedric Paquette mixes it up with Frans Nielsen of the 
Red Wings during second period action on Oct. 18, 2018. (DIRK SHADD   |   Times)
Lightning center Cedric Paquette mixes it up with Frans Nielsen of the Red Wings during second period action on Oct. 18, 2018. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Published Oct. 19, 2018

TAMPA — The fourth line can often be a nice way of saying "players who aren't used much." But not on the Lightning. When coach Jon Cooper says he rolls four lines, he means it.

Tampa Bay has the depth for it, and Cooper believes that was the real edge in Tuesday's win over the Hurricanes.

"Yeah, we got the power-play goal, but we rolled four lines," Cooper said Thursday before the 3-1 win against the Red Wings. "For us to be effective, it's something we have to do."

The first and fourth lines had shifts nearly even in number but not length Tuesday. Take fourth-line F Cedric Paquette and first-line F Nikita Kucherov. Paquette had 19 shifts and 10:34 on ice; Kucherov had 21 shifts and 17:36.

It's not a perfect comparison because Paquette plays on the penalty kill, of which the Lightning had four, but it's close enough to demonstrate the point.

Special teams mess with the rhythm of rolling four lines — some players get more time while others sit for a longer stretch — but Cooper tries to keep them all going as much as possible. It keeps his players fresher by the time they get to the third period, which Tuesday began tied at 2.

With depth to fill four lines, it's a matter of matching skill sets to build them. It's tricky balancing them as the 82-game season goes on.

"The thing is not getting in the way when a line is having success," Cooper said. "Lines do get stale, and it's not breaking up one just to help another."

Conacher clears waivers, sent to Syracuse

F Cory Conacher had an usual 24 hours. He was placed on waivers, signed a contract extension, cleared waivers and was sent to AHL Syracuse.

GM Julien BriseBois approached Conacher with the new deal (one-year, one-way, $700,000) Wednesday, after the Lightning put him on waivers with the intent of reassigning him to Syracuse.

BriseBois said the extension was intended to show Conacher, who could have been an unrestricted free agent after the season, that he is in the Lightning's plans going forward. The Lightning has salary cap space this year, but next season its cap space will be tight and it needs good players on affordable contracts.

Having another year on Conacher's contract when he was put on waivers meant another team was going to have to make a bigger commitment if it claimed the forward, so it may have helped him stay in the organization. But BriseBois said that wasn't a factor.

"Obviously, it's a numbers game," Conacher said. "Julien is a straight shooter. He was honest with me. He told me I should be in the NHL, I should be in the lineup, but so should everyone else."

Conacher appreciated the Lightning keeping him in the organization. He also called being on waivers a win-win situation: Either he stayed with an organization he likes or he went to a team that wanted him in the NHL.

"Whether I'm down in Syracuse for some or most of the season, I'll do what I can to help the young guys down there," he said. "And I plan on coming back here as soon as I can."

Other transactions

F Danick Martel was sent to Syracuse for a conditioning stint, and the Lightning traded for F Mitch Hults from the Ducks for future considerations and sent him to the AHL.

Tampa Bay claimed Martel off waivers from the Flyers on Sept. 22. He hasn't played with the Lighting in the regular season. He had four games with the Flyers last year. He played in 59 games for AHL Lehigh Valley with 25 goals and 40 points.

Hults, 6 feet 2 and 207 pounds, has 61 career AHL games, with 11 goals and 29 points.

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