An important game for the Hurricanes tonight took on a more surreal angle when the Canes picked up Lightning winger Adam Hall on waivers earlier today. With that in mind, let's take a closer look at a Lightning team which has beaten the Canes both times they've met this season but has only won twice since the second of those wins over Carolina three weeks ago. John Fontana of Raw Charge is in the hot seat today, and the questions are a joint effort from Corey Sznajder and myself.
- The Lightning came into this season with a much better team on paper, but they are going through yet another tough season. The team's .905 save percentage has caused a lot of people to point their fingers at goaltending as the problem. Is this criticism fair, or have the Lightning's problems been unfairly pinned on the shoulders of Lindback and Garon?
The focus of critics goes at personnel first and foremost when it comes to goaltending woes. They find an excuse as either what to blame or the ultimate reason why a goalie is struggling. This has been the standard with Tampa Bay netminders since 2010-11, the first season that employed goalie coach Frantz Jean.
Yes, there had been goalie struggles for the Lightning since the departure of Nikolai Khabibulin in 2005, but there’s a statistical anomaly that is just too glaring to dismiss: Every goalie that has started a season in Tampa has had a sub .906 save percentage and a GAA greater than 2.80:
- Mike Smith (2010-11): 2.90 GAA, .899 Save%
- Dan Ellis (2010-11): 2.93 GAA, .889 Save%
- Dwayne Roloson (2011-12): 3.66 GAA, .886 Save%
- Mathieu Garon (2011-12): 2.85 GAA, .900 Save%
- Anders Lindback (2013): 2.93 GAA, .902 Save%
- Garon (2013): 2.85 GAA, .913 Save%
Excuses could be painted for all (and we don’t count Dwayne Roloson’s half season success in Tampa in this list as coaching let him be after his acquisition from the New York Islanders in 2011). Now throw in issues with Lightning goalies playing in the AHL this season (where goalie coach Jean was spending much time during the NHL lockout) as well as successes that goalies have had after escaping the Lightning system… It becomes an issue that’s not solely talent based.
Of course, it’s also a matter of team play in front of the goalie, and I can tell you that this season the Lightning aren’t doing them any favors...
- Everyone knows about Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, but the Lightning have quietly built up a solid group of other young talents these last few seasons. Cory Conacher has undoubtedly been the most impressive with his 7 goals and 20 points in 27 games, but there have been some other youngsters like Richard Panik and Alexander Killorn who have been called up this year and have performed well. What is your take on how some of the Bolts' prospects have played, and which youngster has surprised you the most this season?
The only real surprise that has come from the call-ups of our prospects (Conacher, Killorn, Radko Gudas, Ondrej Palat, Panik, and Tyler Johnson) this season isn’t play at all but more the need for the call ups and how they’ve outplayed the veterans at times. For the Hurricanes fans out there not up on the AHL, these guys were all members of the 2011-12 Norfolk Admirals… The record-breaking 28-game-win-streak Norfolk Admirals, The eventual-Calder-Cup-Champion Norfolk Admirals.
A lot of this talent has been brought along slowly with no rush to bring them to the NHL. In fact, perhaps it’s Killorn's promotion to Tampa Bay that’s most surprising? It’s not his play; we knew he was capable of playing at this level. It’s that GM Steve Yzerman tends to give prospects a full season at the AHL level before considering them for a recall. This is Killorn’s first pro season after his time with the Harvard College Crimson came to an end last year.
- How does Vinny Lecavalier's injury change the calculus for the rest of the season? Are the Lightning guaranteed sellers at the deadline - and who would be on the block, if so - or will they try to make a run at a playoff spot despite losing their captain?
I think the team collapse after their season opening run (6-1-0 in their first seven and Dismal-Horrible-Drat since) guaranteed the Bolts will likely be sellers at the deadline if they make any player movement at all, so the Lecavalier injury is sort of moot on that. Really, it’s the direction of the club going forward that will dictate who is on the block or not.
Do you go with a youth movement here, or start paring down the team’s contract situation for next year to get under the new cap? I’d think defenseman Eric Brewer may be shopped, and perhaps gritty forward Ryan Malone. Those guys, as well as Teddy Purcell, would likely have the most trade value. I’d list Adam Hall too, but news just came in that the Hurricanes have claimed him off waivers. Congratulations. While Hall isn’t going to be the fastest forward out there, he’s a lunch-pail kind of guy who is great at faceoffs.