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Friday, September 25, 2009

OGA SPR: The Tampa Bay Lightning – The Colonel

Post-game celebrations did not occur nearly enough for the likes of the Tampa Bay Lightning faithful last season. But fans will be looking for more post-game head butts with Mike Smith and Antero Nittymaki...

Last Season versus the Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC): Called at Tee Time – out of the Playoffs – after Game 30 /8 December 2008. For those who think the “Three Point Game” artificially inflates standings and does not give you a true picture of team play, take one look at 18 OTL’s for Tampa Bay and you will see no help there. Even with the additional 18 points for Wins versus OTL’s, they would not have made the Playoffs. Through Game 20, they were just under the PQC and had played well defensively. But the wheels fell off the cart starting with Game 21 where they averaged winning 1.85 games in every five as they played .387 Hockey. There is no way you will make it into the Playoffs with that kind of output. The team’s season ending 3.3 against the PQC was their lowest since the Lockout and good for the second worst record in the NHL.

Post-Lockout average PQC and what to expect this season: Tampa Bay has averaged 4.03 against the PQC since the Stoppage and has secured a berth in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs twice in the last four years. Tampa Bay fans are excited to hear Captain Lecavalier is healthy and that he and Martin St.Louis talked Alex Tanguay into coming south. They equally expect improvement from Steven Stamkos, know they have four solid defenders now and have heard goalie Mike Smith is 100% after last year’s concussion. Traditionally, the Lightning hold right about along the PQC through Game 20, and were also in good shape on average through Game 30 before last season. Game 31 – this season on 11 December – is their traditional start of a slide. To determine whether they may see the post-season this year, check OGA’s PQC measurements to see if they are at or above the PQC at Game 20 and that there is no drop off after Game 30.

How will the Lightning strike in the 2009/10 season?

Team Play: ISSUE – Upgrading… There has been a great bit of transformation with the freedom Brian Lawton has received to retool this team over the summer. That change is most likely to produce improved results on the ice this season.

The notes from training camp indicate a No. 1 line of Tanguay–Lecavalier–Downie/Veilleux from left to right, and Malone–Stamkos–St.Louis in the No. 2 position. That’s right, there’s a RW problem in No. 1 line. The Steve Downie experiment initially didn’t work but has now come back around full circle to try out again. The inability to find the RW and stick with somebody has disrupted their performance and has produced from all parties a total of 2 G’s and 7 A’s (with no points for Veilleux) and a return of Carter Ashton to Lethbridge of the WHL. Could Martin St. Louis slip back over there again? The issue would then be one of busting up the Malone-Stamkos-St.Louis line that has clicked very well as their 7 G’s and 4 A’s in pre-season attest. Once the Lightning gets these combos down, the Southeast Division will see a team coming at them with a top two pairing that is cause for alarm.

The top two pairings listed on defense according to Fox Sports’ depth charts are Ohlund-Hedman and Ranger-Krajicek. In those four blue liners, you are looking at an average of 25-30 points per man if last season projected to 82 games is any kind of indicator of their 2009/10 output. Of note is that from that top four, Coach Tocchet cannot say enough good things of No. 1 draft choice Victor Hedman. After those four, Mezaros and Walker are projected on line No. 3, but Kurtis Foster is leading defensive scoring in the pre-season with 1 G and 3 A’s making it a difficult decision not to keep him in the mix. (Coach Tocchet has indicated there is a ‘logjam’ at the defensive position and he is not kidding – besides the top seven mentioned above are Lashoff, Smaby and Wishart. Suffice it to say there will be no lack of defense back on the farm.) Lightning GM Lawton made his most strides in this area of the ice over the summer. Good blue line health this season is a must for solidifying this corps and stabilizing the team.

As training camp opened, word out on the street was that No. 1 goalie Mike Smith was 100% after recovery from last season’s concussion. Indeed, he stopped 79 of 74 SOG in games on 18, 22 and 24 September and the team won all three contests. His primary backup is Antero Nittymaki, a byproduct of Philadelphia blowing up their net, but a great pickup for Tampa Bay considering Karri Ramo bolted to Russia. And Riku Helenius looks to be entrenched in the No. 3 spot for now. This is a good set of goaltenders playing behind an improved defensive corps which bodes well for lowering team goals against this season.

Improved output from the forward corps, stronger defense than last year and healthy goalies all point to sunnier times for Tampa Bay. Is it the right elixir for a run into the Playoffs? We temper our excitement by saying we will have to let the W column do the talking…

Fantasy Value: You will never be lucky enough to snap up Tanguay, Lecavalier, St.Louis and Stamkos. But you’d better fight to get a piece of this foursome. These guys are going to produce. At OGA, we are also high on Ryan Malone as late-round forward pick. Many will pick Mattias Ohlund as the team’s PP quarterback and go-to defenseman. He may only produce 25-30 points, but he is a good asset in your stable of defenders. But don’t underestimate Kurtis Foster either – he posted six points in 10 games and a +7 for Minnesota as he came back from the broken leg suffered against the San Jose Sharks in the 2007/8 season. (He is also projected for potential PP duty.) Victor Hedman will get less minutes unless he continues to blow away the Lightning staff. But bank on somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-25 points for his initial NHL season as he gets use to the North American sheet of ice. Finally, and not spoken lightly, Mike Smith is a good acquisition for your No. 2 or 3 goalie as well.

Schedule Analysis: A relatively favorable schedule awaits the Lightning. For a primary analysis of the team’s overall 2009/10 regular season schedule, go to this link.

Tomorrow comes the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2009/10 SPR…

Take me back to www.ongoalanalysis.com

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