I've got some questions about the Edmonton Oilers' opponent tonight. Thankfully, Matt Esteves from Raw Charge is here to help me out. Otherwise, I'd be asking myself questions, and that really looks weird on the internet.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin.
Copper and Blue: The Lightning have struggled for much of the season. The first inclination for an outsider is to look at the absence of Steven Stamkos. Stamkos' recovery timetable has him on track for a return in March. Who's been doing the heavy lifting in Stamkos' absence?
Raw Charge: The Lightning have had a bad year given the amount of talent on the roster and the expectations coming into the season. Missing Stamkos has definitely hurt the team, and even though this roster is used to it, the numbers aren't pretty. The offense has regressed as a unit, currently Corsica has them as the 17th best offense at 5v5 with 99 goals (Edmonton is the 10th best with 113 5v5 goals per Corsica). Heavy lifting wise? Kucherov (49 points), Hedman (48 points), and Drouin (36 points) have been the real big lifters for this team. Tyler Johnson was doing real well for the beginning part of the season, but has tapered off a bit since the new year rolled around.
Copper and Blue: Ben Bishop is on the final year of his two year deal. Whether or not he's dealt at the trade deadline, Andrei Vasilevskiy is under contract for the next three years. Is Vasilevskiy going to be the go-to guy in the crease? What's the feel among the fans?
Raw Charge: Bishop is gone in my opinion. Vasy has played very well in the limited time he has gotten and even though some of my Raw Charge compatriots were screaming for Cooper's head when Vasy got those 10 straight starts, I thought it was a big growing point for Vasilevskiy. Vasy has always been a emotional goalie and has ridden it throughout his career. The fan base is divided, however, a big portion of the fan base has the mentality of "the team plays differently when Bishop is in net compared to Vasy", which is hogwash if you ask me. This team has played the same in front of both, which was bad for a long portion of the season. Given how Yzerman gave Vasy his own "bridge" contract and the fact that Bishop is going to get a raise (two Vezina nominations in three years is going to give a man a raise) I can't see how Yzerman keeps them both. Vasy will be our starter next season in my eyes.
Copper and Blue: Tell us about a player who has exceeded expectations this season.
Copper and Blue: Forward Brian Boyle's name has come up in possible trade talks with the Oilers. What are Boyle's strong suits to his game? What are his weaknesses?
Raw Charge: If we do send Boyle your way you're going to love him. The man does everything. Faceoffs, power play, penalty kill, defense (yes he has filled in a few times on defense and done quite well), faceoffs, leadership, grit. This dude is an all encompassing hockey player and everyone in Tampa loves him. He's best suited as a #3 or #4 center who can fill into your top six occasionally. He's got deceptively good hands for a big man and he just plays the game the right way to be honest. Weakness? He isn't entirely fleet of foot, so speed is an issue for him sometimes, another thing is he tends to not shoot as much as I would like. Though this could be due to the Lightning in general not shooting as much as I'd like, but Boyle has shown he can shoot in this league and the fact he doesn't do it more often slightly bugs me.
Copper and Blue: Finally, as of this writing the Lightning are five points out of the last Wild Card spot. Does this team have a snowball's chance in hell of climbing over the mountain?1)
Raw Charge: There is always a chance the Bolts go on a tear and make the playoffs. Now if you want my opinion, I say no. The offense has regressed, but it has done enough to win games, where the Lightning have completely regressed (I'm talking slowly creeping towards the bottom 5 of the league) is defense. The defense has just been utterly disgusting this season. Sustr and Garrison are the primary culprits, but the Lightning's shuffling of Slater Koekkoek, Nikita Nesterov, and Jake Dotchin have not helped at all. Aside from Hedman and Stralman keeping the team as close to treading water as possible the defense as a whole has been the team's Achilles' heel. At this point I think Yzerman should sell at the deadline and we just chalk this season up as a lost cause. I've told my compatriots at Raw Charge that we are like Montreal last season mixed with Columbus two seasons ago. If Yzerman can sell the right pieces and find some help on defense and a veteran goalie to backup Vasy next year the Lightning should bounce back and be a contender. This year though? Man...we are not good.
Thanks again to Matt for his time!
Find Matt online @iActium