Lightning’s shorthanded road trip

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Steven Stamkos warms up during a pre-season game against the Florida Panthers. The Lightning will return home Tuesday against the Arizona Coyotes.

Maybe the Lightning should just dress 16 players to just save on two players getting nicked up each game at this point.

This Western Canada road swing is nutty on the injury front with another man down each game. It doesn’t help that the trip includes two sets of back-to-back games in one week. Monday and Tuesday in Edmonton and Calgary than Friday and Saturday in Winnipeg and Minneapolis.

Yet, with three wins on the road in four games, the Lightning could be finding a defining moment of the season earlier than expected. As if Stammer’s leg injury on Veterans Day last year wasn’t early enough.

The trip started in Vancouver last Saturday with Victor Hedman suffering a broken finger. Next game, Ryan Callahan goes down with an injury in Edmonton on Monday. Before that game even started, Alex Killorn wiped out during the morning skate and injured himself prompting Jonathan Drouin to make his debut.

In Calgary, Nikita Kucherov missed the entire second period and part of the first after a hit. At least he recovered to come back during third period and overtime for the win.

Moving to Winnipeg, J.T. Brown is exploded in the corner by Chris Thornburg and Brett Connolly then suffers what the team is calling a lower-body injury.

At that rate, the coaching staff could have been called into duty, coach Jon Cooper joked with the media, according to Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times:

I don’t even want to see what’s going to happen against the Wild tonight. Most of the wounded have resumed skating, according to the Tribune and the Times and at least Radko Gudas became available.

Consider how taxing this is on the rest of the team if it isn’t managed right or depending on how the game plays out. Special teams, especially penalty killing, will skyrocket certain players’ ice time. Some might be conditioned to handle it for a game but this much in a week is a bit much.

In Winnepeg, Gudas’s seven minutes of penalties pushed Anton Stralman into playing over 24 minutes but Andrej Sustr’s time didn’t increase to balance the load, playing even less than Gudas for the game.

For the forwards, everyone received at least 10 minutes of ice time after Brown and Connolly were injured with Stammer, Val and Johnson all getting over 20 minutes.

Calgary saw a better balance, with the least amount of time loss from injury, with all the defenseman save for Barberio very close in ice time ranging from 21 minutes to a shade over 22 minutes. Minutes in Edmonton were spread out well to deal with Callahan’s injury, too. Then looking back to a week ago in Vancouver, the only players getting more than 20 minutes in the win were defensemen Carle, Garrison and Stralman.

For the most part, Cooper and his bench has managed well, not overly taxing anyone until maybe that Jets game. Stamkos nearly had 24 minutes in that game. I know about five minutes of that were on the power play, but this is another set of back-to-back games and Winnipeg wasn’t easy on the body.

The ice management bodes well for the bottom six, especially fourth liners who won’t see a lot of minutes unless called upon to kill penalties. Good on Cooper again for inserting Brenden Morrow on the power play Friday night and seeing Morrow agitate Zach Bogosian in front of the net, giving and taking cross-checks to the back, leading to a shot by Palat and a tip by Namestnikov.

That’s earned ice time right there and maybe we’ll see some line combinations carry over that Cooper had to create out of necessity from this road trip.

Still, there’s one more game to try to win and escape injury tonight against the Wild before coming home to regenerate. Cross your fingers.

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Hockey kingmakers gonna crown

Sometimes sports journalism, blogging and radio is all about king making and it seems to start earlier and earlier.

King making is another term for anointing a player, coach or team as a champion, award winner or in politics, a power player and election winner.

Four games into the season, a Tampa Tribune columnist all but gave Victor Hedman the Norris Trophy in a gush fest. Yeah, he’s had a great start but there are 78 more games to go. The following game in Vancouver, Hedman was injured. Herman went from breakout to broken finger. He’ll be back but if he can continue his start to the season remains to be seen. He’ll have valleys with those peaks during a long season.

On the opposite end, you have outlets from both the U.S. and Canada tear apart the Oilers after they were winless in their first five games. It got so bad that the Edmonton Journal ran a passionate fan plea or rant about how bad they are. Another fan threw a jersey on the ice. They won their next game, of course coming against the Lightning. Then they surprised the Capitals and handed them their first regulation loss in the following game. Come Friday, they started a three-game win streak beating up on a still winless Hurricanes squad 6-3.

In Sunrise, folks have already written the Panthers off and have the moving vans warmed up both before and after the empty stands photos went viral, despite a process that needs to play out in the Broward County Commission. On the ice, five out of six games this season were one-goal games with two ending in OT and one ending in a shootout. That’s not bad as they at least pick up points.

In Winnipeg, Paul Maurice just plain old said if he’d make you fucking cry to get his team’s ship in order. They won their next game against the Hurricanes but then faltered to the Lightning in a gritty game that was too close for my liking.

The point is to not feed into a frenzy of both what you see on ice for the first five or so games of the season. Take each game for what it’s worth. Scott Burnside nailed it on ESPN.com’s new daily talker “Pucks Central:”

An annual rite of fall is to anoint early dark horses or teams ready to surprise based on a relatively small sample of games. Given that, it’s always interesting to see what happens when those teams play more games and games against better teams.

Do you want to know how a team and its players are going to fare? Wait until Thanksgiving and you’ll get a pretty good idea. In Barry Trotz’s approach with the Capitals, he says he wants his squad to show how the Caps play 20 games into the season. For the Bolts, that mark would be Nov. 18.

To borrow a phrase from Lindy Ruff, the beginning of the season features some “garbage hockey” like what his Stars showed this week–high scoring games without semblance of discipline for a system. You’ll see swings of games with teams going from scoring five goals in one game and one on the next, four the next and maybe two or none the following game.

Once you get to mid-November, you’ll see a character of a team notwithstanding major changes or lack of reaction. You’ll have losing streaks fester by then prompting coaching changes.

Appreciate the game and live the ride, but don’t get overly excited or down.

Ed. Note: Yes, I haven’t posted since before the beginning of the season. Now that I’m finished writing tons of copy on a new mall in Sarasota and have a rhythm for hitting the gym in the evenings, you’ll see more posts here.

Aaron Ekblad’s funky skating style on display in Tampa

Aaron Ekblad skates with the Florida Panthers during a preseason game Oct. 4 against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena.

Aaron Ekblad skates with the Florida Panthers during a preseason game Oct. 4 against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena.

The Tampa Bay Lightning meet its cross-state rival Florida Panthers on Thursday for the home opener and fans ought to notice the hunchback of Notre Dame is playing for the opposition sporting No. 5.

Saturday’s pre-season match was the first time I got to see first overall pick Aaron Ekblad in action with the Panthers and his skating style is something to well, wonder about. Ekblad is listed as 6’4″ but skates like he’s maybe 5’9″.

When Ekblad skates, for the most part his back is bent in a hunch and his feet and ankles are overly flexed to dig in with the balls of his feet to skate backward. Somehow it’s served him well. I don’t know how well it will serve him in the NHL.

My first reaction was that it looked like he had to go to the bathroom really bad, or he already did and was trying to make it off the ice. He also looks like a goalie doing skating drills. And it also looks like because he’s hunched over, that he plays with a stick more suited for Marty St. Louis.

I’ve Googled a combination of terms to see what scouting reports and others have said about his skating style and ability, and the results were all over the place. A couple posts talk about his “excellent skating ability” and another said he’s working to “refine” his skating.

Only thing I could find in a news or blog source acknowledging this is from David Staples in an Edmonton Journal report from March: 

He is an efficient skater, if not particularly smooth. He’s got a powerful stride though and he covers a lot of ice with his efficiency. He actually skates slightly hunched over so he doesn’t appear quite as large as he is due to this style. He displayed some very good agility throughout the game with his good edge work and ability to turn on a dime.

And one poster in a message board forum compared it to Wayne Gretzky’s hunched stride. I’d love to hear more about his skating style from experts or from people watching or working with him on the Barrie Colts.

Gretzky really only skated hunched over when going forward. Ekblad didn’t do too much forward hunched skating, more backward.

What this does for a defenseman is having your feet in a maximum torque position to explode out of that backward stride into a turn when the forward starts to shift or to battle for a loose puck when it gets knocked off a stick. Usually you’ll see players look like they’re in a floating motion when transitioning from side to side, forward to backward.

Bending at his waist also gives Ekblad more of a permanent extended reach, too. That takes a different line of thinking to work with that in a hunched skating style. Traditional skaters would more so lean to get some extra reach or throw a surprise poke check.

Like Staples said, he still appeared agile. He still looks to be fluid (save for a cross checking penalty).

What makes this game great is seeing unconventional styles rise by exceptional players. Or sometimes legendary players who overcome a weakness (Luc Robitaille’s slow skating).

He’s made it to the NHL with this stride and was granted exceptional status at 15 to go into the OHL, so something’s working, right?

Everything you need to know as Lightning preseason wraps up (Lightning Links)

Ben Bishop tries to recover during a scrimmage at 2014 Tampa Bay Lightning Fan Fest. Photo by Charles Schelle

Ben Bishop tries to recover during a scrimmage at 2014 Tampa Bay Lightning Fan Fest. Photo by Charles Schelle

The pre-season finale is upon the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday as they renew acquaintances with the Florida Panthers in Amalie Arena.

For what was supposed to be a straight-forward pre-season, dozens of story lines unfolded, especially with Jonathan Drouin’s injury changing the focus of the coverage as everyone guesses which forward will get the opportunity to stick around. And what other forwards will be shuffled into other slots to make room for the best lines. I haven’t seen this much pre-season line shuffling in a long time and for a team that made the playoff the year before.

You probably know that the Lightning won 3-0 against the Panthers in Sunrise on Thursday with Evgeni Nabokov earning the shutout (and Stamkos mixing it up, too). So here’s everything else you need to know to get you caught up on the Lightning’s preseason as well as the preseason of our Bygone Bolts.

Vinik Vision

Everything is turning up Vinik this week, so much so that I had to devote an entire subheading for him.

Bygone Bolts

Sunshine State ECHL