As part of their Five Questions series, SB Nation’s Tampa Bay Lightning site, Raw Charge, asked Fear the Fin five questions about the San Jose Sharks ahead of their meeting tonight. We returned the favor, asking Senior Feature Writer GeoFitz five questions about the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Let’s get to know one of the league’s best:
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy is in his first full season as a starter. Do you feel confident with him going forward as a number one? Or does he need rest down the stretch, maybe bring in an experienced backup as insurance?
I am very confident in Vasilevskiy this season and into the future. Ever since the trade of Ben Bishop, we’ve seen him step forward and really take on that role as the undisputed number one. And really, his development is right on the schedule that Steve Yzerman planned, as Ben Bishop’s last contract extension had only been a two-year deal with this season being the plan for three years now that Vasilevskiy would take over. As for a back-up, I think right now the Lightning are set. They already have Peter Budaj backing him up. Behind Budaj, the Lightning swapped AHL veteran Michael Leighton for Louis Domingue. In Domingue, the Lightning got a younger and more capable goaltender. While he struggled in Arizona this season, there is a belief that the team’s goaltending staff can get him turned around.
2. How has Yanni Gourdes’ development benefited the Lightning this season?
It’s been pretty big. He’s a 25-year old veteran and has had an uncommon path to the NHL. He’s more sniper than playmaker, especially since he’s made it to the NHL, and he has a really good playmaker on the left wing in Ondrej Palat. Brayden Point is pretty balanced as a shooter and playmaker as well. But with Gourde proving he can handle top-six minutes, plus contribute on the power play as well as the penalty kill, it gives the team even more depth in its top-nine forward group. And he comes pretty cheap, as he signed a two-year contract for just over $1 million a year.
3. What's the one area of the game the Sharks can take advantage of when playing the Bolts?
During this recent rough stretch for the Bolts, it feels like they’ve been they’re own worst enemy, with low effort and low energy as much as being outplayed by their opponents. If they are playing with that hunger, I don’t know that there’s anything opponents can do to exploit weaknesses. They’ve shown they can play against fast teams and physical teams, so it’s not as easy as saying “hit them a bunch.” If there’s one weak link in the line-up, it’s some of the defensemen. Sergachev, Dotchin, and Koekkoek are all still young, inexperienced, and can make mistakes. Sustr has been a liability whenever he’s been on the ice and has been getting more playing time again with Dotchin out with an injury.
4. The health of the squad is obviously the biggest reason the Lightning have been better, but what is the single biggest structural change Jon Cooper has made this season, and how has it affected their style of play?
Their style of play hasn’t changed much from recent years. There’s maybe some small adjustments to the system, but nothing radical. One big change I’ve noticed this season and from late in last season is the aggressiveness on the penalty kill of challenging puck carriers. Almost every penalty killing forward is either on the power play or used to be a power play contributor (like Ryan Callahan). They understand how the opponents want to attack them and are able to use that knowledge to pressure at the appropriate moments. That’s been creating more short handed opportunities than the past few seasons.
5. Who wins in a Wookie-off: Brent Burns or Victor Hedman?
Brent Burns, no doubt. The Lightning lost their best contender to Burns’ beard game when Luke Witkowski left as a free agent last summer.