The Colorado Avalanche kick off their four-game road trip with a stop in Tampa Bay to take on Steven Stamkos and the league-leading Lightning. In order to prepare for the game, we asked Matt Esteves of Raw Charge and the Raw Charge Podcast about his team and what we should expect from the matchup.
1. Everyone knows how good Stamkos, Kutcherov, and Vasilevskiy, but who is the unsung hero of this team that might not be getting the hype he deserves?
There are a few candidates for this, but the player who still isn’t getting enough love is Brayden Point.
Point’s emergence as a bona fide #2 center has been an undersold story for Tampa Bay. Prior to Point joining the Lightning the top 2 centers Tampa had were Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson. Point’s play last season had many of us optimistic about what he could become and so far he has been lights out for the Lightning.
As of this morning, Point is 4th on the team in points and goals while being 6th in assists. His line has been a huge factor in Tampa Bay’s success. The headlines rave about the Stamkov line, but the Point line has enabled the top line to be dominant. When other team’s stars come against the Lightning it’s the Point line that gets the job to shut them down, and that’s exactly what it has done. His offense hasn’t taken hit either which enables coach Jon Cooper to rely on Point to be an all-around nightmare for opposing teams.
Best thing about Brayden Point?
He was a 3rd round pick who fell in the draft because of his size. The stigma against smaller players continues to baffle me as they have shown to be some of the most dynamic players in the league.
2. What is the difference between last year and this year? is it simply a matter of being healthy?
Health, which in turn provides depth for Tampa Bay. Stamkos is an elite center and having him on the top line slots everyone else into a position to succeed.
Last season it was Johnson and Point who were the top centers. Both of them are good players, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call them #1 centers.
Alex Killorn and Vladislav Namestnikov are both beneficiaries of being slotted into positions that enable them to produce as well.
Killorn is a middle-six winger who can play in every situation. Last season he was thrust into a full-time top-six role that didn’t necessarily fit him.
Namestnikov is a middle-six center who became a top-six winger due to his chemistry with Nikita Kucherov and Stamkos. Last season he was moved all over the lineup and he could never get anything going. This season? 27 GP - 11 G - 13 A - 24 P and an underrated piece of the Stamkov line.
3. Some nights the Bolts seem unstoppable, what is the biggest weakness? Will it stop them from being a true cup favorite when the playoffs start?
Defense has always been Tampa Bay’s weaker attribute under Jon Cooper’s reign, but it isn’t an Achilles heel.
Tampa’s defense isn’t as mobile as some would like. Boasting players like Dan Girardi, Andrej Sustr, and Brayden Coburn who aren’t known for their skating ability.
They manage and play positionally sound (Sustr had a rough start of the season, but has gotten better), but can still be victimized by fast teams.
The playoffs are an enigma and sometimes teams just play poorly. Tampa is built to avoid that, but that doesn’t mean their immune to it happening.
4. Dan Girardi doesn't seem to be as big a disaster as he was in New York last season, what's the deal?
Usage and ice-time. He’s had a variety of partners on the backend but hasn’t been shoved into the top pairing often. He’s averaging 16:55 of ice time per game which is the lowest of his career since his rookie year.
Girardi has his (glaring warts), but the Lightning’s coaching staff seems to have acknowledged that and has limited his usage. This has provided Girardi with less responsibility to worry about and allow him to just be a solid defenseman, which he has (surprisingly) been this season. His shot metrics still aren’t pretty, but he is nowhere near as bad as he was when he was in New York.
5. That guy Hedman is pretty great eh? No real question, I just thought it was worth noting
Victor Hedman is a Swedish god who deserves a place among the Norse deities of years past.