Downie, Steve

NHL Preseason Game Night: 9/23 Coyotes at Lightning (in Loveland)

Radim Vrbata's revenge!

PHO-4
TB-3 (SO)

Antero Nittymaki took the shootout loss while going the distance.

First Period
TB - Malone 2 (Hedman, Ohlund) 04:16

Second Period
PHO - Vrbata 1 (Aucoin)(PP) 04:10
PHO - Mueller 3 (unassisted)(PP) 04:53
TB - Stamkos 1 (Lecavalier, St. Louis)(PP) 10:17

Third Period
TB - Lecavalier 1 (Downie, Lundin) 03:16
PHO - Upshall 2 (Fiddler, Michalek) 03:50

Overtime
NO SCORING

Shootout
PHO- Vrbata, Mueller
TB- Lecavalier

Seemed to be a game that confirmed what the Lightning have more so than answering questions about what they don't have. This just in: Vincent Lecavalier, Ryan Malone, Martin St. Louis, and Steven Stamkos are good. In related news, water is wet.

I liked the look of the Lightning first team power play. They're showing a very meat and potatoes setup right now with four world class shooters and Malone to take out the garbage. That's the kind of power play that doesn't fall into long slumps like the finesse schemes do.

Lecavalier's goal from Downie came on an assist from the Downie's knees. That's why I think Steve Downie eventually wins this job. Stephane Veilleux doesn't have the skill level to make a play like that. At the end of the day, his upside is capped very low and he'll never be more than a Band Aid for that line. They're better off putting Downie out there and seeing what they've got. If he scores 20 goals and 45-50 points and keeps his nose clean, you re-sign him. If not, I think you've got enough defensive depth you can move a chip like Paul Ranger at the deadline to get another solution on Vinny's wing. You may have to do that anyway with Tanguay being a temporary solution on the other side.

Box score from Yahoo Sports.

NHL Preseason Game Night: 9/21 Senators at Lightning (in Regina)

The Lightning's lower liners and prospects fall to many of Ottawa's top liners in a neutral site game.

OTT-3
TB-1

Not much in the way of statistics for this one. Antero Nittymaki took the loss allowing 2 goals over the first 40 minutes. Riku Helenius allowed the Sens an insurance marker in the Third Period.

First Period
OTT Fisher 4 (Regin) 03:22

Second Period
TB Ashton 1 (Walker) 04:10
OTT Kovalev 2 (Spezza, Michalek) 07:45

Third Period
OTT Spezza 1 (Fisher, Karlsson) 09:45

Not sure about the accuracy of the box score we got, as the Lightning tweeted that the goal by Carter Ashton came off an assist by Steve Downie on a 2-on-1.

Box score from Yahoo Sports.

NHL Preseason Game Night: 9/16 Lightning at Stars

The Lightning's minor leaguers drop one in a shootout to half of the Stars' first stringers.

TB-3
DAL-4 (SO)

Antero Nittymaki allowed 2 goals on 15 shots through the first 40 minutes before giving way to Jaroslav Janus who allowed 1 goal on 11 shots in the third and overtime before going 2/3 in the penalty shot session for the overtime loss. All in all, a very good performance for a young man who has been challenged to earn a pro contract.

First Period
DAL 9:28, Eriksson 1 (PP) (Modano)
DAL 18:51, Richards 1 (PP) (Modano, Neal)

Second Period
TB 5:45, Fedoruk 1 (Mclean)
TB 19:31, Mclean 1 (PP) (Foster, Downie)

Third Period
TB 5:55, Jones 1 (Halpern, Miller)
DAL 16:46, Neal 1 (Richards, Eriksson)

Overtime
NO SCORING

Shootout
TB- NONE
DAL - Richards

Winners? Brett McLean, who is also looking for a contract, drops 1 goal and 1 assist. The Kurtis Foster experiment gets off to a decent start with a power play assist, a +1, and 4 shots on goal. Richard Panik earns 15 minutes of ice time, which is a team high for forward prospects not named Steve Downie or Drew Miller. And Janus? Probably got a contract.

Steve Downie had a helper and was +1 in 17:03 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 4 hits. Still my pick to win the job on the Lecavalier/Tanguay line.

Drew Miller had 1 helper and was +1 with 2 shots and 1 hit in 16:43.

Paul Szczechura was -1 in 12:22 with 1 shot on goal and 2 hits. He was also 33% on draws. If there was a loser in this game, in the race to win a roster, maybe it was Szczechura.

Dana Tyrell was -1 in 12:09 with 2 shots and 1 hit. He had a breakaway opportunity shorthanded he was stopped on. Coach Tocchet said he wanted to see if Tyrell could kill penalties. Shortie breakaways don't hurt.

Martins Karsums had 1 shot and 3 hits in 12:55. He also was stopped in the shootout session.

Blair Jones notched a rebound goal and was +1 in 12:42 with 1 shot, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot. He also was stopped in the shootout session. Tocchet moved Jones over to right wing with Halpern and Miller, which is ostensibly two-thirds of the likely third line. It was a good opportunity for Jones and he did pretty well with it.

Matt Lashoff was +1 with 1 shot and 1 blocked shot in 18:36. No hits? Matt, brother, do you read the website? We need to see some jam, my friend.

Richard Panik had 1 shot and 1 hit in 15:00. I find it fascinating he got more shifts and more ice time than guys like Tyrell and Karsums who are closer to the NHL, particularly on the power play. They have sky high hopes for this young man, clearly.

Oh, yeah. Victor Hedman? 27:15 in his first NHL preseason game. Are you kidding? 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 1 blocked shot. That's unbelievable, really.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

Prospects To Highlight Lightning Exhibition Opener

The Tampa Bay Lightning take the ice Wednesday night in Dallas, TX for their first pre-season game against the Dallas Stars. Five of BoltProspects' Top 7 ranked prospects, including the top three ranked prospects, will help kick off the Lightning's 2009-10 hockey season. Highlighting the Tampa roster will be 2009 #2 overall pick, Swedish blueline phenom Victor Hedman. Hedman will be joined by fellow 2009 draftees Richard Panik and Jaroslav Janus. Forwards Steve Downie and Dana Tyrell along with defenseman Matt Lashoff round out the remaining top prospects that will be showcased in tonight's opener. Forwards Blair Jones, Martins Karsums, and Paul Szczechura represent three more Top 20 prospects that are fighting for roster spots on the Lightning's bottom lines with overagers Drew Miller and Zenon Konopka.

The expected forward lines for Wednesday's game are:

Drew Miller - Jeff Halpern - Blair Jones
Brandon Bochenski - Paul Szczechura - Dana Tyrell
Steve Downie - Brett McLean - Richard Panik
Todd Fedoruk - Zenon Konopka - Martins Karsums

Joining Lashoff and Hedman on the blueline are newcomers David Hale and Kurtis Foster along with former prospects Matt Smaby and Mike Lundin. Joining Janus in net is 2009 free agent acquisition Antero Niittymaki.

On Smolenak and Lashoff

Two very interesting and unrelated things happened today with the signing of Bolt Prospects #2 rated prospect Matt Lashoff and the release by KHL club Nizhnekamsk Bolt Prospects #17 rated prospect Radek Smolenak. Despite the wide disparity in terms of where they sit on the rankings, both prospects could still find themselves making significant contributions to the Lightning this season.

First, about Smolenak: the rumors I have heard suggest that Radek was pretty upset about not getting a recall in the second half of last season and I suspect that may have come up prominently in his discussions with the team before he left North America for the offseason. Given how quickly he signed with Nizhnekamsk once he left, I also suspect it would be fairly easy for there to be some bruised feelings on the Lightning's side too. With all that said, though, Smolenak's unexpected dismissal from Nizhnekamsk should be seen as an opportunity for both sides to potentially benefit after a short divorce, and I hope the Lightning are reaching out to Smolenak and his agent to let him know that there is still a place for him in the organization.

Smolenak is a player who is on the cusp of being an NHL player. His deficiencies are clear: he needs to get better defensively in his third of the rink and he doesn't have world class speed. That said, his strengths are equally clear in that he possesses considerably grit and physical bravery, especially around the opposing team's net, and a finisher's touch with a quick release and a razor sharp shot. The Lightning go into the 2009-2010 campaign with very little for certain on their lower lines. It's hard to envision anyone other than Jeff Halpern, Stephane Veilleux, and Adam Hall having a lower line job locked up in Tampa this coming season. The other three or four spots on the roster are open to a world class free-for-all, and a player with Smolenak's peculiar combination of grit and skill could find himself drawing a big league paycheck with a good camp. True, that assumes Smolenak has been training and conditioning properly and can shift his mindset from the disappointment of his release from Nizhnekamsk and any hard feelings that still linger with the Lightning toward leaving it all on the line to make the team. It also assumes that there are no legal entanglements in Smolenak's Russian deal and that he is a complete free agent and that the Lightning are interested in bring Smolenak back across the pond. But it's a possibility, and it's a possibility with very little downside as the worst case scenario would be the Lightning having Smolenak waiting down in Norfolk again playing for an AHL club that could desperately use his 20-30 potential goals at that level. If it's possible, and both sides are willing, they should make a fourth year for Smolenak in the organization happen.

And then there's Matt Lashoff, who was one of the few exciting reasons to watch a Lightning game late in a failed season last year after he was acquired at the trade deadline for Mark Recchi. I mention Lashoff as a bubble player not because I think he'll be sent down to the AHL, but because the numbers game may make it difficult for Lashoff to receive the ice time he needs to reach his considerable potential. Make no mistake, the skating ability Lashoff possesses is a rare and breathtaking assett. The kind of smooth, powerful acceleration that Lashoff has is special, and the fact he possesses soft hands and an ability to distribute the puck well makes him a potential force for the Lightning. But he finds himself at the bottom end of a logjam that includes new addition Mattias Ohlund and the returning Paul Ranger and Andrej Meszaros, who missed the second half of last season with injury. Lashoff has the ability to every bit as good as those three players and it's not hard to envision a future where he could become a perennial 30-40 point a year defenseman who is well capable of playing 20-22 minutes a night. True, to get to that time Lashoff must commit to paying attention to detail in his own end of the rink and to showing more edge and willingness to battle to win puck battles. But, the possibilities are almost boundless for Lashoff, and so it would be foolish for the Lightning to not commit to making sure Lashoff recieves every opportunity to reach his potential and equally foolish for Lashoff not to step up and make sure he makes clear to Coach Tocchet that he refuses to slip off the bubble.

Smolenak and Lashoff are just two of a host of young players, from Steve Downie to Blair Jones, who have the potential to contribute greatly to a revival in Tampa Bay starting next season. And, starting next month with training camp, a great story is going to be written by some of these players, and it's a story that I can't even guess the outcome of. Maybe that's why two obscure transactions in the dog days of August made me excited for hockey, and the promise of a new season. Let's get it cranked up.

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