That Which Does Not Kill You...
It's hard not to be excited about the Lightning's 2-0 start, and I just wanted to expand on some thoughts I had after tonight's dominating effort against Atlanta. The big concern I think we all had coming into the year was how Dan Boyle's injury was going to effect the team. Boyle has been the tempo setter for this team ever since he was acquired in the 2001-2002 season, and as one of only two righty shot defensemen in the organization (AHLer David Schneider being the other) his minutes on the power play were going to be very difficult to replace. If you had held a gun to my head and asked me how the team would do over this first month, I probably would've said about .500, maybe a tad below, without Boyle. Now they're 2-0 heading into a two game set against an 0-2 Panthers team with the chance to get off to a really good start. Granted, things can change in a hurry and the team still will probably need to weather at least another three weeks without Danny (and he might not be 100% for a long time even after he returns). However, I can't help starting to think about how if this team gets off to a great first month of the season without Boyle, think how good they'll be when he returns?
You know the old saying, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger?"
Through two games Paul Ranger has averaged about 26 and a half minutes of ice time a game. Shane O'Brien has averaged about 25 minutes. It's easy to forget how young and inexperienced these two players are, especially O'Brien. Last year Shane only averaged a little under 15 minutes a game as he languished much of his rookie season on a very deep Anaheim roster. Heading into this season I was s bit uneasy with just giving O'Brien top four minutes without much experience in the role to draw upon. Now he's getting the kind of minutes reserved for top pairing defensemen, and the Lightning are still getting W's. Granted, rolling two pairings almost exclusively is not without peril. There's a chance Tortorella and Sullivan may wear Ranger, O'Brien, Kuba, and Lukowich out a bit over the next month. But if they don't, the Lightning will have greatly strengthened their top pairings which can only help other areas of the team. Paul Ranger having to play more of an offensive role (he has a point a game so far this year) is only going to make this team's forwards even more explosive if they can count on more and better passing from their blueline. Shane O'Brien having the experience of playing against other team's top pairings and what he gains learning what to do in one-on-one situations against the leagues best players is only going to make the Lightning an even tighter team defensively and only benefit its goaltenders.
And if that happens, is there a team in the league that wants to play a Lightning team that's even more explosive in transition and which is even harder to get quality chances against? Methinks not.