Bolts having success with new-look line combinations


Over the last couple games, the Tampa Bay Lightning have experimented with their lines, more so than at any point of the season. . . Naturally, the Lightnings lines have changed periodically this season due to injuries to certain players. Steven Stamkos sat a couple of games in February. Anthony Cirelli missed six games from February 13-25 with an upper-body injury, which threw the lines in flux. The Bolts had to come up with a solution for the fourth line when Mitchell Stephens sustained a serious lower-body injury. Stephens remains out indefinitely. . . But the lines generally have remained the same when everybodys healthy. . . Until recently. . . During the three-game series in Chicago last week, the Lightning moved Anthony Cirelli up to the top line to play the right wing alongside Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point. The move was a departure for Cirelli, whos played center nearly his entire career with the Lightning, and hes developed into one of the premiere two-way centermen in the National Hockey League. . . But the partnership with Point and Palat works too, all three having the ability to chase pucks, forecheck aggressively, make creative plays in the offensive zone and just generally make life difficult for any opposing line that has to go up against them. . . Really like that line to be honest, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said following Tampa Bays morning skate in Detroit Tuesday. Pointer doesnt have a ton of points to show for it, but in the scoring chances department and being in the offensive zone creating, theyve been outstanding. I think they deserve much more than what theyve got in those games. Point and Cirelli work together. Its unfortunate theyre both centers in the sense that weve primarily had them apart from each other. Tony plays a pretty simple game. Pointer knows exactly what hes doing. Theyre all hounds, even Palat, they just hound the puck. . . With Cirelli no longer available to center the second line, the Lightning moved Yanni Gourde between Alex Killorn and Steven Stamkos, which has given them a spark offensively, particularly Gourde and Killorn. . . Gourde recorded his first career four-point game in Sundays 6-3 comeback win over the Blackhawks after scoring two goals, including one on the power play, and adding two assists. Gourde now has eight goals on the season, third most on the Bolts behind Stamkos 11 and Palat 10. . . Killorn has scored a goal in three-consecutive games for the longest goal streak on the Lightning this season. . . I think the way Gourde plays, retrieves pucks, I think it helps Stamkos. I think it helps Killorn, Cooper said. Lets be honest, the kids an energy bunny. Hes a puck hound, and Im glad to see him get some points because for his work ethic, he really deserves that stuff. . . Secondary scoring from players like Killorn and Gourde have been a major driver of Tampa Bays success. The Lightning lead the league for point percentage and are at the top of the NHL standings in a number of different categories. goal differential, most goals scored per game, fewest goals allowed per game, among others. . . With this group, it looks like weve got a little bit more balance in the scoring, Cooper said. Were getting more from other guys because weve needed it. When you lose a player of Nikita Kucherovs stature, its not like somebodys going to come in and get his points, but if we can divide it up among a few other guys and thats what weve gotten. So secondary scoring on this years team has really been a big part of our success. . . Tyler Johnson has moved into Gourdes spot on the third line with Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman. That line is one the Lightning have been hesitant to tinker with because of the energy and compete they brought to the team throughout their Stanley Cup playoff run and carried over into the 2020-21 regular season. But Johnson can play a relentless, checking game too. And moving him to the third line allows him to play his more natural center position. . . That Coleman, Gourde, Goodrow line, we had Johnson there in training camp during the first bubble training camp, and they performed great, Cooper said. Its just the way things worked out we ended up putting Gourdo there because they did great as well and we know what happened after that. But Johnnys been a good fit with them as well, and as we saw from the last game, you can put them against any line and they can check. Its kind of given us a little bit of luxury of having a few centermen to move Cirelli to the wing and still have guys that can play down the middle and have success, and thats whats helped us out. . . The fourth line has rotated all season, mainly determined by whos available. Pat Maroons the mainstay on the left wing. And with Cirelli back in the lineup, Mathieu Joseph slid down to center that group with Alexander Volkov on his right, giving the speedy Joseph more room to maneuver around the ice. . . The Lightning like their lines as theyre currently comprised. And theyll likely stick with this new iteration when they start a two-game set in Detroit to close out their road trip tonight. . . But, as always, theyre subject to change, particularly as injuries are bound to happen and goal scoring dries up as it does from time to time. . . Im sure this isnt going to stay together the rest of the year, but I like where were at, Cooper said. Weve got a good vibe on our lines, so thats why we did it.

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