Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Who says the Lightning needs another forward?

TAMPA — Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov had quiet games Tuesday, both held without a goal.

Victor Hedman didn’t have a point. Tyler Johnson had one shot.

Yet the Lightning racked up six goals in a 6-2 victory over the Islanders, one of the Eastern Conference’s better teams. Islanders-killer Yanni Gourde had two goals, Chris Kunitz had one and even defenseman Andrej Sustr had one.

"We have four lines that can put the puck in the net," coach Jon Cooper said.

One of the most striking aspects of the Lightning’s 19-6-2 start has been its offensive depth. Sure, Kucherov has 19 goals and Stamkos 11. But Vladislav Namestnikov (11) and Brayden Point (10) are in double digits, and Gourde (eight) is right behind them. Johnson snapped his career-long 15 game goal drought with two Saturday against the Sharks.

When Kunitz and Ryan Callahan are on the fourth line, that’s a pretty good sign.

Many have suggested the Lightning could be in the market for another top-nine forward at February’s trade deadline. That appears to be more of a luxury than a necessity. General manager Steve Yzerman will no doubt try to bolster his Stanley Cup-contending team with a piece to put it over the top. Scoring wings will be available, such as the Sabres’ Evander Kane, who can be an unrestricted free agent in the summer.

But Cooper’s cupboard is far from bare.

(RELATED: Where Cooper and Tortorella agree.)

"Their role players don’t nearly get enough credit because it’s such a star-studded team," NBC analyst Pierre McGuire said. "I’ve talked to enough guys that play against them and guys that coach against them. Their role players are really, really important to them, and that’s something that’s gets overlooked when you talk about Tampa."

McGuire noted that the Lightning felt comfortable enough with its depth to deal 21-goal scorer Jonathan Drouin to Montreal in the offseason. The emergence of Gourde and Point had a lot to do with that.

"The only reason they had the ability to (trade Drouin) is because Brayden Point is so good," McGuire said.

That deal netted defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who has sparked the Lightning’s second wave of secondary scoring: the blue line. Tampa Bay has 18 goals from defensemen, third in the NHL entering Wednesday (and Hedman has just two of them). Sergachev has six goals, his already elite ability to join the rush giving the Lightning something it didn’t have last season.

(RELATED: Lightning spreads cheer in Seminole Heights.)

Though Yzerman is still likely to explore his options on the trade front, Tampa Bay is also going to look internally. Cory Conacher has been impressive in a few callups this season. He had a goal Saturday and an assist Tuesday, and his line with Gourde and Alex Killorn was the team’s energizer Tuesday. Conacher has earned the right to stick around.

Matthew Peca had his best training camp ever in September, Cooper believing the 5-foot-9 forward could help the Lightning this season. Mathieu Joseph, Alex Volkov and Anthony Cirelli are among those who could get looks if callups are needed.

Barring an injury, there isn’t urgency for help up front.

"Teams defend so well now, and especially against your top guys, that some nights (the top players aren’t) going to put the puck in the net," Callahan said. "Other guys have to show up and do it."

Just like Tuesday.

World Juniors: Lightning forward prospects Taylor Raddysh, Boris Katchouk and Brett Howden, and defenseman Cal Foote are among the 32 players selected to attend Canada’s final selection camp for this month’s World Junior Championships.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow@TBTimes_JSmith.

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