As we come down the stretch of the 2014-15 regular season, there are certain players on each team that could be key factors during the playoffs and for the Tampa Bay Lightning there are three players I really want to focus on.
Jonathan Drouin: Over the course of the season we have seen Drouin’s ice time fluctuate from between seven to 14 minutes per game, but so far in the month of March we have seen a consistent opportunity of play averaging 13 to 15 minutes per game. In the nine games during the month of March Drouin has three assists including a helper that led to the game winning goal against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.
Drouin, 19, is a player with natural talent that we obviously can see what he is capable of from his production in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Halifax Mooseheads where he played in 128 regular season games, posted 242 points (77 goals, 165 assists) and in 50 playoff games tallied 102 points (34 goals, 68 assists). Not only is Drouin a threat on offense, but has learned how to play away from the puck and in the defensive zone which has really helped his overall play evolve.
In the playoffs, opponents will be focusing on the top two lines of Killorn, Stamkos, Callahan and Palat, Johnson, Kucherov. However, Drouin is a part of a third line that is centered by Valtteri Filppula capable of producing some offense of their own. Which if teams are matching up their best defensive players against the mentioned top two lines, it could provide the third line with Drouin some opportunity to really strike and get the puck into the back of the net when it matters most.
Braydon Coburn: After being acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers in a deal that sent defenseman Radko Gudas, Tampa Bay’s 2015 first round and third round draft picks, it did not take long for Coburn to display what he can bring to his team. Coburn, 30, introduced himself in his Lightning debut by dropping the gloves with Buffalo Sabres forward Marcus Foligno. The next three games, Coburn put up a combined two points and was a plus-three.
Unfortunately, during that game against Montreal Coburn suffered an injury that will leave him sidelined for four-to-six weeks retroactive to March 10th, and is the third time this season he has been injured. The other two times were with the Flyers when he broke his left foot, once on October 8th, and again January 12th. This timeline could result in a return at the very end of the regular season or beginning of the playoffs.
During his time in Philadelphia, Coburn was averaging 20 to 25 minutes of ice time per game, but in Tampa Bay even though it’s only been four games, he’s been averaging roughly 16 to 18 minutes a game. As a result of already having some key players on the blueline, Coburn is provided with a lighter workload that is more spreadable than what it was like in Philadelphia, which should bode well for his role and ability to succeed.
For the Tampa Bay Lightning, they currently lead the National Hockey League with 3.21 goals for per game, and their offense throughout the lineup is abundant and has been in the top part of the league for last few years, but on the defensive side it’s something that we’ve seen improve recently in the last few seasons. Coburn’s focus first and foremost is playing a defensive-minded game providing a physical presence, blocking shots, moving and keeping the puck out of his own end. Coburn will certainly be a player to watch, making the right plays game in and game out during the playoffs.
Ben Bishop: Late last season, Bishop suffered a season ending wrist injury that left him absent from the playoffs where the Tampa Bay Lightning got swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round.
Bishop was a Vezina Trophy finalist for his performance during the 2013-14 regular season. He played in 63 regular season games, posted a 37-14-12 record, 2.23 goal-against average and a .924 save percentage. This season, Bishop (35-11-7) is on pace to break his win total from last year and current goal-against average (2.29) and save percentage (.916) are fairly consistent to last year’s numbers.
Tampa Bay is a part of an Atlantic Division that make up some of the top teams in the Eastern Conference each season in Boston, Detroit, and Montreal and when the playoffs roll around, you’re matchup against a division rival at least in the first round. This season the Tampa Bay Lightning currently hold the best record (16-3-3) against the Atlantic Division and Bishop has been a key contributor to that success. The regular season is different from the playoffs, but knowing that when the Lightning are matched up against these skilled teams, as long as they play within their system, at the level they are capable of playing at, they know they can compete and defeat these teams.
The playoffs at the NHL level will be new for Bishop, something a lot of his teammates when through last season with the young talent on this team. However, each season we generally see the schedule for the last month and a half consist of division opponents which are essentially becoming playoff style and atmosphere type games especially the ones vying for a playoff spot and position. Goaltending is a very important position, Bishop plays it well with patience and positioning. Carey Price and Pekka Rinne will not be only key goaltenders to watch heading into the playoffs, Bishop will remain a top focus come playoff time.