Thursday, March 27, 2008

Striking Lightning

In the days and weeks leading up to the trade deadline, one of the biggest names floating around had been Brad Richards of the Tampa Bay Lightning. His sizable contract on a team that was likely going to be in a rebuilding phase made him a prime target for movement, and on February 26 the Lightning finally pulled the trigger.

The deal sent Richards and Johan Holmqvist, Tampa's de facto starting goaltender, to Dallas in exchange for backup goalie Mike Smith, Jussi Jokinen and former Cap Jeff Halpern. It also made headlines around the league.

A month later a deal that looked to be weighted in Dallas's favor now seems to be paying much higher dividends for bottom-feeding Tampa Bay.

Look at Richards - former member of "the Big Three", he put up huge numbers in his first game and put visions of Lord Stanley's glory in the minds of all Stars fans. Five assists in one game...quite the debut indeed. In the eight games since, however, he has just two goals and two assists and is a -2. It's hard to tell whether his slump is as a result of Dallas's recent woes - or one of the causes.

Then there's Holmqvist - or as Caps fans remember him, ol' Swiss Cheese himself. His numbers were never very sparkly in Tampa, combining with Marc Denis to have one of the worst goalie tandem save percentages in the league over the last few years. Upon arriving in Dallas he was obviously slated to backup Marty Turco, not an easy task, but he finally got his shot against the Canucks on March 15.

He lasted one period. Three goals on twelve shots later (including one by Matt Pettinger) and he was back on the bench; he hasn't played since.

Now onto our opponents for this evening, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Even if the guys they had gotten in return had struggled the way Richards and Holmqvist have, this deal still would have been great for them. They unloaded a huge contract that was hampering their ability to make any improvements to the team and got rid of Holmqvist, who just never lived up to the expectations they had for him. But as a bonus, the players they got really have made their mark.

We'll start in net, an area in which the Bolts have struggled mightily since Khabibulin hightailed it out of town. Mike Smith came in as one of the better backup goaltenders in the league and while his win-loss record isn't so hot (just three wins in his first ten starts) he does have a shutout and a two near shutouts, including a game against the Pens that was 0-0 until the last two minutes of regulation.

Jussi Jokinen, the 24 year old Finn and shootout specialist, came to Tampa as more of a playmaker than a goal-scorer, and that's the role he has filled with the Lightning. He has just one goal but has picked up nine assists in his first fourteen games and recently had a season high five game point scoring streak snapped - only to pick it right up again in the last game versus the Panthers.

Finally there's Jeff Halpern. Former Cap, fan favorite (and CapsChick's favorite), local boy done good. Here in DC and during his time in Dallas he was known more as a good faceoff man, a feisty checking line center and someone who could lead the team in the locker room.

In Tampa? He's Ovie.

...okay, not exactly, but his numbers are very pretty since making the move from the southwest to the Southeast. Halpern scored a goal in his first game as a member of the Lightning and has added six more - plus eight assists - during his run. He has four multi-point games already after registering two all season with the Stars. One game after straining an abdominal muscle he put up the game-winning goal against the Panthers and added two assists, factoring into every goal for Tampa en route to a 3-1 win.

That win proved to be a huge help to his former's hoping he helps us out tonight by not repeating the performance.

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