- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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KEY ADDITIONS LW Jan Hlavac, D Brad Lukowich, RW Michel Ouellet
Once again this team will depend upon its trio of explosive forwards-- Vincent Lecavalier, the NHL's leading goal scorer last season; Martin St. Louis, the 2003-04 league MVP; and center Brad Richards, an All-Star-caliber playmaker--and once again the talk in Tampa is mainly about goaltending. The position has been a sore spot since Nikolai Khabibulin, who helped the Lightning win the 2003-04 Cup, signed with Chicago before last season. Tampa is still hoping that either sophomore Johan Holmqvist or 30-year-old Marc Denis, both of whom had save percentages below .900 last season, can emerge as a No.�1.
"Last year was a glitch in my career," says Denis, who had an .883 percentage in 44 games. "I'd like to believe I'm a better goalie than [that]." Denis, only 111-174-28 in the NHL (though he has spent most of his career with the Blue Jackets), and Holmqvist will get only adequate protection from a defense that has puck movers but no shut-down pair. (Worse, Dan Boyle will miss the season's first four weeks with severed tendons in his left wrist.)
The addition of secondary scorers Michel Ouellet and Jan Hlavac should heighten the effectiveness of the Lightning's big three, who make up more than 40% of the payroll. But not even this team wants to get into a scoring contest. That's why it's how well the defense holds up that will ultimately determine whether the Lightning makes it back to the playoffs.
LAST SEASON 35-31-16 (12th in East)
Seven years without making the playoffs--tied with the Blue Jackets for the longest active streak in the NHL--has bred restlessness among the Panthers, who have improved in each of those years, albeit at a glacial pace. "It's easy to say, 'This is going to be our year, we're going to make the playoffs, blah, blah, blah, blah,' " says center and captain Olli�Jokinen, who has led the team in scoring in each of the past four seasons. "It's what you�do on the ice that matters."