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#AskKrenner: Rookies, road trips and more

by Staff

While Merela may have no points, how do you think he has done at the NHL level?

#AskKrenner (From: Finn Taylor @finn_taylor91)

Personally, I think Waltteri Merela has performed well through the first 10 games of his NHL career. After playing hockey in Finland for the first 25 years of his life, Merela is working through the different style of play in North America.

Obviously, the ice surface is smaller in the NHL. With that, there’s less time and space. Merela has shared that while playing in Finland, he could collect the puck on the boards, turn around and still have time to think about where he wants to go with the puck before making that decision.

In the NHL, everything is that much faster, especially while playing on a smaller rink. Now, in that same scenario, Merela essentially has to know what he’s going to do with the puck before he even gets to it along the boards. That’s a major adjustment at any professional level. Playing against the best players in the world makes it even harder.

With all that being said, he hasn’t looked out of place. He has the strength to win puck battles. He doesn’t look overwhelmed when he’s on the ice. He’s come close to scoring that first goal. He’s shown a willingness to play the body.

I’ve really liked his game thus far. We saw Conor Sheary get his first goal against Columbus Thursday night. Hopefully Merela can get that first one out of the way soon. I think that will help his confidence and take some weight off his shoulders.

For a player that is just starting his NHL career, I think he’s shown a pretty strong understanding of what he needs to do in all three zones. He understands the importance of being a 200-foot player, which is huge.

As of Friday, he’s played 13:28 on the penalty kill this season. That’s the fourth-most among all Lightning forwards, trailing only Anthony Cirelli, Brandon Hagel and Luke Glendening. Having the ability to play special teams is a huge asset for any player in the NHL and Merela has been strong on the Bolts PK. I think he’s doing all the right things. Hopefully the offense can start clicking for him soon.

The previous 2 games I felt like they were making progress with the new defensive scheme.  However last night the Kraken really showed us that they still have a lot to learn before they can do it well night in night out.  When do you think they will be at that point? #AskKrenner (From: Antonio R Nicolini @ARNicolini)

The two home games against Carolina and San Jose were probably the Lightning’s best two games of the season. And you’re right, it really looked like the team was starting to find their groove in the defensive zone.

The first period against the Kraken was a step back. Beyond some of the confusion in their own end, the Bolts were outshot 20-9 in the opening 20 minutes, surrendering two goals against at even strength and giving up just their second power-play goal against of the season.

Going back and watching Seattle’s first two goals, there were missed assignments on both plays. The same goes for the first goal given up in Columbus.

There are obviously going to be some growing pains, but the Lightning have shown the ability to play well within the system for most of their last five games or so. To me, that is a good sign.

Now, as you said, it’s about doing it consistently. It’s tough to say when it’s going to happen on a night in, night out basis, because breakdowns are always going to happen. That’s just the nature of the game.

But you can see as the group gets more game reps, they’re becoming more comfortable. A lot of that appears to be tied to chemistry and each guy on the ice knowing where they need to be while also communicating with their teammates. Hopefully the group will really have everything nailed down once Andrei Vasilevskiy is able to return around Thanksgiving. With all the new faces this year, I think the chemistry is still growing, but it’s trending in the right direction overall.

One thing I’ve said since the start of the season is that even though it has looked rough at times, the D-zone system would not have been changed if Jon Cooper and his staff didn’t think it would make the team better. How often do we see NHL coaches get stuck in their ways and lose the locker room before eventually losing their job?

As the game evolves, your style of play has to evolve with it. I comment Cooper and his coaching staff for making the changes and firmly believe that, in the long run, that decision will pay dividends.

Will ABB stick to the lineup when Motte is back? What about when Vasi returns? Who is the best looking new player this season (including Jeannot)? Is it me or does Stammer feel like he is off to a slow start?  #AskKrenner (From: Yanni Forever @YanniForev36040)

It’s tough to say who will be the odd man out once Tyler Motte returns to the lineup, but we’ll know sooner rather than later. His speed and experience will be welcomed additions to the team. He’s shed his red, no-contact jersey, so he’ll be back at some point on the current road trip.

The Lightning have a few options in terms of the roster spot. Waltteri Merela is the only player on the roster that wouldn’t have to go through waivers, but I really think Tampa Bay likes what he brings to the team. Alex Barre-Boulet has been playing the best hockey of his NHL career on the top line alongside Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Bolts went with a bit of a rotation in terms of which forwards are scratched once Motte returns. We’ll just have to wait and see what they decide to do to open up that roster spot.

As for the return of Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Bolts will have to get cap compliant, but it’s just too early to predict what will happen at that time. There’s the potential for injuries and other things, so we’ll have to revisit this once we get a little closer to Vasilevskiy being activated.

The best looking new player, for me, has to be Jonas Johansson. He has been everything you could have hoped for and more between the pipes for the Lightning. I’ve really liked how calm he is in his crease. You rarely see him swimming around or out of position. He’s structured and has made big saves when Tampa Bay has needed them.

I also like the mention of Tanner Jeannot. I think coming in from the start of the season, having a full training camp, and really knowing his role with the team have all been major factors in his success. He’s playing to his strengths. He’s physical. He’s really tough to move in front of the net. I think he’s looked much better with the puck and cycling down low in the offensive zone. I’ve really liked what he’s brought.

The last guy I’ll mention that’s similar to Jeannot is Mikey Eyssimont. He worked his tail off all summer and I think it’s shown. He looks confident with the puck. He’s always flying around and giving maximum effort. He wants to be a difference maker and I’ve liked what I’ve seen from him. The Bolts probably needed to get a little faster and he brings that.

Finally, as for Stamkos, I think he looks just fine. Despite missing two games, he’s still tied with Brandon Hagel for the second-most points on the team with 10. As the captain, I thought he led his team back into the fight in the second period in Columbus. Right now, he has the highest point-per-game average on the team at 1.25. Hopefully we start to see Tampa Bay really nail down some line combinations as players continue to build chemistry. But I think Stamkos is pretty low on the list of things to worry about.

What does a typical day look like for the guys when on a road trip?  #AskKrenner (From: Karen Clemente @Karen_Clem07)

Great question!

I’ll use the start of a road trip as an example. The team will typically have a practice and proceed to fly out to their first road city the day before the game.

The following day, the players will have breakfast in the morning at the team hotel before bussing over to the arena for morning skate.

Following morning skate, the team will head back to the hotel for lunch around noon, followed by a couple hours of free time (pregame nap) before some lighter snack options are made available for those who want it.

From that point, it’s back to the arena with the first bus typically arriving at the rink roughly 2.5-3 hours before puck drop.

Then, the game is played. After that, the team will typically head straight to the airport and fly directly to their next stop on the road trip that night.

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