BRANDON, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Lightning are looking to stop a free fall that started after winning the 2004 Stanley Cup. The play of goalie Mike Smith will likely be a key factor.
Smith missed most of the second half of last season due to post-concussion syndrome, but was facing shots as the Lightning opened training camp on Saturday.
“He looked really good on the ice,” Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet said.
Tampa Bay has had little success since beating Calgary in Game 7 of the 2004 finals, losing two first-round playoffs series and then failing to qualify for the post-season the past two seasons.
The Lightning also spent several years trying to replace cup-winning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, who signed a free-agent deal with Chicago before Tampa Bay started its first title defence. Team officials felt the void was filled when Smith was acquired as part of a multi-player deal with Dallas in February 2008.
Although his record was just 14-18-9 last season, Smith’s goals-against-average of 2.62 and .916 save percentage were solid.
“I’m really excited about being out there and getting camp started,” Smith said. “I don’t have any doubts. It will be nice to put it all to rest, just put last year behind me and move forward.”
Smith should get some offensive support.
Vincent Lecavalier, who battled shoulder and wrist injuries the previous two years, is expected to improve on last season’s 29 goals. Martin St. Louis had an 80-point year.
Newly acquired left wing Alex Tanguay may have a big year skating with a player as skilled as Lecavalier.
“I think we can surprise some people,” Tanguay said. “I think we have as good a shot as anybody to make the playoffs. We just have to execute on the ice.”
A struggling defence was an off-season target area, and Tampa Bay added first-round draft pick Victor Hedman and signed free agent Mattias Ohlund.
“Things can change very quickly,” said Ohlund, who didn’t skate Saturday due to a minor hip flexor injury. “We have the talent.”