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Questions remain as camp ends
Last year, goaltending was shaky, the defense was slow and the traded-away Fredrik Modin had 31 goals. What about now?
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published October 1, 2006
So many questions, so little time.
Lightning training camp officially ends Wednesday, but after 17 grueling days and six preseason games, the answers to some questions are becoming clear. Let's see if that includes any of the biggies coming into camp.
Is Marc Denis the answer in goal?
Denis says he believes his progress is right where it should be, and the Montreal native has shown in four games that he is capable of big things. A few details still need to be worked out, such as his most effective positioning against the rush, but all in all, the Lightning seems in pretty good hands.
Does Sean Burke have a chance to remain the backup?
Obviously not. And even if there was a sliver of a chance, his apparently sore back limited his work until he was sent to AHL Springfield. The bright spot for the Lightning is that Johan Holmqvist has been somewhere between good and spectacular.
Who replaces Fredrik Modin?
Still an open question. Dmitry Afanasenkov has been uneven at left wing and did not have a goal or an assist entering Saturday's preseason finale. Considering Modin's 31 goals last season, that's a pretty big goose egg. That said, coach John Tortorella seems inclined to give the talented Afanasenkov, who has never scored more than nine goals in a season, more time to mesh with linemates Brad Richards and Marty St. Louis.
Is the defense quicker?
It would be difficult for it not to be. The additions of Doug Janik and Filip Kuba give the top five, including Dan Boyle, Cory Sarich and Paul Ranger (when his broken foot heals), some pretty good wheels even if only in comparison. Still, no one is winning any relay races out there. More important, though, is the blue line's ability to move the puck, and that has been greatly enhanced.
Can St. Louis rebound?
The right wing and MVP of the 2003-04 regular season is skating with energy and a purpose, and if he could have knocked in a couple of perfect setups at the side of the net on which he whiffed, his preseason stats would have been exemplary. St. Louis and Richards are still trying to get comfortable together. The good news is St. Louis is putting himself in positions to score. It seems only a matter of time before he cashes in.
Is Vinny Lecavalier ready to explode?
There certainly are indications. The center had four goals and five assists in his first three games and he wasn't even near top form. Still, Lecavalier seems to have accepted he must shoot before passing and that moving with or without the puck will produce scoring chances. Perhaps he is even warming to the idea the organization wants him to score 50 goals.
Was Paul Ranger a fluke?
We'll get a better read after he plays. The defenseman, a star last season as a rookie, broke his left foot in the camp's first scrimmage when hit by a Sarich slapshot. The team believes Ranger could be ready for Thursday's opener at Atlanta if he can get on skates by Monday.
Can Ruslan Fedotenko stay healthy?
The right wing, recovering for the second straight season from summer hip surgery, was to play his first preseason game Saturday. The team says it was being cautious. Probably smart considering Fedotenko, with a career-high 26 goals last season, could be one of Tampa Bay's most important players.
Who fills the third and fourth lines?
The third line will be centered by Andreas Karlsson with wings Nikita Alexeev and Ryan Craig. The fourth line will have center Tim Taylor flanked by Eric Perrin and Nick Tarnasky.
Will the Lightning be a force in the East?
The Lightning will make the playoffs, regardless of what some magazines and Web sites are saying. Still, Denis must be at the top of his game, the defense must remain confident, the power play must respond and the team must make up for Modin's 31 goals. In other words, Tampa Bay must answer a lot more questions.