All eyes are on him.

This afternoon at 4 PM is the last preseason home game, against the Florida Panthers, hosted at Amalie Arena. Next week the Tampa Bay Lightning will play twice in Sunrise and once in Nashville. Earlier today, Joe Smith posted a photo of the roster expected to skate, and pointed out something that we have long been anticipating: today is Dan Girardi’s debut as a Bolt.

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Raw Charge has been skeptical about Girardi’s impact on the lineup, but we would love to be surprised. Previously, we’ve written that his numbers for the past three years have not been at levels expected for an NHL player:

Over the last three years, Girardi has played second-pairing minutes on average. During those minutes, he has scored at a middling rate for a third pairing defender and is not a power play contributor. Not good so far. Next, let’s look at his impact on shots and goals. When he is on the ice, his team gets outshot by a wide margin, and when he’s off the ice, they are a positive shot differential team. His impact on goals isn’t as severe but is still significantly negative.

But Steve Yzerman pointed out that the Lightning organization went through their own thought process before signing Girardi. He told the Tampa Bay Times, “We use our own analytics. And the things we were looking for improvement in he fit that criteria.”

We’d love to see him prove us wrong.

Other things of note in the lineup:

  • Anton Stralman has yet to play in a preseason game after sustaining an injury in practice leading up to camp. As of the 22nd he was cleared for contact, but has not yet been slotted into a game. Victor Hedman has played with a rotating cast of partners, notably including Ben Thomas, who did well next to him against Nashville in preseason game #3. In the words of Matt:

The surprise of the evening was Ben Thomas. Thomas started to become more impactful as the season progressed last year for Syracuse, and this evening he was paired with Victor Hedman to see what he could; Thomas didn’t disappoint. Aside from two penalties (high sticking and slashing) the younger defender was a rock for the Lightning. His presence on the penalty kill and even strength were noticeable as he made numerous plays to keep the puck alive in the offensive zone as well as neutralizing any dangerous opportunities that Nashville was able to generate in the defensive zone. All four of these players are going to make Jon Cooper and his staff’s decisions on roster spots very difficult (which isn’t a bad thing).

  • Thomas is still with the team and draws into the lineup tonight, but more cuts are expected after tonight’s game, due to the impending start of Syracuse Crunch camp.
  • Mikhail Sergachev is getting tested hard in this preseason. Tonight will be his third straight preseason game, but he will not be paired with his partner from last game, Erik Cernak. Cernak has not yet been released by the Lightning, although he is projected to play for the Syracuse Crunch next season.
  • Many of the players that we have talked about fighting for roster spots are all in the lineup tonight. For some of those players, this might be their last chance to make a case. If they aren’t in the race after today’s game, then they should be expected to be cut tomorrow. The names to really watch for today are Mathieu Joseph, Cedric Paquette, Michael Bournival, Slater Koekkoek, Gabriel Dumont, Brett Howden, Matthew Peca, Mitchell Stephens, Anthony Cirelli, and Adam Erne. And of course Sergachev since a decision about him impacts other players.
  • It’s a bit of a surprise that Jake Dotchin still hasn’t made his pre-season debut. Maybe the powers that be think he’s a lock to make the team?
  • With four left handed defensemen on the roster today, expect Braydon Coburn to play on the right side. With it being a 4 PM game, it doesn’t look like the team is doing a morning skate, so we won’t see lines until warmups. I’d also expect that Vasilevskiy and Budaj will split the game. Here’s our best guess at the lines for this game.

Alex Killorn – Matthew Peca – Adam Erne
Gabriel Dumont – Cedric Paquette – Mitchell Stephens
Michael Bournival – Anthony Cirelli – Mathieu Joseph
Tye McGinn – Brett Howden – Alexander Volkov

Victor Hedman – Ben Thomas
Slater Koekkoek – Dan Girardi
Mikhail Sergachev – Braydon Coburn

Andrei Vasilevskiy
Peter Budaj


Article first appeared on www.draysbay.com