The Lightning will have no prospects in the WHL this year, and that's just fine with Brett Connolly.
Late last night, after Connolly's ninth game in the NHL, the St. Pete Times reported Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman told Connolly he was staying in the NHL this season.
That loud obscenity you heard from the northwest around that time was the head office of the WHL's Prince George Cougars, who were counting on their captain and homegrown star to return to the club this season.
As soon as Connolly plays his 10th game his NHL contract kicks in. Nine games is the cut-off for junior age players who aren't yet old enough to play in the American Hockey League.
Lightning respond well to adversity to move above .500.
Mathieu Garon allowed 3 goals on 39 shots for the victory. He kept the Lightning in the game in the first period. It could've been 4-0 after the first 10-15 minutes easily, and he held off the wolves at 3-2 long enough for Ryan Malone to get the key insurance goal.
BUF Vanek (7), (Pominville, Adam), 1:56
BUF Boyes (1), (McCormick, Ellis), 2:31
TB Lecavalier (4), (St. Louis), 13:03
TB Thompson (2), (Pyatt, Moore), 19:00
TB Stamkos (4), (Gilroy, Bergeron), 4:42
TB Malone (3), (Clark), 18:37
BUF Gerbe (2), (Gaustad, Boyes), 19:10
Garon and Steven Stamkos were the game's first and third stars.
Sloppy game. Ugly game. But, for the Lightning to pull themselves off the mat after falling behind 2-0 early is an outstanding sign. Special thanks to Ryan Miller for allowing a couple of iffy goals.
Brett Connolly was +1 with 1 hit in 15:17. He got higher ice time tonight playing with Vinny and Marty, and they were the most dangerous line on the ice tonight. It's decision time right now for Steve Yzerman, but my guess is the coaching staff has already given him the thumbs up with 15 minutes on the big line in this game.
Blair Jones was -1 with 1 hit in 7:18.
Game nine for Lightning prospect Brett Connolly is tonight against the Buffalo Sabres in New York. If he plays a tenth game for the Lightning, his entry level contract kicks in and the Lightning are on the hook for his full salary this year. Heâ€™s also one year closer to restricted free agency.
Their only other choice is to return Connolly to Prince George of the Western Hockey League (Major Junior). Because he is not yet 20 years of age, he canâ€™t play in the development-friendly AHL with Norfolk.
So the question hovering over the heads of Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman and Head Coach Guy Boucher is â€œWhat to do with Connolly?â€
Third jersey + old logo + black pants + celebration stripes = shutout win.
Mathieu Garon stopped all 21 he faced for the shutout victory. That'll buy him another week or two in the first chair of Maestro Boucher's hockey orchestra.
TB Kubina (1), (Stamkos, Purcell), 4:51
TB St Louis (3), (Lecavalier, Connolly), 8:30
TB Hedman (2), (St Louis)(EN), 18:33
So the Lightning get back to the .500 mark at 3-3-2 after about 3 weeks of wandering in the wilderness, and they do so against a good Buffalo team that's currently leading their division. They've left themselves a little bit of a hole in the division, now 6 points back of the still unbeaten Caps with Washington holding 1 game in hand, but at least now they look like they're heading in the right direction.
Brett Connolly had an assist and was +1 with a team high 7 shots on goal and 1 hit. He played 13:06 in the game, and I suspect he's sliding a DVD of this game under Steve Yzerman's office door some time around 11 pm tonight with a Post-It note that says "Respectfully, I deserve to stay in the NHL," on it.
Blair Jones had 2 penalty minutes and 1 shot in 11:12.
Finally, the real Tampa Bay Lightning show up to play.
Mathieu Garon allowed 1 goal on 17 shots for the victory. He didn't have a lot of work, but he made one or two key saves at key times in the game.
TB Malone (2), (Lecavalier, Bergeron)(PP), 16:32
TB Lecavalier (3), (St. Louis), 15:14
TB Stamkos (3), (Purcell), 5:25
NYI Grabner (2), (Streit, Rolston), 7:55
TB Clark (2), (Purcell), 16:59
That was Lightning hockey, and the improvement started with Eric Brewer, who was questionable to even make it to the game. He's been subpar all season long, but he made better plays tonight and everything flowed from there. Some of the credit for that, I think, should go to Matt Gilroy, who played 17:15 and is starting to take some of the load that was an injured Mattias Ohlund's off of Brewer and Hedman's shoulders. He's starting to look plenty dangerous in the offensive third, too. I'm beginning to think Brewer, in particular, has a ceiling of ice time he can't go above and be effective, so it's essential other d-men like Gilroy step up until Ohlund returns.
Up front, the full energy effort from all four lines was finally there. It had been improving in each of the past couple of games, and tonight it finally came together. The forecheck was Lightning caliber, and that's how you keep a team down to a 30-17 shot disparity and you build a 3 goal lead in the final frame.
Brett Connolly was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 2 hits in 16:12. He's getting better along the wall and around the cage in every single game, and he's a viper of a playmaker with the puck on his stick. Tonight was his 7th NHL game, 2 shy of that magical 9th game when the decision on whether or not to send him back to junior needs to be made. Honestly, and folks know I'm not King Brett Connolly booster, I'm starting to lean toward keeping him in the NHL. He's doing things along the wall I didn't think he was capable or willing to do. The skill level was never the question for me. The question was whether he'd be a passenger on the forecheck, and in the past few games he's been anything but.
Blair Jones had 3 shots and 1 blocked shot in 10:31. He was inserted in the lineup to provide energy and that's just what he did. His skill level isn't terribly high and he's not pretty to look at, but he works his bag off, and that's infectious.