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Lightning Teasing Fans? Written by Laci Bloomers - January 12th, 2010

Tampa Bay, Florida offers a laid back lifestyle that most locals and tourists find very enjoyable. 

People come year round to enjoy the local warmth and beauty.  Some come for the baseball, some for the hockey, all for the sunshine.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have settled in to that same laid back lifestyle for most of this season, and not long ago were challenging for the Taylor Hall sweepstakes.  At least they would have been had they still retained their 1st round pick in the 2010 draft.

Seven games ago, after a 5-0 loss to Washington (dare we say they can thanks the Lightning for their present 1st place spot in the Conference?), a closed door meeting between the players, coach Dave Tippet and GM Dave Normoyle that lasted over an hour addressed some of the club's issues this season.

While the meeting was kept very close to the collective team chest, it resulted in a couple of changes.

The initial change resulted in Roman Hamrlik being shipped out with a 2nd round pick in exchange for Brian Rafalski, Riley Holzapfel and a 3rd.  Hamrlik started the season off in a flurry, leading the club in scoring at one point.  However, rumours were growing that he was an instigator in some dressing room issues, and his play had dropped off considerably.  Rafalski, in his first game with the club, scored a pair of goals and has been a welcome addition with his leadership.

The other change that has gone hand in hand with that trade is that the Bolts actually look like they care the past seven games.  In fact, they have only one regulation loss in that time, 5-2 to the Blue Jackets.  Even that was a game that was tied into the third period when the Jackets capitalized on a couple of breakdowns moments apart.

In those 7 games, in which the club is 5-1-1, the secondary scoring has improved, and that is key for a team that is among the lowest scoring teams in the CMHL.  David Moss and Ryane Clowe have each scored in the last 2 games, and the team has outscored their opponents 21-16 in those 7 games.

In other news:

Martin Skoula has returned to the CMHL after being banished to the ICHF.  The team released a statement that Skoula was sent to the Macon Whoopee to work on his game and give the team an opportunity to assess Mark Giordano.  All Skoula did was put up 13 points in 15 games, while being a plus player, a far cry from his start to the season since arriving from Buffalo in the offseason. 

Giordano showed that he is ready for the CMHL, and will definately be here next season.  He put up 5 points in 15 games and was a respectable -2 in that stretch.  Giordano averaged almost 19 minutes per game, and both of his goals came on the power play.

Giordano will not be the only player in Macon who should get long looks next season.  Fellow d-man Adam Pardy is also putting up a solid season, while forwards Eric Nystrom, Andrew Murray and Freddie Sjostrom will get a look.  So should goaltenders Curtis McElhinney and Eric Ersberg as they vie for the back-up job to Steve Mason.

Don't be surprised to see Mikael Backlund playing in Macon next season, as he is definately ready to toil in the pros.  The jury is still out on forward Louie Caporusso and goaltender Kristofer Westblom, both of whom are eligible to be signed next year to pro contracts.

In the meantime, the Lightning are sneaking up on the playoff teams.  They currently trail 8th place Ottawa by 7 points with two games in hand. 

With home games against the Rangers and the Hurricanes to close the week, then a trip to Detroit and St. Louis they will have the chance to sneak a little closer by this time next week.

- Laci Bloomers reporting -

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