The Capitals face a tougher division this year than the supposed "cake walk" it was a season ago. I am going to preview the Southeast one team at a time, and finally a look at Tampa Bay.
The Lightning have been sort of a conundrum for the past two years. Despite having a boat load of talent, the Bolts have far under exceeded expectations. Now that the team is under one entity ownership and Steve Yzerman has taken the general manager reins, things could change in Tampa Bay.
Gone is Rick Tocchet as head coach and in steps new coach Guy Boucher. If the Lightning players can buy into Boucher's system (and by all accounts they have been through the preseason), then the Bolts could be a tough team to beat. With veteran players like Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier re-energized and Steven Stamkos can repeat the kind of season he had last year, the Lightning could have a really tough team to play with.
Forwards - B+
Much like last year, the Lightning will once again have some great talent up front. Stamkos, Lecavalier, and St. Louis make up the core. But add in Simon Gagne (acquired from Philadelphia), Ryan Malone, and Steve Downie and the Lightning should be okay offensively. But can these players create the chemistry they lacked last season? That is the big question mark for the Bolts and keeps this category from being an A.
Defense - D
With all their concentration on building up the forward lines, the defense was left to dry a bit. Their defenders are not bad, but not that great either. The Lightning were 27th in the league in goals against (3.08), and there is not much improvement on the blue line from last year.
Goaltending - C+
When he isn't getting blasted off Twitter Dan Ellis brings some consistency in goaltending they have been missing. Ellis was a capable starter in Nashville, and could bring that starter experience to a team that struggled between the pipes after laying all their hopes with Mike Smith. Smith couldn't handle the load, but maybe if he splits the time with Ellis the result could be advantageous.
The Lightning look so good on paper, but which team will show up night in and night out remains to be seen. It was the same problem they had a year ago and it is a problem that both Boucher and Steve Y. have to deal with. This is the basically the same team from a year ago. If they can't make it work, expect some major changes through out the season.