It is a truism in sports; football, and hockey most of all that defense wins championships. We’ve seen it year after year. This year it seems to be adding a wrinkle to itself. Powerplays are costing teams games. Not by failing to produce, but by favoring offense so heavily, they aren’t prepared to play responsibly.

The Dallas Stars in game two of their series with the Anaheim Ducks were down two to one in the third. They were on the powerplay. On the ice are Valeri Nichushkin, Sergei Gonchar, Colton Scevoir, Cody Eakin, and Trevor Daley. Gonchar at age 40 is not in any way the skater he was ten or fifteen years ago. Nichushkin is rookie who is not only in his first NHL season, but his first season playing hockey in North America. Facing them were Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Getzlaf, Cam Fowler, and Ben Lovejoy. Either Getzlaf or Fowler deserve watching, and if you fall asleep at the switch with both of them on the ice, you deserve what happens next. The Stars did.

The Pittsburgh Penguins had a lead last night, they went on a powerplay, and lost it. All the momentum they had, and it was notable, the disorder of the Blue Jackets was equally notable. But the Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma, the same man who was in charge of a very mushy team USA roster not long ago, puts out a PP of Malkin, Crosby, Niskanen, Kunitz an Neal against a team that had nine short handed goals in the regular season. The most defensively capable of that group is probably the 34 year old Chris Kunitz. As you know, the BlueJackets scored, the Penguins did not and the scramble began. Momentum was reversed, an the game ended ugly for Penguins fans.

In the first game of their series, the Tampa Bay Lightning faced the Montreal Canadiens.  The Bolts are up 2-1 on home ice, a raucous crowd is making the building shake. P.K. Subban is in the box for slashing.  Onto the ice storm Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, they are joined by Ondrej Palat, Ryan Callahan and completing the unit is Valeri Filppula. We can argue about who the best defender in that group is, its probably Callahan, but it doesn’t matter. They got cute, and got beat by Brian Gionta setting up Lars Eller. To highlight how little offense the pair produced only seven more points than rookie Ondrej Palat, and neither actually surpassed Stamkos who was limited to 37 games and 40 points, while Gionta and Eller played 81 an 77 respectively. While the teams went back and forth scoring on a game that went to overtime, the Lightning never led again, and lost the game.

Last season was not the best year in the history of the Tampa Bay Lightning, it was also not the worst. This year for the first time since the 1998-99 season the Lightning will be without Vincent Lecavalier. The former 100 point man, part of the team’s only Cup win, was bought out. Regardless of who is named captain in his void, the player that will be matched in most minds with the is Steven Stamkos. To be successful this year, the team needs more from everyone who isn’t named Martin Saint Louis. Matt Taormina will have to contribute more than he did for the New Jersey Devils, Victor Hedman will again have to justify his 2nd overall selection in the 2009 NHL draft. Sami Salo, and Mattias Ohlund will have to not just roll the clock back but impart what they know about the NHL game to younger players.

While Jonathan Drouin is the crown jewel of their off season, what success the team has this year will come from other sources. Two of those are Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback. Without at least one of these goalies stepping up and delivering 45 or so games of .920 sv% goaltending this team has little chance of making the playoffs. Ryan Malone, Eric Brewer and Valterri Filppula are all valuable veterans, and they need to take the game to their opponents end this season and keep it there.

The Lightning will open the season with a three game trip. First up are the Boston Bruins and their Stanley Cup finals opponents the Chicago BlackHawks. The final stop on the road is a 7:30 date with the Buffalo Sabres. When they get home their cross state rivals the Florida Panthers will greet them. Finishing up the opening gamut are the Pittsburgh Penguins. This is by no means an easy way to open the year, but there are winnable games.

Number of days 1-5: 9

Number of cities:  4

Best opponent: Chicago BlackHawks or Boston Bruins

Weakest Opponent: Florida Panthers

Home games: 2

Projected points: 4

If head coach John Cooper can get everyone playing well, the team will no doubt improve over last years 14th placing in the east.  The turnover in forwards and the introduction of Cooper’s style last year will no doubt help the transition, but the roster isn’t isn’t overwheming, but it isn’t among the NHL’s very best, but they won’t be a bottom five team if things go well. Developing the young players like Drouin and any other prospects who make the team should be priority one this year.

NHL free agency brings all sorts of bizarre reasoning, usually from general managers, always from the media, and frequently from fans. In this Daniel Alfredsson who was unti he walked away from the Senators the National Hockey League’s longest serving captain. As what is so far the official reason for his departure Alfredsson said the Detroit Red Wings have a better shot at winning the Stanley Cup than the team that drafted him and paid him quite well over the years. According to repors Alfredsson was aware before he walked that Bobby Ryan was (likely) going to the Senators.

Going off of last years playoff statistics, The Ottawa Senators were better at producing goals. The Senators owned a better penalty kill. The Senators also had a better powerplay. As for personnel changes, the Detroit Red Wings have said good bye to center Valtteri Filppula who landed in Tampa Bay. In his place they signed Stephen Weiss who is smaller and older with only seven games of playoff experience in comparison to Filppula’s 105. To this Alfredsson added himself.

The Red Wings and Ottawa Senators will be in the same division this year. Within that new division the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins are clearly better teams. Also in the eastern conference the Pittsburgh Penguins can be expected to turn in a better regular season record, as can the Washington Capitals, the Columbus Blue Jackets were just two points worse than the Wings last year, and have made a significant upgrade at forward. The New York Rangers are a deeper team than the Red Wings, and the Philadelphia Flyers for all their woes and oddities can’t possibly have worse goaltending and defense than last season. As the Red Wings stumbled into the playoffs one point ahead of ninth place in the two team west, it is a bit of a stretch to imagine them as a powerhouse.

With four teams unarguably better than Red Wings stand today in the East it his hard to imagine them getting home ice advantage. With the Senators getting an upgrade in the form of Bobby Ryan, and likely fewer injuries than they saw last season, they too are arguably as strong as the Red Wings. Just looking at last years teams, their statistics and how much the rosters have changed and accounting for major injuries, a case can be made for six or seven teams being better than either the Red Wings or Senators just in the east.

During the Iginla conference call Peter Chiarelli mentioned the Boston Bruins were in contact with Alfredsson’s camp. Of the three teams, and the other teams who signed right wings in the last few days; Montreal, Philadelphia, Columbus, and more, it is hard to argue that the Red Wings give Alfredsson the best chance to win the Cup. He said he’s out of time and that his choice to move on was “selfish” decision. It doesn’t appear to have been a bright move.