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Lightning sends Alex Volkov to Syracuse

Second-round pick Alex Volkov entered Lightning camp as an unknown.

But Volkov, 20, left having made a significant impression on coaches and teammates, showing why he might be able to impact the NHL club this year.

Volkov was reassigned to AHL Syracuse Monday, the Lightning getting close to its final 23-man roster. But coach Jon Cooper said the 6-foot-1 Russian wing "more than earned" the right to stay so long, even getting a shot on a line with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat Tuesday. The coaches love how Volkov isn't afraid to drive to the net in his two-goal performance Sunday.

"He's got a good shot, smart, big size. I like him a lot," star wing Nikita Kucherov said. "I don't know where he's going to end up, but I think he's got a lot of chance to get (to the NHL), really soon. The first month, maybe.

"I like the players when they just work, do their job, don't talk much, but I really like him. I really wanted him on the team because I see potential in him. Really skilled and really responsible with the puck. Every time you see him, he's got the puck on his stick." …

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Steven Stamkos would support a teammate's protest

If a Lightning player made a silent protest during the national anthem, captain Steven Stamkos says he would support him.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

If a Lightning player made a silent protest during the national anthem, captain Steven Stamkos says he would support him.

So far, there hasn't been a Lightning player who has made a silent protest during the national anthem, like many NFL stars have done.

But if a teammate does, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos would support them. The All-Star just hopes the original message behind the protests isn't lost. Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the string of protests last fall when he kneeled for the anthem, trying to bring awareness to police brutality against minorities, particularly African American.

"I think there's a lot of confusion, some clarification needed with the guys who are protesting," Stamkos, a Toronto native, told the Tampa Bay Times today. "What are they protesting? A lot of people I don't think understand. I don't think anyone's intention while protesting is to disrespect the flag, disrespect the military, or anyone who has fought so bravely to have freedom in the United States of America.

"I see it as someone that has that right, and is using that right to fight for someone's beliefs in that. That's the great thing about this country, is you can do what you feel is right and everyone is going to have their own opinions." …

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Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov get look on same power play

Nikita Kucherov, left, and Steven Stamkos, right, will be on the same power-play unit in tonight's exhibition against the Panthers.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Nikita Kucherov, left, and Steven Stamkos, right, will be on the same power-play unit in tonight's exhibition against the Panthers.

Typically, the Lightning would split up Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov on the power play, balancing the units with an elite scorer on each.

But Stamkos and Kucherov will be in the same unit in tonight's exhibition against the Panthers, part of the experimentation in preseason.

"We're going to try tonight, and we'll see," said assistant Todd Richards, who runs the power play. "We're just trying different things. Obviously (Stamkos and Kucherov) clicked last year, they played extremely well together prior to Stammer getting hurt. Let's give them an opportunity to play together and try to find that chemistry again."

Richards noted this is the first time in preseason Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman will get some power play time together. Alex Killorn and Vladislav Namestnikov are also part of that first group.

The second unit is Tyler Johnson, Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde, Ondrej Palat and Mikhail Sergachev, who will play in his fifth straight exhibition. The Lightning has just two power play goals in five preseason games, so it could use a spark. …

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Morning after: Lightning needs more 'urgency'

"There's urgency," captain Steven Stamkos said. "Especially when coming off the year we didn't make the playoffs. We're not sitting here thinking, 'Ok, we'll just flip the switch when the season starts.' "

AP photo

"There's urgency," captain Steven Stamkos said. "Especially when coming off the year we didn't make the playoffs. We're not sitting here thinking, 'Ok, we'll just flip the switch when the season starts.' "

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said the theme of the preseason has been that his team has gotten better as the game goes on.

The problem is, Tampa Bay isn't starting so well, including Tuesday's second straight 4-2 loss to the Panthers. And with just two preseason games remaining before the Oct. 6 season opener, time is running out to shake the rust off.

"There's urgency," captain Steven Stamkos said. "Especially when coming off the year we didn't make the playoffs. We're not sitting here thinking, 'Ok, we'll just flip the switch when the season starts.' We need to get better. Obviously the last couple games we'll see, including tonight, more of the guys who will be in the opening night roster. We need to come together.

"I know we've had the same core guys for a while. It always takes some time to get that chemistry back and that's what we'll do in the last two games."

No one should read into preseason records. But with the roster down to 26, Tuesday included a lot of the Lightning regulars - from Stamkos to Nikita Kucherov to Tyler Johnson and Andrei Vasilevskiy. And the first two periods were sloppy, sluggish, before the Lightning outshot Florida 19-9 in the third. …

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Alex Volkov with a top-six showcase for Lightning

Alex Volkov (79) works to stop Florida Panthers center Denis Malgin (62) during the second period of Sunday's game in Tampa.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Alex Volkov (79) works to stop Florida Panthers center Denis Malgin (62) during the second period of Sunday's game in Tampa.

Alex Volkov entered Lightning camp a bit of an unknown, the second-round pick from Russia in his first NHL camp.

But the 20-year-old wing is making a name for himself pretty quickly, surviving the biggest round of cuts Monday. And tonight, Volkov will start on a line with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat in an exhibition against the Panthers.

It's unclear how this will play out, with Volkov likely starting his pro career in AHL Syracuse, but he's getting a strong look.

"You've got to see if he can play with these guys," coach Jon Cooper said. "I think you have to really look at the big picture and see how this is going to work over the long haul, but he's more than earned his right to be here with this team right now.

"We'll just keep putting him in these games and see how he does. He's a little bit of an unknown for us in a sense in that he's recently drafted and hasn't come through our system. We haven't gotten to see a whole ton of him, but what we have seen we really like. That's why he's still here." …

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Jake Dotchin on rule violation: 'It's hurting me'

Jake Dotchin violated an unspecified team rule, which is why he hasn't played in the first four games.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Jake Dotchin violated an unspecified team rule, which is why he hasn't played in the first four games.

While defenseman Jake Dotchin continues to practice with the Lightning, it's uncertain when - or if - he'll get any preseason action.

Dotchin, 23, violated an unspecified team rule, which is why he hasn't played in the first four games. Dotchin declined to elaborate on what he did, calling it an "internal issue." But Dotchin is disappointed in himself considering how big this camp is for him.

The team said the infraction won't impact Dotchin's spot on the roster. But Dotchin, who impressed in a 35-game callup last season, was looking to establish himself on an eight-deep blueline.

"Obviously it's hurting me," Dotchin said Monday. "I want to be in there, I want to play every night. I'm doing what I can right now, working hard in practice and when I get a chance to go, I'll be ready to go." …

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Key decisions for Lightning remain in final week of camp

Second-round pick Alex Volkov, front, is a darkhorse to crack the Lightning roster.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Second-round pick Alex Volkov, front, is a darkhorse to crack the Lightning roster.

The Lightning made its biggest round of cuts Monday, with some of the big-named prospects heading out.

Gone are Matt Peca (who had his best camp yet), Anthony Cirelli, Mathieu Joseph, Mitchell Stephens, Brett Howden, Adam Erne, Erik Cernak, Ben Thomas, Daniel Walcott, Tye McGinn, Jamie McBain and Dennis Yan. Eleven of the 12 are heading to Syracuse, with Peca, Joseph and Cirelli showing in camp that they could help the Lightning as callups this season. Howden is going back to juniors in Moose Jaw, where  he's captain and No. 1 center.

None of them are especially surprising, though Peca made a strong case to stick around with his stellar preseason. As did Erne. They'll be back.

Second-round pick Alex Volkov, most notably, is still around, getting a strong look, a darkhorse to crack the roster. 

With its roster down to 26, Tampa Bay heads to Fort Lauderdale for the final week of training camp with some key decisions looming.

The two goalies - Andrei Vasilevskiy and Peter Budaj - are set. There are eight defensemen remaining, and the Lightning is expecting to potentially keep them all. The main competition is at forward, where the Lightning needs to cut at least three from the 16 left. …

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Lightning to retire Vinny Lecavalier's No. 4 in February

Vinny Lecavalier takes the ice before a 2010 game against the Florida Panthers.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Vinny Lecavalier takes the ice before a 2010 game against the Florida Panthers.

When Marty St. Louis became the first Lightning player to have his jersey retired back in January, it was hard not to think that former captain Vinny Lecavalier would be the next one.

The two good friends, and former linemates were both faces of the franchise, key cogs on the 2004 Stanley Cup run.

And soon, their jerseys will be hung side-by-side in the Amalie Arena rafters.

The Lightning announced Monday that Lecavalier's No. 4 will be retired on Feb. 10, when the Los Angeles Kings are in town. Lecavalier, the No. 1 overall pick in 1998, spent 14 seasons with the Lightning, scoring 383 of his 321 career goals. The ceremony comes during the franchise's 25th anniversary season.

"It's a great honor," Lecavalier, 37, said. "To see Marty last year, see his jersey go up, it was pretty cool. Honestly, this is for my family. I'm real proud of it, but my parents will be there, my kids - now that they're a little older, I know it's probably the last moment to get something, to have my kids there and see it, to be on the ice, that's what makes it really special." …

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Why Jake Dotchin hasn't played this preseason

Jake Dotchin battles Chicago's Marian Hossa in front of the net during a game in January.

Getty Images

Jake Dotchin battles Chicago's Marian Hossa in front of the net during a game in January.

Turns out, there's a reason why Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin hasn't played at all in the first four preseason games.

Dotchin, 23, violated an unspecified team rule, according to the Lightning. The infraction won't impact his spot on the roster or standing with the organization. Dotchin has continued to practice, including Sunday afternoon.

Dotchin, who signed a two year deal this summer worth $812,500 annually, was expected to be part of the Lightning blueline this season. Dotchin's emergence last year in his 35-game callup was one of the bright spots in a season that ended without the playoffs. Dotchin served as a solid partner to All-Star Victor Hedman.

The Lightning leaves Monday for Fort Lauderdale, where it will play two exhibition games (Tueday and Thursday) against the Panthers. The preseason wraps up Saturday in Nashville. It's unclear if Dotchin will play in these games.

While the organization said this won't impact Dotchin making the team, it's certainly not a good look for a young defenseman battling for time in a likely eight-deep blueline. Dotchin was not available for comment Sunday.

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Mikhail Sergachev learning when to keep it simple

Mikhail Sergachev has to show he can make the right decisions, even if it's the boring one.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Mikhail Sergachev has to show he can make the right decisions, even if it's the boring one.

Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev tried to carry the puck through the middle in front of his net Friday night against Nashville.

It led to a turnover and point-blank opportunity for the Predators, with goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy bailing the team out with a big-time save.

"In the first half of the game, I felt like I was trying to do too much," Sergachev said.

It was just one example of the learning curve Sergachev, 19, is experiencing during his audition to make the Lightning roster. Sergachev, a playmaker in junior with Windsor, has to show he can make the right decisions, even if it's the boring one.

"Sometimes, you've just got to flip (the puck) out of the zone, play it simple, rim the puck," Sergachev said Sunday. "In juniors with Windsor, I didn't get used to that. I played my game, I made plays every time. It was different."

Sergachev has still fared well so far through two preseason games, and will get another opportunity today against the Panthers at Amalie Arena (4 p.m., on 970-AM). The Lightning has played Sergachev at least 20 minutes in each of his games, testing him on both special teams.

"It's huge," Sergachev said. "They're giving me every chance." …

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Matt Peca making case for Lightning spot

Matt Peca won nine of 10 faceoffs Friday, a skill the Lightning badly needs.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Matt Peca won nine of 10 faceoffs Friday, a skill the Lightning badly needs.

Center Matt Peca said he didn't read too much into the fact he was the only Lightning player to appear in each of the first three exhibition games.

But Peca, 24, loved it.

"Anytime you get a game, it's a good thing," Peca said. "It gives you another chance to go out there and do your thing."

Peca has done just that, the 5-foot-8 center making an intriguing case to make the opening night roster. Peca impressed in a 10-game callup last season, and has gotten better each preseason game," Cooper said. Peca won nine of 10 faceoffs Friday, a skill the Lightning badly needs.

"To be honest, he looks faster," Cooper said. "He's doing exceptional on the faceoff circle. Just his effort level and everything has been elite since he's been in training camp. He's just one of those guys you can put on the penalty kill, the power play, can take the big draw. You need all those things to find your niche, and he's doing that right now." …

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Ryan Callahan encouraged by his return

Ryan Callahan looked like his old self, delivering two hits, blocking two shots as a key cog on the penalty kill.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Ryan Callahan looked like his old self, delivering two hits, blocking two shots as a key cog on the penalty kill.

Captain Steven Stamkos wasn't the only key Lightning player to make a triumphant return Friday night against Nashville.

Veteran wing Ryan Callahan, 32, played in his first game since Jan. 7, his season ending with a February follow-up procedure on his right hip. Callahan was a bit nervous before the game.

"I was riding the bike before the game and I'm like, 'I haven't had this feeling in a while for a preseason game," Callahan said.

But Callahan was encouraged with how he felt after playing eight minutes, 25 seconds. He looked like his old self, delivering two hits, blocking two shots as a key cog on the penalty kill.

"I felt good," Callahan said. "I felt like I missed nine months the first period or so. It's just timing, getting your legs. But once I got going, I got more comfortable."

When Callahan was trying to play through the hip injury last season, coach Jon Cooper would remember the wing getting fatigued often. Not so much Friday. "He had jump, he had energy," Cooper said.

Callahan said he felt like he could play his physical, gritty game with no limitations. That hadn't happened since he had a labral tear surgically-repaired in June of 2016. …

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NHL All-Star Game logo revealed

The NHL released its official logo for the 2018 All-Star Game, which will be held at Amalie Arena in Tampa Jan. 28. It's fitting there's palm trees, water and a sunset tones in the logo.

Lightning season ticket members will get the chance to to buy tickets for the weekend in a rolling pre-sale which begins late next week. Tickets will start at $205 each and include the skills event on Saturday, Jan. 27 and the All-Star Game.

“The 2018 NHL All-Star Weekend in Tampa Bay, Florida pairs pristine beaches and an energetic, lively city with the speed and excitement of NHL Hockey making it a perfect destination for the mid-season celebration”, said Brian Jennings, NHL Chief Branding Officer and Executive Vice President.

“The brand identity for the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game features rich and vibrant sunset tones, palm trees and water that are synonymous with the region, with subtle border treatments inspired by the decoratively carved tailboards found along the bow that tie back to Tampa Bay’s annual Gasparilla Festival.”

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Steven Stamkos making exhibition debut for Lightning

Steven Stamkos takes a knee while huddling up with the team on the ice during training camp in Brandon last week.

[DIRK SHADD | Times]

Steven Stamkos takes a knee while huddling up with the team on the ice during training camp in Brandon last week.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is curious how he'll feel - and play - in tonight's exhibition game against Nashville.

"I think everybody is," assistant coach Todd Richards said.

Stamkos, 27, hasn't played in a game since tearing the lateral meniscus in his right knee Nov. 15 against Detroit. He has said his knee feels the best it has since surgery, and has had no restrictions since training camp started last week.

But the true test will be a game, something you can't replicate.

"Obviously it's been a while since I've played in a game - I'm anxious and excited to get this one going tonight," Stamkos said. "Training camp has gone extremely well, team has worked hard. I feel better than I thought I would coming in. It's all been positive, and this is just another step in getting prepared for Oct. 6."

Stamkos is one of many big names in the Lightning lineup, as Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Ryan Callahan, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat are making their exhibition debuts. So are Chris Kunitz and Alex Killorn. Touted defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev - who was impressive with a plus-3 and a goal in his debut Wednesday - is back in the lineup. …

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Morning after: Takeaways from Lightning exhibition

The Lightning's Erik Cernak, left, congratulates Adam Erne (73) following Erne's goal against the Carolina Hurricanes.

AP photo

The Lightning's Erik Cernak, left, congratulates Adam Erne (73) following Erne's goal against the Carolina Hurricanes.

For the Lightning, there was a lot to like in Wednesday's 4-3 exhibition win in Carolina.

And not just the play of touted defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev.

Sure, Sergachev, 19, delivered with a goal and plus-3 in a team-high 22:16, a great way to start his audition for a spot.

But other players stood out, too.

*Forward Adam Erne scored a goal for the second straight game. Both came in front of the net, this one a spin-and-shoot. Erne, who had an extended callup late last season, is in a tough battle to crack the roster.

"I'm just trying to prove myself," Erne said. "Nothing is set in stone in any way for anybody, I don't think this year. A lot of jobs up for grabs. I'm just trying to earn a spot."

Erne said he gained a lot of confidence last season, getting a better feel for the league. "He's getting better," coach Jon Cooper said. "That's what Adam can do is put the puck in the net. He's got chances both nights and he's done it."

*Forward Boris Katchouk carried over a strong performance in Tuesday's game into Wednesday. Katchouk scored a goal, and was all over the ice. He's heading back to juniors most likely, but made a good impression. …

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