Courtesy of USA TODAY – Kevin AllenView the “Kevin Allen” Lightning article; courtesy of USA Today[1]

Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Tortorella likes how free agent defenseman Filip Kuba has fit into his lineup except he wishes that Kuba would remove the brakes from his offensive game.

“We want him up the ice as much as he can,” Tortorella said. “We want all of our D up the ice – we want them pinching whenever they can.”

Those words primarily are Tortorella’s attempt to prod his defensemen to play more offense, but if you listen carefully, what you might be hearing is a coach who senses that this Lightning team is evolving into one of the NHL’s most dangerous offenses this season.

The Lightning might be the predator hiding in plain sight in the Eastern Conference. Because of the lockout and last season’s struggles, it has almost been forgotten how dominant this team could be when it won the Stanley Cup in 2003-04.

The team’s Big Three of Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis[2] and Brad Richards were all performing like they were the stars of the circus when Tampa Bay won that Cup.

But since then, it seems as if they haven’t been able to play well all at the same time. Last season, Richards was the megastar, and St. Louis was the slumping star. Lecavalier was somewhere in between.

This season, St. Louis has rediscovered his verve and Lecavalier looks like he could compete for the scoring title. The two have combined for 35 points in the past 10 games. They both look like they are always one stride away from a breakaway. St. Louis suddenly looks like the most elusive player in the league again, darting, twisting and rocketing up ice with overflowing passion.

Now suddenly this season, Richards hasn’t been as productive as he was last season. This comes after the Lightning gave him a five-year deal $7.8 million a season.

One theory is that Richards’ deal simply removed the pressure from St. Louis, who now seems inexpensive at $5 million.

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