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Hungry, desperate Matthew Peca just what Lightning need

By Roger Mooney
Published: January 31, 2018 Updated: January 31, 2018 at 11:13 PM
Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien (33) delivers a big hit on Tampa Bay Lightning's Matthew Peca (63) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP)

WINNIPEG, Manitoba – Matthew Peca is hungry, and that's what the Lightning needs right now.

That's why J.T. Brown was waived last month, to create a roster spot so general manager Steve Yzerman could import some of the young talent at AHL Syracuse.

"Just reinvigorate, just reenergize our team," assistant coach Todd Richards said after Wednesday's practice. "The season is long, sometimes you need changes. Changes have to happen."

Peca is desperate, and that's what the Lightning needs right now.

He's a rookie who doesn't want to return to Syracuse.

"(Peca is) playing more desperate than a few other players on our team right now," coach Jon Cooper said after Tuesday's 3-1 loss to the Jets.

Just the one, but it was a beauty.



Peca’s slick moves are tonight’s @SonnysBBQ goal of the game. #TBLvsWPG pic.twitter.com/8ZSumzYDBY

— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) January 31, 2018

Peca, 24, is winning faceoffs, no small chore this season for a Lightning center. He scored the only goal in Tuesday's loss. He battled Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien in the corners. Byfuglien is 6-foot-5, 260 pounds. Peca is 5-8, 178.

Courageous, is how Richards described Peca.

"Playing against much bigger guys in this league, you have to find ways to make yourself effective," Richards said. "Showed a lot of courage going into the corner, knowing he's going to get hit by Byfuglien. That's what you need from these young guys, step in and make some impact in the game."

Peca has played only four games, and the early return is that he is giving the team just what Yzerman sought when he risked losing Brown by exposing the veteran forward to waivers.

"I feel pretty fortunate to be up here right now," Peca said.

There are a handful of talented forwards at Syracuse. Adam Erne, Carter Verhaeghe and Alex Volkov come to mind.

Erne could have received the call-up had he not been injured. He could be on his way to Tampa Bay once he returns.

Your daily reminder that @Adamerne73 is good at hockey. #RCHvsSYR pic.twitter.com/DTA6SbgHVc

— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) January 14, 2018

Right now, Peca is getting that chance, he and left wing Michael Bournival. Both played with the Lightning last season.

Peca had a goal and an assist in 10 games. It made him hungry, he said, and led to a solid training camp and impressive work during the preseason. He kept that up with the Crunch with eight goals and 31 points in 42 games. The goals and his 23 assists were tied for the team lead when he was recalled.

"I think I'm just a little more comfortable with the guys, with the system," Peca said. "I'm not thinking as much about every little detail, how to play. This time I think I'm going out there and playing how I know how to play."

It helps that he centers the line with Bournival. The two carried that chemistry with them from Syracuse. Peca also played with Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde while with the Crunch, so there is a level of comfort.

He's averaged 12 minutes, 11 seconds of ice time in his four games. He has been a delight in the faceoff circle, winning 69.8 percent of his faceoffs for a team near the bottom of the league in that stat. He won an impressive 13 of 15 in a victory at Philadelphia, the last game before the all-star break.

"That's an area that we've been struggling trying to find somebody that can come in and win some faceoffs for us," Richards said.

Tuesday marked the fourth consecutive game in which the Lightning failed to capitalize with the man advantage. #TBLightning #WinJets @TB_Times @RogerMooney50 https://t.co/Og9F9XMz6M

— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) January 31, 2018

The 10 games last season with the Lightning gave Peca the confidence that he could play at the NHL level. It has been only four games, but Peca's hunger has worked to his benefit.

"When you step out on the ice and you have a little more experience, you have a little more confidence. You play your game and you don't overthink things," Peca said. "A guy in my position is always fighting for a roster spot. That's not on my mind but not off it. It's just something that's in the back of your head."

Contact Roger Mooney at [email protected]. Follow @rogermooney50