The Lightning are becoming more than the sum of their parts.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 30 shots in another masterful performance. He makes big saves when the team needs them, and he made sure he kept the Lightning tied long enough for them to take over the game in the Third Period.
7:50 STL Pietrangelo (4), (Backes, Steen)
10:44 TB Killorn (4), (unassisted)
1:43 TB Stamkos (11), (Killorn, Barberio)
03:45 STL Schwartz (3), (Shattenkirk, Berglund)
8:37 TB Connolly (1), (Gudas, Filppula)
16:01 TB Filppula (5), (Killorn, Brewer)
Alex Killorn and Bishop were the game's first and second stars.
What a fantastically entertaining game between two of the better teams, record-wise, in the NHL. More to the point, the Lightning went toe to toe with one of the best teams in the league in a real heavyweight match that was neck and neck through 40 minutes before absolutely pulling away in the Third Period. The Lightning probably were ahead 60/40 or 65/35 in scoring chances by night's end, and that's no small feat against a really great Blues team that has a fantastic record so far this year. In the Third Period, it really appeared that the Lightning's ability to skate and crisply pass the puck was starting to wear out St. Louis. They clutched. They grabbed. The Lightning finally got a PP out of it, and although Connolly's goal came just after the PP expired, it was a goal where the Lightning made the Blues pay for the infraction.
I've talked about looking at this year in 10 game segments, and the Lightning really would benefit in not looking at where they are in the standings and just focusing on these little seasons within the season. 4 games into segment #2 of the season, they're 3-1-0 with 6 points, which is halfway to the minimum 12 you want in each of these sets. It's a good spot to be in heading into Thursday night's matchup against a struggling Edmonton club.
Radko Gudas had an assist, 5 hits, and 3 blocked shots in 21:21. Nice, low, tip-able shot on the game winner. He made it easy for Connolly to get a stick on that one.
Mark Barberio had a helper, his first NHL point, and was +1 with 3 hits and 1 blocked shot in 12:57. He also took an ill-advised tripping call after which it seemed like he got a lot less ice time. The same Barberio critiques apply. He looks great on O. He looks scary on D.
Tyler Johnson had 3 shots and 1 hit in 14:20 and was 43% on draws. He really seems to be settling into that third line utility role. If you need some offensive energy, he can do that. If you need a solid defensive shift, he can do that, too. Such a luxury for Cooper to have.
Killorn had 1 goal, 2 assists, and was +3 with 1 shot and 1 hit in 19:30. He could've easily had 2 goals as he posted an empty net attempt. For any of the remaining Ryan Malone dead-enders, it's over. He's your first line left winger. That line looks to have another gear or two with Killorn on it, and the puck handling and passing play he made to set up Filppula's insurance goal was the very definition of outstanding.
Ondrej Palat was -1 with 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 13:48. You can more or less cut and paste my comments about Johnson here. The two players do seem to be joined at the hip.
Richard Panik had 2 hits and 1 blocked shot in 10:52. You'd almost like Panik to get as basic as getting pucks on net right now, and go up from there. He better be nervous Connolly had a goal and 3 shots in about the same ice time tonight. That's a mano a mano competition.
Lightning solve a dilemma en route to victory.
Ben Bishop stopped all 31 shots he faced for the shutout. He didn't have much work until the last 5 minutes of the game when, inexplicably, the Lightning became sieve-like and were allowing the Canes to run Bishop. Shame on the skaters, and good on Bishop for keeping his goose egg in tact anyway. That there was some (U of) Maine Justice!
9:54 TB Hedman (2), (Thompson, Crombeen)
11:38 TB Stamkos (10), (Killorn, St Louis)
17:14 TB Killorn (3), (St Louis)
The Lightning managed to turn this from another clunker into something extremely positive to build on. They were flat as a pancake again in the First Period and half of the Second Period until Justin Peters decided to kick a Hedman shot that was wide off the end boards into his own net. And, then it was on, with the top line leading the way with the notable change of Alex Killorn running with the big guns instead of Ryan Malone. The impact of that change was obvious, and that should seal Malone's fate from here on out. He's too slow for the top line and that needs to be Killorn's spot. Malone needs to embrace what he is this season. I'd like to see him start to take on more of an Andreychuk-type spot with the team. Commit to being a strong checking liner. Try to get your points when you can on the PP. Let the young guys who have wheels get the big minutes.
Radko Gudas was +2 with 3 hits and 4 blocked shots in 21:08. He was much more under control in this game than against New Jersey and the results of that were obvious. He was solid as a rock tonight.
Mark Barberio had 4 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 15:17. I liked the decision to spot him in this game. It gave Sustr the chance to settle down a little in the press box and Barberio a chance to get some playing time in a game where any mistakes he made weren't going to necessarily be fatal. There was bad and good. I thought the was excellent offensively in the first half of the game. Early in the Second Period, he was about the only Lightning player taking shots (had 4 blocked and 1 missed the net) and he nearly had an assist on one play in the First Period. The critique, though, is the same. He terrifies you in his own end because of how soft he is on the puck. A stiff breeze gets him off the puck clean. A stern look gets him off the puck clean. And, then, obviously there's the issue of the two penalties taken in a close game. It was his best game of the year so far, in my opinion, but there's still considerable room for improvement.
Tyler Johnson had 2 shots and 1 blocked shot and was 30% on draws in 15:26. He was guilty of overpassing in the First Period. It's just that simple. He's got one of the best shots on the team. If I had his shot, you couldn't stop me from shooting the puck. I'd start shooting the puck from the parking lot. I'd be shooting pucks from the bench. There's be pucks going on net from the restroom in the intermission. If I had a shot as good as Johnson's, there's nothing in the world that would make me give up a clean look and pass it off. He's got to get greedier.
Killorn had 1 goal and 1 assist and was +2 with 3 shots and 1 hit. 3 takeaways for Killorn, too. That spot on the top line needs to be his. Period. The discussion ended tonight.
Ondrej Palat had 1 shot, 3 hits, and 2 blocked shots in 13:04. That's a great stat line for a guy that didn't seem to do much other than squander a 2-on-1 shorthanded in the First Period with Johnson.
Richard Panik had 1 shot and 1 blocked shot in 11:01. My thought was Cooper's decision to put him on the fourth line was an attempt to get Panik to play chippier. One of the problems with Panik's game so far is he's not being the instigator he was at times in the AHL. Ultimately, it doesn't pay that Richard looks like a Bond villain if he plays like a Bond girl. Unfortunately, I didn't see that edge. He's lucky Connolly didn't set the world on fire tonight, but the Lightning have his spot under the microscope. They have to.
Lightning take their first bad loss of the season.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 22 shots for the loss.
1:36 NJ Henrique (4), (Elias)(SH)
10:54 NJ Jagr (3), (unassisted)
15:23 TB Stamkos (9), (Purcell, R. Malone)(PP)
When I say "bad loss", I mean a loss against a team you expect to have a good chance to get a point or two against. Yes, the Lightning played poorly getting beat 5-0 by Boston and they left at least a point on the ice with their late loss to Pittsburgh, but this was the first time they really allowed themselves to fall behind schedule by losing to a team they could've gotten points from. You hate losing games like this because it starts to put pressure on you to steal more points out of games against top flight opponents, and that's a dangerous spot to be in.
The energy level was pretty poor. The puck handling and passing were pretty clumsy. Just a soft effort where the team really didn't appear to be bearing down and focused on the task at hand. At best, that led to an anemic 17 shots on goal. At worst, that led to turnovers, and turnovers by Carle and St. Louis led to New Jersey's two goals. Two flat games in a row now (I partly blame the Panthers game hangover for this one), and they should consider themselves fortunate to have gotten 2 points out of the 2 games, to be honest.
Radko Gudas had 3 shots, 2 hit, and 2 blocked shots to go with 2 penalty minutes in 23:05. I really didn't like his game tonight, although the coaches rewarded him with some late PP time. Got caught out of position more than once, took one bad penalty, and I didn't like the incident at Brodeur's cage at the buzzer. That's pointless and stupid when you just beat the wrap from the Panthers game incident. Cooper's got to calm him down, because he's getting out of control again.
Tyler Johnson had 3 shots and was 41% on draws in 16:30. He was stopped on a breakaway and had another clean look from the RW circles later in the game where he missed the net.
Alex Killorn had 2 shots in 15:45. This, actually, might have been one of his better efforts. He got robbed on one chance by Brodeur.
Ondrej Palat had 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 13:49. He made an amazing pass to spring Johnson on his breakaway and got stung blocking a shot on a pretty big Third Period PK.
Andrej Sustr was -1 with 2 penalty minutes in 12:30. After a very good game against Florida, he might've been a little too big for his britches in his approach tonight. Not as much care with the puck in his own end and maybe a little out of control jumping into the play on the offensive end.
Richard Panik had a hit in 13:12. He had a couple of looks in a Third Period power play and he just didn't do anything with them. I worry about his confidence getting shot at some point.
Pierre-Cedric Labrie was -1 in 7:16. I'm going to ask an honest question and leave it right here. Two straight games where the team came out flat. Did anyone see Labrie trying to get in a scrap? I didn't. I question the logic of having a guy on the roster that's there for an obvious reason, dressing him, and then not seeing that role carried out. I saw Crombeen trying to get something going. Maybe I've missed it, but I haven't seen that from Labrie.
Lightning survive another wild/weird game.
Anders Lindback allowed 3 goals on 32 shots in regulation and OT before stopping 3 of 4 in the penalty shot session for the win. I thought he looked pretty shaky the first half of the game and got stronger as it wore on, even though he allowed the 2 in the Third Period.
0:41 TB St Louis (7), (Stamkos, R. Malone)
04:35 TB Stamkos (8), (Malone, Carle)
13:48 FLA Matthias (1), (Winchester, Goc)
9:58 TB Gudas (1), (Panik, Killorn)(PP)
5:39 FLA Bjugstad (1), (Upshall, Kulikov)
8:51 FLA Boyes (5), (unassisted)
TB- Filppula, Stamkos
Steven Stamkos was the game's first star.
I thought the Lightning really sleepwalked through most of the first two periods and were fortunate that the Panthers were loose with the odd man rush to start the game and the bad Markstrom rebound that staked them to the 2-0 lead. Things were at 3-1 and the Lightning were still looking a little lethargic when the whole bizarre Radko Gudas/Scottied Upshall incident happened.
For those who missed it. Gudas was spilled at the opposing blueline and down on his butt with his back to the Panthers bench when Upshall displayed his classlessness by shooting Gudas with water from the bench. Radko got up and broke the blade of his stick over the top of the boards (Upshall looked terrified) and next thing you know Gudas was tossed from the game, leaving the Lightning down to 5 d-men on the second half of a back-to-back. For the record, I think the officials overreacted. Kicking Gudas out implies Radko intended to injure Upshall. Upshall was sitting on the bench with nowhere to run to. If Gudas wanted to use his stick to injure Upshall, he most assuredly would have. Players bang their sticks into the boards and glass all the time, and whenever it is called (typically for trying to show up the refs) it's a 10 minute call but not a match penalty.
The weirdness then ratcheted up another notch, because I thought the whole incident actually woke the Lightning up and they started to play their best hockey early in the Third Period. But, they didn't get the payoff and Nick Bjugstad got a very nice tip in goal followed by Ondrej Palat making a horrible, uncharacteristic puckhandling gaffe in his own end that resulted in the tying goal. Fortunately, Lindback kept Florida out the rest of the way, and the Lightning continued to look pretty good in the shootout, partly thanks to the infusion of Valterri Filppula.
Honestly, I'd just as soon not play the Panthers because even though the Lightning are now 9-1-1 in their last 11 against the Panthers, something about the Panthers gets the Lightning out of their structure and into a weird emotional dynamic I don't like. I think there's a hangover after these games that bothers me. It's especially true when the team goes down to Sunrise, which is like playing a hockey game in a mausoleum it's so empty. Seriously, I get that moving franchises is typically a bad thing, but how is the 5 people that were in the stands today preferable to an energized fan base in Quebec City? It's such a night and day difference in support between Tampa Bay and South Florida, where they evidently stayed home to celebrate the Dolphins' loss to the Patriots that they got to watch on TV.
Gudas had 1 goal and 22 penalty minutes to go with 4 shots and 3 blocked shots in 12:32. Scottie Upshall is a dead man the next time these two teams play. I can't say it plainer than that. Upshall's a dead man. Gudas does't forget stuff like this (neither does Jon Cooper, btw).
Tyler Johnson was -2 with 2 hits in 18:07. He was also his standard 54% on draws. Markstrom nearly kicked the game winner right onto his stick late in the Third Period.
Alex Killorn had a helper and 1 hit in 17:04. He was very active on the forecheck again and very good handling the puck. I remain concerned he's not getting shots on goal lately.
Ondrej Palat was -2 with 1 hit in 15:44. His mistake on the Boyes goal was bad and he should feel bad.
Andrej Sustr was +1 with 2 shots, 3 hits, and 2 blocked shots in 18:46. For everyone who was trying to tell me about the quality of Mark Pronger-io's game last night, please refer to Sustr's game tonight to see where the bar is set. He was fantastic at both ends of the rink. Good one on one and strong on the puck. Good passing it out of his third. Good keeping pucks in at the point on the attack using that big reach. Just, flat out, good.
Richard Panik had a helper and was -2 with 2 penalty minutes and 2 hits in 13:38. He was a non-factor after taking a First Period boarding call. It's like all the aggressiveness just bled right out of him.
Pierre-Cedric Labrie had 3 hits in 5:21. It did not escape notice that Cooper put Labrie and Crombeen out to start the Third Period, and that there were no takers from the Panthers side of the ice.
Lightning end the home stand with another two points the hard way.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 22 shots for the victory.
12:48 TB Johnson (3), (Filppula, Carle)(PP)
12:58 BUF Flynn (2), (McCormick, Leino)
12:46 BUF Vanek (4), (Foligno, Girgensons)
14:09 TB St Louis (6), (Stamkos, Gudas)
15:55 TB Palat (3), (Johnson)
I Tweeted (I have one of those now) Friday night that beating teams like Chicago is nice, but it doesn't do you any good if you drop points to teams like Buffalo and Florida. The Lightning responded really well in terms of effort tonight, but ran into a quality, experienced, franchise goaltender in Ryan Miller, who made them work hard for their win. The First Period was a clinic, and most of the Third Period was, as well, but Miller had the forcefield up and denied numerous quality chances by the Lightning. The Sabres capitalized by taking advantage of some sloppiness by the Lightning in the Second Period and an ill-advised Radko Gudas forecheck in the Third Period coupled with a sleepy Stamkos backcheck to build a 2-1 lead late in the Third Period.
What you had to like is that Gudas and Stamkos made great plays to atone for their mistake, setting up St. Louis for the tying goal. And, then, Jon Cooper decides, "What the hey?" He puts Palat/Johnson/Panik back together and they reply by getting the winning goal.
14 points in the first 10 game segment of the season is 2 more than what I thought they needed to set pace. It's wonderful. It should prove to them, athletically, they're capable of competing at this level. But, being athletically good enough doesn't get you to the playoffs. To get to the playoffs, you've got to consistently master the grind of the season and churn out those points. You got the minimum 12 you needed in the first segment? Awesome. Now you've got to do it seven more times to get to the tournament. And, that challenge starts immediately in South Florida tomorrow.
Gudas had a helper, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 16:11. Minutes were down a bit with the Lightning rotating 7 defenders.
Mark Barberio was +1 with 2 shots and 1 blocked shot in 12:03. In the offensive third he looked dangerous. In the defensive third he looked... also dangerous (in a bad way). I saw improvement tonight and I'd be less scared to put him out the next game than I was after the Boston opener. He can be a useful player for the Lightning if he can just develop into an average player in the defensive zone. He showed the offensive instincts tonight.
Tyler Johnson had 1 goal and 1 assist, 3 shots, 1 hit, and was 55% on draws in 21:09. I think that stat line and that ice time figure pretty much sums it up.
Alex Killorn played 17:33. I'm a little worried, given the nature of his game, that he's not getting shots although he's working very hard on the forecheck.
Palat had the game winning goal and was +1 with 4 shots and 3 hits in 15:25. He's magical with the puck. He's responsible without the puck. He's the straw that stirs the drink on whatever line he plays. You wonder if Cooper will start to creep his minutes up now that Palat seems to have his legs underneath him in the NHL.
Richard Panik had 4 shots and 1 hit in 13:39. He's become the man on PP2 in front of the net and showed good hands deflecting pucks all night. You get the sense his breakthrough could come at any time. I say, why not tomorrow?