So ends Evgeny Nabokov's NHL career?
Evgeny Nabokov allowed 4 goals on 13 shots for the loss before giving way to Ben Bishop, who allowed 3 on 12 shots the rest of the way. The fact Cooper didn't put Nabokov back in for the Third Period seems a bit telling, like perhaps this is the end of the road. Nabokov appeared to earn the start after playing reasonably well in his last outing, but he once again proved the Lightning just can't rely on him for even a mediocre start in back-to-back situations. Were it me, I'd highly consider calling up Kristers Gudlevskis to assume day-to-day practice duties as a waiver-exempt placeholder and then swap him with Andrei Vasilevskiy for planned starts, such as in upcoming back-to-backs. It could be a sad ending for Nabokov, who is probably one of the 4 or 5 best Russian goaltenders ever. The bottom dropped out quickly for him, though, a la Dwayne Roloson several years back.
6:12 PHI VandeVelde (3), (Schenn, Giroux)
10:26 TB Stamkos (23), (Johnson, Stralman)(PP)
16:15 PHI Umberger (7), (Read, Coburn)
1:45 PHI Voracek (17), (Streit, Giroux)(PP)
2:36 PHI Bellemare (4), (VandeVelde, Del Zotto)
7:02 PHI Streit (5), (Schenn, Simmonds)(PP)
8:37 PHI Schenn (10), (Streit, Voracek)(PP)
15:01 PHI Raffl (11), (Laughton, Simmonds)
15:23 TB Boyle (8), (Paquette, Stralman)
1:20 TB Callahan (13), (Drouin, Filppula)(PP)
Adding injury to insult, Victor Hedman and Tyler Johnson left the game with lower body injuries, the former of which meant that Brian Boyle ended up having to take shifts on defense. Johnson's injury, which looked like a potential twisted knee, is particularly troubling. So, in addition to whatever happens (if anything) with the goaltending situation, you could see Vladislav Namestnikov called up to fill for Johnson and on defense, I'll guess Luke Witkowski would get the call and the coaching staff might try to slide one of their lefties playing the right side over to the left side.
This was a case where the Lightning got caught peeking ahead to Boston, didn't come out with their best effort, saw some soft goaltending, and allowed it to snowball out of control. Now they'll go into a place they seemingly never win with a depleted lineup after Bishop had to nearly play 2 periods of hockey in the back-to-back situation. So, a minor lapse of mental focus may snowball beyond a single hockey game, which is a lesson Cooper should stress to his team.
Cedric Paquette had a helper with 2 shots, 4 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 17:32, as he got to fill some of Johnson's minutes. He was also 40% on draws. To his credit, he was still throwing checks and playing hard in garbage time on the Third Period, which isn't unexpected given his well-respected effort level.
Jonathan Drouin had a helper and was -1 with 1 hit in 15:56. Zero shot attempts. None. The kid sneezes out assists, which is amazing for a guy who rarely even attempts to shoot the puck, and tells you how big a point producer he could be if he actually did.
Lightning blow out Sabres 2-1.
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 21 shots for the victory. His stop on Grigorenko on a 2-on-1 in the Second Period allowed the Lightning to turn the momentum after the Sabres' lone goal into a tidal wave that eventually overcame Neuvirth's exceptional effort at the other end of the rink.
3:51 TB Filppula (8), (Callahan, Paquette)
0:50 BUF McCormick (1), (Kaleta)(SH)
14:42 TB Stamkos (22), (Drouin, Killorn)
The Lightning outshot the Sabres 47-21 in the contest, and the final 39 minutes of this game were about as lopsided a game as you'll ever see in your life. The Lightning lived in the Sabres zone, throwing wave after wave of chances at the Buffalo net in a scene reminiscent of the old Lightning/Panthers games you used to see in the early '00's. Eventually, though, Neuvirth's nine lives ran out and the Lightning got the "W" that they richly deserved.
And remember, folks, Bobby "The Chief" Taylor says, "Ice is like great whiskey, it has to be aged and cured." Stick that in your flask.
Cedric Paquette had a helper and was +1 with 2 shots, 2 hits, and 2 blocked shots in 14:25. He started Filppula's goal with some good board work and had a rugged night where he gave and took with the Sabres throughout the night. His most high-profile moment, though, was a SH breakaway in the Third Period with the game tied 1-1 that Neuvirth got a piece of and steered off the outside of the goalpost and out.
Jonathan Drouin had 1 assist, 1 shot, and 1 blocked shot in 15:06. I though his line was a revelation tonight, and it's fitting Killorn/Stamkos/Drouin got the game winner. They could've had a half dozen goals tonight if Neuvirth had been the slightest bit human. It will be interesting to see if the momentum that group gained tonight carries forward against better opposition.
Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 2 penalty minutes and 4 shots in 14:34. My goodness he had such a good game helping the Lightning press the attack... right up until that clunker of a shift with the game tied 1-1 in the Third Period where he made a blind turnover that led to zone time for Buffalo and Nesterov eventually taking the tripping call. He should thank Bishop and the PK'ers for picking him up there. That little oops aside, though, if Nesterov's night translates against better opposition, the Lightning may have found a significant silver lining in Radko Gudas' knee injury.
Tasty, tasty revenge.
Ben Bishop again smacked Carey Price around, allowing just 2 goals on 22 shots for the victory. Funny how Montreal can't buy a win against Tampa Bay unless Anders (stinking) Lindback is between the pipes.
15:07 MTL Weise (5), (Plekanec, Gonchar)
3:17 TB Brown (2), (Drouin, Boyle)
10:42 TB Johnson (16), (Kucherov, Palat)(PP)
18:16 TB Connolly (8), (Filppula, Paquette)
19:38 TB Johnson (17), (Palat, Kucherov)(PP)
5:01 MTL Pacioretty (17), (Gallagher, Gonchar)
Man, I wish the Lightning could just alternate between playing Montreal and the Rangers every game. This team, when it has extra motivation, just goes to another level. I said it when the playoff run ended last season: All Montreal did was make a very powerful enemy of the Lightning, and that my suspicion is the Lightning will spend the next 5 seasons torturing the Canadiens for how that series went. Two games into the season series this year, the Lightning are 2-0-0 and have outscored Montreal in the series 11-3. My goodness, Tampa Bay even pulled their shambolic power play out of the dumpster with a 2-for-5 performance based partly on a new strategic wrinkle -- putting Stamkos out on a unit with the triplets. It looked like money tonight. The Canadiens' broadcasters are trying to stoke this as a budding rivalry between Tampa Bay and Montreal. My early take is that Montreal looks more like speed bump to Tampa Bay than a rival, regardless of how close things are in the standings. Without Lindback spotting them 1-2 free goals a game, Montreal's at a huge disadvantage playing against the Lightning head-to-head.
Cedric Paquette had a helper and was +1 with 1 shot, 5 hits, and 2 blocked shots in 16:29. He got his assist hedmanning the puck on a 3-on-1 that Connolly converted, and otherwise was just a bowling ball on skates all night. He was trying to hit everything that moved out there.
Jonathan Drouin had a helper and 1 shot and 1 hit in 11:28. He might've had the key shift of the night hitting a crossbar on one rush and then creating a chance on the next rush that saw Brown pot his rebound for the Lightning's opening goal. Once they got one on Price, the floodgates opened in the Second Period and the rest is history.
Disengage safety. Point at foot. Pull trigger. Repeat.
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 10 shots before being pulled for Evgeny Nabokov who allowed 2 on 18 shots the rest of the way for the dreaded back door loss. If there was a silver lining out of this game, it might have been that Nabby looked like an NHL goaltender in relief tonight.
1:56 PIT Kunitz (12), (Letang, Crosby)(PP)
6:50 PIT Ebbett (1), (Malkin, Despres)
13:39 PIT Malkin (17), (Ebbett, Rust)
15:11 TB Boyle (7), (Palat, Carle)
12:48 TB Hedman (4), (Johnson, Palat)
17:07 PIT Ehrhoff (3), (Bennett, Crosby)
11:18 TB Killorn (9), (Stralman, Hedman)
11:52 PIT Downie (6), (Crosby, Spaling)
19:55 PIT Downie (7), (Letang, Crosby)(EN)
I have some complaints with some shady things that happened in this game, but ultimately the Lightning shot themselves in the foot in this game. Stralman allowed his pocket to be picked on the very first shift of the game that led to a minor penalty and a power play goal, and the team instantly fell behind the eight ball. Stamkos made a turnover at the Lightning blueline on the third goal to put the team down 3-0 in the First Period, which is a crusher you try to avoid, and then two Lightning defenders get beat behind the net on a 50/50 puck by Crosby leading to Downie's insurance goal less than a minute after Killorn drew it to 4-3.
Now, the shady stuff still needs to be mentioned. On the second Penguins goal, Malkin hits the post and the Pittsburgh arena folks decide to blow the goal horn and fire up a strobe light on Bishop's crease as Ebbett comes in to score on the ensuing chance. Later, on the Ehrhoff goal to help Pittsburgh re-establish a 2 goal lead after Hedman pulled it to 3-2, you had a situation where a Pens stick was actually stuck in Stralman's visor before the rush that led to the goal and the ref actually came over to help Stralman and didn't make a call. Lunacy. Both of those plays were minor league/bush league quality stuff, and then we later got to witness Crosby rear naked choke out Connolly on a goal mouth scrum and get away with nothing called, just to add insult to injury. None of the above incidents are why the Lightning lost, but they're troubling examples of why you feel like the Lightning have to be THAT MUCH BETTER against a league darling like the Pens to realistically have a chance to win. It's shameful, really.
The same things keep happening night after night that end up being the difference between winning and losing and I don't see them improving consistently. The brain fart turnovers by veteran players just can't continue to happen. Details matter against quality teams like Pittsburgh. The power play (0-for-3 tonight) continues to come up dry at key points of the game and the guys who are supposed to be the team's best skaters (Stamkos and Callahan) continue to struggle to find the scoresheet consistently. When you sprinkle in that the team still is trying to figure out how Drouin fits into the puzzle, it's a maddening mystery soup right now. If these things start to get corrected, it's easy to see this team becoming a juggernaut. If they don't, it's just as easy to see how this thing could start to go pear-shaped.
With the loss, the Lightning finish the 4th 10-game segment of the season with 11 points, 1 point shy of the 12 point minimum target. They entered with 5 insurance points, fortunately, so they still have 4 insurance points heading into segment 5. The team's at a bit of a crossroads right now, though, and this is why Jon Cooper gets paid the big bucks.
Cedric Paquette was -2 with 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 15:39. He was on the ice for the Stamkos turnover goal and that abomination Ehrhoff goal, so I can't be too mad. Still, I keep wondering if and when a shakeup gets made if Paquette may end up having to go down to make way for Namestnikov.
Jonathan Drouin was -1 with 1 shot, 4 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 11:54. He, also, was on the ice for the Stamkos turnover goal. I really wish the coaching staff would figure out a role for Drouin and a set of linemates and stick with it. The kid's skill level is off the charts. He makes stick handling moves with the pace and violence of a boxer's punches, and his playmaking abilities are very evident. There's just no continuity with how he's being used, though, and he's the kind of player where I think linemates need to get used to him because of what a high-level setup guy he is.
Lightning open a Third Period can of beat down.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 11 shots (not a typo) for the victory. He made a handful of key saves while the game was tight and the only goal he did allow was a point shot that deflected off of Hedman's stick and took a crazy bounce in on net.
7:48 TB Carle (4), (Palat)
12:33 BUF Ennis (9), (Zadorov, Moulson)(PP)
19:02 TB Palat (9), (Johnson, Kucherov)(PP)
5:20 TB Connolly (7), (Stralman, Palat)
8:40 TB Kucherov (16), (Johnson, Stralman)
18:05 TB Kucherov (17), (Palat, Johnson)
The Lightning, for about 30 minutes, didn't look like they wanted to be in Buffalo (well, yeah). In the Third Period, they outshot Buffalo 14-1 and absolutely dismantled the young Sabres. It was a clinic put on by the triplets line to put 2014 to bed the right way.
Now, here's the interesting part: the Lightning now have 11 points in this 10-game segment of the season with 1 more game to play. Despite all their struggles this month, they may still hit 12 points over this 10-game stretch, and at a minimum, they'll have 4 insurance points heading into the second half of the campaign. Nice.
Jonathan Drouin had 1 shot in 14:08.
Nikita Nesterov was +1 in 15:02 in his NHL debut. He made a key play breaking up a 2-on-1 that nearly resulted in a goal at the other end when Stamkos hit a crossbar. In all, he wasn't noticeable, but that's a positive for a rookie d-man.
Ben Bishop allowed goals on the first 2 shots of the game. He stopped all 21 shots he faced thereafter for the victory.
4:28 TOR Santorelli (8), (Kadri, Phaneuf)
7:47 TOR Lupul (9), (Bozak, Kessel)
6:37 TB Callahan (12), (Stamkos, Hedman)(PP)
9:46 TB Filppula (7), (Hedman, Callahan)
11:05 TB Stamkos (20), (Carle)
Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan, and Victor Hedman were the game's three stars. Isn't it funny how when the Lightning's biggest stars get their games going, it takes the Lightning from a mediocre team to a team that can dominate like they did tonight (shot totals 41-23 for the Lightning)? This game was important in that it allowed the Lightning to get those star players on track, allowed them to exorcize some power play demons, and allowed them to make an example of an Atlantic Division foe they'll be fighting with for position for the next couple of months.
Cedric Paquette was -1 with 4 shots, 3 hits, and 3 blocked shots in 13:39. I thought he played an excellent game on the PK, even springing Hedman for a First Period breakaway, and he was on the ice for the last shift of the game with the team protecting the one goal lead.
Jonathan Drouin was +1 with 1 shot in 11:43. Stats tend not to show what he brings to the table in games. He drew a minor penalty in the First Period with a dazzling stickhandling display after falling down and then at the end of the Second Period nearly set up a goal after a world class keep-away exhibition in the offensive zone and a sharp snap pass to the side of the Leafs cage. He is slicker than an oil spill when he's got the puck.
Christmas done Triplets style.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 29 shots for the victory. Tonight was light work until Third Period garbage time, which was a welcome relief after the volume of shots/chances he faced on Long Island.
6:54 TB Johnson (11), (Kucherov, Palat)
19:56 TB Johnson (12), (Palat, Hedman)
0:52 TB Kucherov (14), (Carle, Filppula)
2:37 TB Johnson (13), (Kucherov, Palat)
10:15 PIT Hornqvist (13), (Klinkhammer)
9:55 PIT Kunitz (10), (Malkin)
18:29 PIT Letang (8), (Hornqvist, Malkin)
This was a very important win for a number of reasons. One, it showed the thing that happened on Long Island was an aberration. Two, it allows the team to feel good headed into the Winter Break and they can start after the break with a pretty fresh slate. Third, it helped them bury the long losing streak they've had against Pittsburgh, which is a team they'll likely see over the next few years as a playoff adversary. True, the Pens were depleted. True the Pens were tired. I'm not under any delusions that the Lightning bested the Penguins' most fearsome lineup tonight. But, it's something positive to build on, and they did have Crosby, Malkin, and (for a little while) Fleury on the rink.
When the Lightning come back from break, the first 5 things they need to work on are: power play, power play, power play, power play, and power play. It's bad right now. Absolutely terrible. Time for the coaching staff to take some egg nog down into Cooper's laboratory and white board something fresh, because what they're doing right now is an atrocity masquerading as a travesty.
With 4 games to go in this 10-game segment, the Lightning sit 7 points shy of the 12 they would want per segment, but just 2 points shy of the spot they need to be at the end of the 4th segment (48 points) thanks to the insurance points they've squirreled away. 7 out of 8 possible points is tough, but you'd like to see the Lightning get at least 5 or 6 out the 8 possible points so they don't burn off too much of what they have in the bank in case another rainy day pops up.
Cedric Paquette had 1 shot and 2 hits in 13:29. I thought he played his role really well tonight.
Jonathan Drouin was -2 with 1 shot and 1 hit in 13:04. I'm not a huge fan of the Drouin/Stamkos/Connolly combination that was put together by Cooper tonight, because I'm not sure I see a lot of puck retrieval on that line unless Stammer does it.
Sluggish Lightning nearly bailed out by Vasilevskiy.
Andrei Vasilevskiy was brilliant. He stopped 45 shots tonight, only allowing a goal to an uncovered Tavares in the slot (no shame) and a tipped point shot by Lee (again, no shame). The Lightning would've lost this game 8-1, easily, without Vasilevskiy.
9:16 TB Connolly (6), (Johnson, Barberio)
16:51 NYI Tavares (13), (Okposo, Bailey)
17:03 NYI Lee (7), (Hamonic, Nelson)
18:49 NYI Kulemin (6), (Clutterbuck)(EN)
Vasilevskiy was the game's third star.
Anyone in a Lightning jersey not named Vasilevskiy or Boyle probably didn't deserve to be wearing it the way they played tonight. I certainly hope there's a more innocuous explanation for what we witnessed tonight. Maybe the flu is running through this team, which was aggravated by Garrison leaving in the Second Period. I can't explain it, otherwise. The team looked slow. They made wave after wave of really idiotic turnovers. They looked physically and mentally fatigued to the extent that they didn't even seem to want to be there. Gudas and Carle looked like corpses out there, for crying out loud. Getting outshot 48-21 by anyone is just not acceptable, and in the absence of extenuating circumstances there needs to be a closed door meeting followed by a bag skate, because this just cannot happen.
Cedric Paquette was -1 with 2 penalty minutes 2 hits and 1 blocked shot in 15:11. If Yzerman looks to make a shake up move, I wouldn't be shocked to see Paquette and Namestnikov trade places soon. Paquette took a bad offensive zone boarding call and he's seen his offensive contributions vanish while taking about 1 minor penalty a night. That means, sadly for him, he might have to be the one who gets shook in the shake up.
Jonathan Drouin had 1 hit in 13:19. He ended up getting himself pulled off the Stamkos line because they were generating nothing. Zero shots on goal and only one even attempted isn't good enough.
Lightning manage to wrestle 1 point out of the quicksand.
Evgeny Nabokov allowed 2 goals on 18 shots before allowing 1 of 3 to convert in the penalty shot session for the SO loss. I'll give him full marks for battling tonight, but that was hard to watch. The first goal was a fluky goal that he put into his own cage. Okay. But, the second goal cannot be allowed at any level of hockey and he got the benefit of 5 or 6 posts tonight on top of that. The Lightning have a real issue there, and the solution may be figuring out some way to shuttle one of the two good goaltenders they have in Syracuse up in back-to-back situations from here on out, which is a roster challenge, but may be necessary. You could've timed that second goal from shot to net with a sun dial it fluttered so slowly.
3:01 NJ Henrique (9), (Greene, Gomez)(PP)
15:17 NJ Elias (4), (Havlat, Henrique)
14:55 TB Stamkos (19), (Callahan, Drouin)
19:19 TB Kucherov (13), (Callahan, Garrison)
Nikita Kucherov was the game's first star.
Glass half full: they managed to squeeze a point out of a game where they trailed New Jersey in the Third Period. That's no small feat, and part of climbing out of the big hole that they were in was one of the better passing displays we've seen in the last 3-4 weeks, especially in the Second Period. I also thought Radko Gudas, coming off a stomach bug, might've played his best game of the season tonight at both ends of the rink.
Glass half empty: the goaltending was bad. The power play might've actually been worse, though. 0-for-5 on the power play tonight and one was a key double minor in the Third Period while they were pushing to tie the game where they got nothing going. Nothing. At some point as the season progresses, Yzerman seriously needs to find a righty PP QB to acquire via trade. Nothing they're doing to try to free up Stamkos with lefties at center point is working, and it's becoming counterproductive trying to force set pieces his way or asking him to force passes back through the seam to Filppula, who can't do anything with them because he's not a shooter.
Cedric Paquette had 2 hits and 1 blocked shot in 12:39 and he also was 44% on draws.
Jonathan Drouin had a helper and was +1 with 2 shots and 1 hit in 21:15. Circle that ice time number. Playing with Stamkos for the full game, this was the first time Cooper really let Drouin out of the stable, and I think Stamkos in particular responded well with 10 shot attempts tonight. My big thing with Drouin now, though, is that team's are playing him as a pass first guy. He needs to shoot it more. 2 shots is more than he's been getting, but he only had 3 shot attempts total. I want to see him at a minimum of 4 shot attempts a game from here on out. Stamkos won't mind, Jonathan. 91 likes rebound goals, too.
Vasilevskiy plays the role of the slump slayer.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 24 shots for the victory in his first NHL start.
19:19 PHI Simmonds (14), (Streit, Giroux)(PP)
1:50 TB Stamkos (18), (Drouin, Callahan)
6:34 TB Johnson (10), (Callahan, Kucherov)
19:18 TB Filppula (6), (Paquette, Johnson)(EN)
Ryan Callahan and Vasilevskiy were the game's first and third stars. The night offered Lightning fans a brief slice of the future, with Vasilevskiy in net and Jonathan Drouin playing on the top line with Stamkos. Both had important hands in the outcome of the game, with a cameo appearance by young Cedric Paquette on the EN goal to seal the game.
Paquette had a helper and was +1 with 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot. He was also 67% on draws.
Drouin had a helper and was +1 with 2 penalty minutes and 1 blocked shot in 17:28. If I have a critique of Drouin, it's that I'd like to see him look to shoot a little more and generate some offense that way, too. I hope he stays on that line with Stamkos from here on out.