Koekkoek, Slater

NHL Game Night: 4-5-16 Lightning at Rangers

"Try hard" Lightning back into the playoffs.

TB-2
NYR-3

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 28 shots for the loss. His soft goal on Stepan's second on a slapper off the board was the margin, as soft goals often are.

First Period
2:42 TB Sustr(4), (Namestnikov, Marchessault)
6:07 TB Boyle(13), (Palat, Johnson)(PP)

Second Period
16:55 NYR Stepan(21), (Zuccarello, Yandle)(PP)

Third Period
2:33 NYR Stepan(22), (Zuccarello, Klein)
4:46 NYR Kreider(21), (M. Staal, Stepan)

Ondrej Palat was the game's third star.

The Lightning had more than enough opportunities to win this game. They jumped out to the 2-0 lead and had plenty of chances to push it to a 3 goal margin with a bushel of power play opportunities including a 5-minute major. Ultimately, the Lightning just could not crack Lundqvist to put the kill shot on the Rangers and they invited the comeback given how shorthanded Tampa Bay was tonight. On top of the regular season-ending injuries to Stralman and Stamkos they also had Hedman and Callahan out of the lineup tonight. If you're a glass half full person, you can point to the fact the Lightning manufactured 41 shots tonight with that lineup. They tried hard, and with a little better goaltending they might've stolen a point out of the night. And, yes, they probably figured out some things about how to play without some of their big guns, which will have some value moving forward. But, in the end, there just aren't any moral victories at this time of year.

Fortunately, with the Bruins losing in the SO to Carolina, the Lightning backed into a playoff spot. That's notable given that the team missed the 96 point target at the 80 game market. In another season, they might be in real trouble right now. However, with how uneven the East is this year, they can actually clinch home ice in the first round with 1 more point. They'll need it. The "try hard" Lightning are better at home, where their power play is considerably less rancid than it is on the road.

Nikita Nesterov may want to join the witness protection program after that shift on the game winning goal. That's all I'll say about that.

Slater Koekkoek had 2 shots, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 12:08. He wasn't perfect, but I thought he played reasonably well in a tight game against a quality opponent in a big market on the road. With efforts like that, I'd like to believe he'll earn some more game time to develop. I also thought he kind of surprised the Rangers a bit with the quality of his point shot in the game. He produced some rebounds with it tonight.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 3-31-16 Canadiens at Lightning

Lightning dying on the vine after Stralman injury.

MTL-3
TB-0

Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 23 shots for the loss. A lesser goaltender gives up 4 goals with the amount of turnovers and poor gap control the Lightning defense had tonight.

First Period
9:11 MTL Desharnais(10), (Andrighetto, Emelin)

Second Period
0:52 MTL Mitchell(10), (Pateryn, Emelin)

Third Period
17:32 MTL Danauly(4), (Mitchell)(EN)

Steven Stamkos was the game's third star.

The Lightning just look like a hot mess without their top four defensemen in tact. It was that way when Garrison was hurt recently, and it's even worse at the moment without Stralman. The new pairings look disjointed and the team is having to play certain players bigger minutes that simply cannot handle it. Matt Carle should to be playing over 23 minutes a night in the NHL anymore like he did tonight. And, tonight, it became glaringly obvious that Stralman is the glue that holds the Lightning together in terms of gap control. He was the one Lightning defender who routinely stepped up at his blueline. Tonight, you had the Lightning retreating off their own blueline all the way down to the top of the circles, which resulted in the early goal by Mitchell in the Second Period that was tonight's soul-crushing gut punch.

With Florida winning tonight, the Lightning fall out of first place in the Atlantic Division. With 3 games left in the 10-game segment of the season, they still need at least 3 points, although the SunSports team pointed out their "virtual" magic number is 4. Either way, this team would have a hard time not at least backing into the playoffs. The issue for the last 5 games of the regular season, though, is figuring out pairings and a minute rotation on defense that actually looks cohesive and doesn't play like a train wreck destined to get bounced out in the first round. Three games into life without Stralman, they clearly haven't found that formula yet, and time is running out.

Slater Koekkoek was -1 with 3 shots in 14:27. He surrendered at least 2 Grade A chances that Bishop had to bail him out on with turnovers and poor positioning. It'll be a learning process with Slater, but I don't see another defenseman on the roster who, athletically, can grow into bigger minutes the way that Slater can unless the finally make the decision to give Hedman every other shift.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 3-26-16 Panthers at Lightning

Shorthanded Lightning can't overcome the odds.

FLA-5
TB-2

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 26 shots for the loss. I'm not mad about the Jagr and Huberdeau goals and the Hudler goal was just crummy puck luck, but he was horribly off his angle on the Trocheck goal. He can't allow that goal in that spot given the pretext in this game. The Lightning had to get out of the First Period with a lead feeling good about themselves, and that softie was soul-destroying.

First Period
5:52 TB Johnson(14), (Nesterov, Palat)(PP)
13:36 FLA Trocheck(25), (Jokinen)
18:02 FLA Jagr(25), (Barkov, Huberdeau)(PP)

Second Period
15:53 FLA Hudler(15), (Petrovic, Bjugstad)

Third Period
4:02 FLA Huberdeau(15), (Barkov, Jagr)
16:48 TB Stamkos(36), (Boyle, Nesterov)(PP)
19:35 FLA Jokinen(17), (unassisted)(SH)(EN)

It was just a tough spot for the Lightning to come into. Not only did they lose Stralman to the broken leg last night, but Kucherov also sat out today after getting nicked blocking a shot last night. There's one of your two best defensemen and one of your two most dynamic offensive players out going into a high stakes game against a rested game where the Lightning were on the back-to-back. Then, you throw on top of that the Lightning playing their youthful backup who, unfortunately, gives up a pretty soft goal after a fantastic start by the team. No chance. It was all down hill from there, and when the Panthers got the puck luck with the double deflection on the Hudler goal, it was pretty clear it was not to be Tampa Bay's night. Throw on top of that some... creative... officiating, and you have about three hours every Lightning fans wishes they could get back in their lives.

Slater Koekkoek was -1 in 5:57. I don't get the sparing way he's been used in his last two recalls. There's pretty much no point to having him with the big club if he's only going to get 10 shifts in a game like he did tonight. It doesn't benefit the player or the team.

Jonathan Marchessault was -2 with 2 shots in 16:01. I thought he had another strong game tonight, but his line struggled to get the payoff against Luongo. The game marks Marchessault's graduation from prospect status on the website, meaning he'll join Nesterov in the 2015-2016 Lightning class.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 3-8-16 Bruins at Lightning

One bad shift costs the Lightning a signature win.

BOS-1
TB-0 (OT)

Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 33 shots for the OT loss. He was excellent in the game, and it was a difficult game to be excellent in because it had long stretches of inactivity after which Bishop would have to make a Grade A save on a high quality chance. He deserved better than the finish.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
NO SCORING

Overtime
0:10 BOS Marchand(34), (Bergeron, Krug)

Bishop was the game's second star.

Considering the setup to this game, with the clunker in Philly last night and Stralman missing the game, this was a strong, strong effort by the Lightning. They got everything but the result, which robs them of a richly deserved signature moment. This felt like a playoff game. "Playoff atmosphere" is an overused cliche in the regular season, but it would've actually been applied correctly tonight. Unfortunately, the Lightning just couldn't get anything past Gustavsson and one flat shift by the 4-man unit to start OT cost them, big time.

With 3 games left to play in this 10-game segment of the season, Tampa Bay needs just 1 more point to stay on minimum playoff pace. They also retain a lead in the Atlantic Division title chase based on the ROW tiebreaker and their game in hand on Boston.

There are just 15 games left to go in the regular season, and they'll be gone in the blink of an eye.

Slater Koekkoek had 1 shot in 11:05. Rookie defender in a 0-0 game all the way through regulation? He simply wasn't getting the ice time tonight under those circumstances.

Jonathan Marchessault had 1 shot in 12:02. He had 5 other attempts on goal, though, that were either missed or blocked. So he was active in limited IT.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 3-7-16 Lightning at Flyers

All good things...

TB-2
PHI-4

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 39 shots for the loss. It was an unfortunate result for Andrei, because he was the only reason the Lightning had any chance at all tonight. He played really well.

First Period
4:07 TB Palat(11), (Koekkoek, Johnson)

Second Period
16:51 PHI Gostisbehere(13), (Raffl, Couturier)

Third Period
7:21 PHI Gostsbehere(14), (Giroux, Streit)(PP)
13:57 PHI B. Schenn(22), (Giroux, Simmonds)
14:53 TB Namestnikov(11), (Johnson, Kucherov)
19:33 PHI Simmonds(24), (B. Schenn)(EN)

Vasilevskiy was the game's third star.

So ends the Lightning's franchise record 9-game winning streak. The Lightning got the goal early in the First Period and then played the role of spectator the rest of the night. They were flat, lifeless, and unfocused. They were second to loose pucks all night long, they were weak on their sticks, and their decision-making, positioning, and passing were remarkably poor. That's one of the worst games the Lightning have played in years, and would be easier to shrug off if, A.) They hadn't played poorly in their last game a stolen a win, and B.) They didn't have a good Boston team on a back-to-back tomorrow night. Just as concerning, as quickly and unexpectedly as Callahan and Killorn started playing well on Stamkos' line, that trio has gone back into the witness protection program again. Look, I love "The Triplets," but the Lightning will go as far as the vets like Stamkos and Callahan can take them, because they will have to give the Lightning the scoring balance they need to compete in the playoffs.

Get well soon Brayden Coburn and Andrej Sustr.

Slater Koekkoek had a helper, his first NHL point, and was +1 with 2 shots, 1 hit, and 2 blocked shots in 13:27.

Jonathan Marchessault had 1 shot and 2 hits in 9:12. If you blinked, you probably missed him tonight. He's 7 games from graduation from prospect status on the website.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Day: 2-20-16 Lightning at Penguins

Vengeance of the Blind Squirrel

TB-4
PIT-2

Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 39 shots for the victory.

First Period
9:08 TB Stralman(9), (Namestnikov, Marchessault)
11:20 TB Stamkos(24), (Killorn, Carle)

Second Period
3:14 TB Carle(1), (unassisted)
5:35 PIT Kuhnhackl(1), (unassisted)(SH)
11:53 TB Johnson(9), (Palat, Marchessault)
16:01 PIT Wilson(2), (Rust, Letang)

Third Period
NO SCORING

Matt Carle was the game's first star! Yes, Matt Carle. I referred to the fable of the blind squirrel in the last game after Carle had a solid +2 night. Today, I can't dismiss Carle's game so easily. Mind you, it'll take a lot more games like that to justify Carle's salary, but you celebrate the good games Carle has on the rare occasions they come. In lesser news, Steven Stamkos was the game's second star and scored his 300th career NHL goal. Yawn.

Kudos to the Lightning for responding well to their near debacle against Winnipeg. They got the advantage today with the spot start of Pittsburgh's backup, and they jumped all over Zatkoff in the First Period and made sure they got the knockout early in the Second Period when they established the 3 goal advantage.

The win is gigantic. Tampa Bay jumped to 2nd in the Atlantic and opened a 3 point lead on the last team out of the Wild Card with the win. They also kept hope alive they might be able to run the table for the rest of this 10-game segment of the season and get back on track to make the playoffs comfortably.

Slater Koekkoek had 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 9:27.

Jonathan Marchessault had a pair of helpers and was +2 with 1 shot and 1 hit in 9:08. Someone's making the case to be a regular in the lineup and make Condra a semi-permanent scratch.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 2-18-16 Jets at Lightning

Lightning manage to snatch their season from the jaws of an epic collapse.

WPG-5
TB-6 (SO)

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 5 goals on 41 shots before stopping 4 of 5 in the penalty shot session for the SO win. I thought he was generally good on first shots in this game, but looked a little out of sorts on second opportunities. He made several key situational saves in Overtime to help keep the team alive. In the Shootout, I tend to have a lot of faith with Vasiy in net because he does tend to be so strong facing down first opportunities.

First Period
15:38 TB Hedman(6), (Brown)
17:52 TB Marchessault(7), (Killorn)
19:39 TB Stamkos(23), (Callahan, Sustr)

Second Period
13:45 WPG Myers(6), (Peluso, Lowry)

Third Period
2:00 TB Killorn(10), (Callahan)
6:01 WPG Shiefele(13), (Trouba)(PP)
7:33 WPG Ladd(14), (Armia)(SH)
12:44 WPG Ladd(15), (Schiefele)
14:40 WPG Perrault(9), (Wheeler, Byfuglien)
15:04 TB Kucherov(24), (unassisted)

Overtime
NO SCORING

Shootout
WPG- Ladd
TB- Callahan, Stamkos

Nikita Kucherov and Ryan Callahan were the game's first and second stars.

The Lightning ultimately got the result they needed out of tonight's game, but they hardly cloaked themselves in glory doing so. True, they opportunistically built a pair of 3 goals leads, including the all-important 3 goal lead in the Third Period, despite being on the wrong end of a shot disparity all night. That should've been enough, even despite a very poor power play night that included a blown Second Period 5-on-3 and a blown Overtime 4-on-3 opportunity. Only bad teams blow 3 goals leads in the Third Period, right? Well, the Lightning very nearly lost the game allowing 4 straight before a great individual effort shooting off the rush by Kucherov may have saved the season. Lucky, lucky, lucky, too. Lucky Winnipeg looks completely disorganized defensively and lucky Ondrej Pavelec brought his bullfighting cape to the crease tonight. The Lightning defense, in particular, looked like the completely took their foot off the gas in the Third Period with some very weak work leading to a pair of goals where they were manhandled physically by the bigger Jets. Was that because the Jets started running at the Lightning after Anton Stralman nearly beheaded Bryan Little on a neutral zone hit late in the Second Period? Hard to say. I do know this: I really hope Stralman doesn't face discipline for that head shot because I do not want to watch this team attempt to win a game with both he and Garrison unavailable.

Bottom line: I didn't see anything tonight that developed a wellspring of trust in this team. They still look to be teetering on the edge of disaster.

If any Matt Carle apologists trumpet his +2 to you tonight, remind them of the fable of the blind squirrel. Callahan, on the other hand, had a pair of nice finishes in regulation and OT, as if trying to earn his way out of membership in the imaginary Dead Money Trio. We shall see.

Slater Koekkoek was +1 with 2 penalty minutes and 1 shot in 7:59. Winnipeg's a rough matchup for a rookie because of their combination of size/speed. He didn't make any huge mistakes, but he also didn't get the amount of open ice he gets against other teams to utilize his skating ability. Mind you, had the Lightning not decided to implode in the Third Period, there might've been a lot of good developmental garbage time for Slater to eat up, but it was not to be. Lost opportunities.

Jonathan Marchessault had a goal and was +1 with 2 shots in 10:53. He remained aggressive tonight and was the recipient of a fine setup by Alex Killorn on his goal.

Nikita Nesterov was -1 in 9:03. Winnipeg's a really bad matchup for Nikita. That's all I'll say.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 2-16-16 Sharks at Lightning

If the goat horns fit, make him wear them.

SJ-4
TB-2

Ben Bishop allowed 4 goals on 31 shots for the loss. Partial breakaways and completely uncovered guys in the slot. Not his fault.

First Period
17:51 TB Callahan(6), (Killorn, Sustr)

Second Period
1:43 SJ Ward(16), (Vlasic, Nieto)
6:34 SJ Pavelski(26), (Thornton, Hertl)
8:46 TB Paquette(3), (Brown)

Third Period
1:17 SJ Nieto(8), (Marleau, Ward)
18:17 SJ Karlsson(7), (Thornton)

Ryan Callahan was the game's third star. He did, after all, score his second goal in the last 42 or 43 games, so it was a big deal. Between Matt Carle's -3 in 11:07 of ice time and Val Filppula's rally-stifling late game penalty, it was truly a banner night for the Dead Money Trio. $17.9 million in combined salary for that trio this season, and most of it is money that's absolutely being stolen from the organization.

Matt Carle is not an NHL defenseman anymore, and no team in the league is going to take him in a trade. It's time for Yzerman to suck it up and either send him to Syracuse or send him home. It's Carle's choice, but he can't be in the lineup anymore. He's killing the team. Killing them. He was -3 tonight, and he earned that -3 by playing a pretty significant hand in all 3 goals against. The most important of the three was an ill-advised whiff of a pinch on the eventual GWG. Bottom line, it's time for the Lightning to cut their losses and to use the ice time they've been wasting on Carle to give Slater Koekkoek NHL seasoning for the future.

Tonight's loss puts the Lightning back in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs. After getting 18 points in the last 10-game segment of the season, the team had finally worked its way back onto a solid playoff pace. Now, unless they go on a 4 game winning streak, they'll be behind the 8-ball by the end of this 10-game segment of the season and in the unenviable position of having to make up ground when the calendar rolls over into March. That's exactly where a team doesn't want to be.

Slater Koekkoek had 1 shot in 7:58. He generated two good scoring chances in his limited ice time and his skating is just too good an asset to hold out of the lineup for someone like Matt Carle.

Jonathan Marchessault had 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 8:34. He played inspired high-energy hockey in limited ice time. But, he also took an offensive zone penalty, so I expect him to be flogged by Cooper and press-boxed for another 9 games.

Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 1 hit in 15:39. It was a quiet night where he didn't make any Carle-esque mistakes at the offensive blueline.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 2-14-16 Blues at Lightning

Toronto throws love St. Louis' way on controversial Valentine's Day goal review.

STL-2
TB-1

Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 21 shots for the loss. The GWG came on a Berglund goal where Bishop made the initial stop and Berglund pushed his heel out to kick the puck into the net. Originally waved off by the official on the ice, Toronto reversed the call to give the Blues what turned out to be the margin of victory. Yeah.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
0:36 STL Fabbri(13), (Stastny)

Third Period
17:41 STL Berglund(4), (unassisted)
19:08 TB Kucherov(23), (Johnson, Hedman)

Bishop was the game's second star.

I'm torn about this game. I don't think the Lightning played as well as their 38-21 shot advantage might suggest, but I suspect a lot of that had to do with the fact St. Louis was tackling the Lightning's skill players at every opportunity in true Hitchcock fashion. The Blues looked completely unprepared for the Lightning's speed and puck handling ability in the First Period, but Tampa Bay failed to get on the board when they had the decisive advantage in possession and the Blues started to turn things by playing more of a grinding, clutch and grab style in the Second Period. Joel Edmundson, in particular, had a couple of NFL caliber tackles trying to handle the Lightning on the rush. It's just a shame St. Louis doesn't have an NFL team anymore... but I digress.

Ultimately the Lightning needed to get one of three things done tonight, and they didn't: 1.) Get a power play goal. 2.) Get a goal off an offensive zone faceoff. 3.) Fight through the gauntlet of clutching and grabbing to pot a second chance on the initial shot. That was the formula they struggled with in their opening round series against Detroit in the playoffs last season. I saw something similar tonight.

An aside: Why the hell is Matt Carle in the lineup instead of Slater Koekkoek?

Another aside: The Lightning passed on Robby Fabbri to select thrice-in-a-row scratched (in Syracuse) Anthony DeAngelo. Things that haunt me when I'm both awake and asleep.

The loss puts the Lightning in a precarious position in the standings. Just when it looked like things were getting safe, a 2-3-0 start to this 10-game segment of the season means the Lightning have to get 8 of 10 remaining points to stay on pace. Not good, and you don't want to be fishing for make-up points once the calendar rolls over into March.

Nikita Nesterov was -1 with 1 shot and 1 hit in 14:08. His bad pinch to start the Second Period resulted in the 2-on-0 that became Fabbri's goal. This comes just a few games after he hammered an ill advised shot into a shot blocker that also became a goal. You have to be sure at the other team's blueline when you're the last line of defense. D-Man 101.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 2-12-16 Predators at Lightning

Lightning snatch hope from the jaws of despair.

NSH-3
TB-4 (OT)

Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 30 shots for the OT victory. I suspect he wants the opening goal by Fisher back, but it's hard to fault him for the turnstile quality defense in front of him in the Third Period.

First Period
9:40 NSH Fisher(8), (Arvidsson, Ekholm)

Second Period
8:22 TB Brown(7), (Filppula, Sustr)
10:07 TB Kucherov(22), (Nesterov, Bishop)

Third Period
4:01 NSH Neal(20), (Josi, Jackman)
7:46 NSH Forsberg(18), (Ribeiro, Josi)
19:33 TB Stamkos(22), (Hedman, Kucherov)(PP)

Overtime
1:04 TB Johnson(8), (Hedman, Stamkos)

Tyler Johnson and Steven Stamkos were the game's first and second stars.

It's remarkable the difference between the Lightning road power play and the home power play of late, and you won't get a bigger power play goal than the tying marker by Steven Stamkos late in regulation. It may have saved the Lightning from digging another hole late in the season. More on that later.

Matt Carle was -2 and had a nice view of the James Neal breakaway to tie the game in the Third Period. Bottom line: the guy's not an NHL player anymore. His skating, which was his calling card when he came into the league, is shot and his hands/dexterity seem to be deteriorating too. In my opinion, this call up of Slater Koekkoek for the injured Jason Garrison isn't just a call up. If he plays well, I have a feeling it will be the call up. It was clear the coaching staff had lost faith in Carle prior to the Garrison injure, as he pretty much became a regular scratch. Last year, in the Stanley Cup Final, they learned a pretty serious lesson about defensive depth, as Carle's pairing with Sustr seemed to drag the team under, routinely. Because of that, and Brayden Coburn's impending free agency, I always suspected Koekkoek would be up in the second half of the season. Now, I wouldn't be shocked if he outright takes Carle's roster spot and sends the veteran home or to Syracuse once Garrison returns in 3-5 weeks. I expect Koekkoek in next time out, and I expect to see flashes of his Hedman-lite play.

The Lightning's win was critical, because it gives them a chance to stay on pace for this 10-game segment of the year at the halfway point of 5 games. They couldn't afford a 3-game losing streak at this time of the season with another quality opponent coming up next.

Nikita Nesterov was +1 with a helper, 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 13:57. Nesterov's now 9 games away from graduation from prospect status on the website.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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