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Koekkoek, Slater

NHL Game Night: 12-14-16 Lightning at Flames

Lightning close clunker of a season segment with a critical win.

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Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 22 shots for the victory. That's not a sexy stat line and it wasn't a flawless night from Bishop in terms of positioning and rebound control, but he had 2-3 really crucial situational saves that helped the team earn the win. At this juncture, those are way more important in the grand scheme of things.

First Period
3:06 CGY Brouwer (7), (Monahan, Brodie)(PP)
10:04 TB Boyle (5), (Hedman, Johnson)(PP)
13:42 TB Boyle (6), (Filppula, Hedman)

Second Period
4:40 TB Coburn (1), (Killorn, Namestnikov)
18:47 TB Sustr (1), (Filppula, Hedman)

Third Period
0:37 TB Killorn (9), (unassisted)(SH)
3:59 CGY Brodie (2), (Gaudreau, Brouwer)(PP)
4:20 CGY Ferland (5), (Stajan, Bouma)
19:15 TB Killorn (10), (Filppula)(EN)

Brian Boyle and Victor Hedman were the game's first and second stars.

The Lightning desperately needed this game, and even with Nikita Kucherov out of the lineup they handled Calgary in fairly convincing fashion. The penalty kill is still not fully well having allowed 2 more power play markers in this contest, and Bishop wasn't textbook in net, but overall a lot of players started to get well in this game and the team carried the balance of 5 on 5 play by a reasonable margin. In particular, the most hopeful sign to me was a rebound performance by Victor Hedman in all three zones. Assists in triplicate stand out on the scoresheet, but some key situational defensive plays were equally as important. Hedman hasn't been making those plays consistently during this slump and has been handing out some bad turnovers. That was cleaned up in this game and it's no coincidence the team plays a lot better when Victor's playing his A game.

With the third 10-game segment of the season in the books, the Lightning sit at 32 points, which is 4 points off the pace you'd like them to be at for the season (technically, 3 points back of Boston for the closest playoff spot in the actual standings with 1 game in hand). They had just 7 of the preferred 12 points in this last segment after being a point ahead of pace through 20 games. Being 4 points behind isn't great, but it's manageable provided the Lightning start to put together successful 10-game segments from here on out. Last season they went on a long winning streak to cancel out a mid-season deficit, but you can't always count on those kind of tears to get you out of trouble. A more reasonable strategy is to aim at seeing if they can get 13-14 points out of this next 10-game stretch and start to whittle that number down until they get back on pace after another 20-30 games. Bottom line: if they had lost this game it might've been time to get panicky. The win tonight puts them in a position to weather the storm if they keep tightening up their game without too much undue hardship.

Brayden Point was +1 with 1 shot and was a gaudy 78% on 9 draws in 15:40.

Slater Koekkoek was +1 with 3 shots and 3 blocked shots in 13:38.

Joel Vermin had 2 penalty minutes and 1 blocked shot in 13:52.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Day: 12-4-16 Lightning at Hurricanes

Lightning grind out a road point before a much needed rest.

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Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 30 shots for the OT loss. It wasn't a great goal to allow, but he made several fantastic stops in regulation just to make OT possible.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
NO SCORING

Overtime
1:26 CAR DiGiuseppe (1), (Stalberg)

Bishop was the game's third star.

The Lightning emptied the tank tonight knowing they have a rare 3 day break coming up before their next game on Thursday night. This is a tired, banged up team that is in the middle of a November/December schedule that is relentless in its pacing. 3 of 4 points on this weekend set may mean the Lightning can't finish with 12 points in this 10 game segment of the year, but they're still alive to stay on playoff pace in the final 3 games of the segment if they can harness the rest they're getting this week to gather themselves and string together some more wins.

Brayden Point had 2 penalty minutes, 4 shots, and 1 hit in 15:52.

Luke Witkowski had 3 hits and 1 blocked shot in 10:55.

Slater Koekkoek had 3 hits and 1 blocked shot in 14:59.

Joel Vermin had 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 10:46.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 12-3-16 Capitals at Lightning

Lightning snap losing streak with unexpected gem against a longtime tormentor.

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Ben Bishop allowed just 1 goal on 35 shots before stopping 3 of 4 in the penalty shot session for the SO win. Bishop was, apparently, pretty sore about not getting the start in hometown St. Louis and was out to make a point tonight. He played well and made key saves at key junctures, before making the big stops in the Shootout to secure the second point. That's one area I can say Bishop's looked better in this season: he's sewed up that five hole and looks a lot more competent in the penalty shot skills competition.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
12:38 TB Kucherov (13), (Hedman, Drouin)(PP)

Third Period
6:24 Backstrom (7), (Carlson, Johansson)(PP)

Overtime
NO SCORING

Shootout
WSH- Kuznetsov
TB- Point, Boyle

Nikita Kucherov and Bishop were the game's first and third stars.

There were signs of life for the Lightning in the second half of their loss on the road in St. Louis, but coming into tonight against a Washington team that they historically struggle against (in the regular season) there wasn't a lot to hang your hat on with the way the team has been playing lately. I didn't get by Blujus recall, as he hurt his groin earlier this week in Syracuse, but the Lightning did scratch the struggling Nikita Nesterov and commit to giving more minutes to Koekkoek and Witkowski. That was a prerequisite for having any chance from the word jump, and I'm glad Cooper went ahead and made that lineup adjustment. What transpired from there was, by in large, the most focused and impressive three zone effort I think I've seen from the Lightning this season. Through about 35 minutes, they played about as clean and crisp a game as possible. They moved the puck out of their zone crisply and cleanly and contested every inch of the ice against a very quality opponent. Gone were the turnovers and odd man rushes that have marred so much of the team's games over the last two weeks. In their place was a singular resolve to win a hockey game that showed up in every single man up and down that bench. They got a little sloppier on the breakouts after Kucherov's power play goal, and didn't stay out of the box as much as they needed to in the Third Period, where Backstrom tied the game. But, in the end, they deserved the two points and they finally got them with the heroics of Point, Boyle, and Bishop in the Shootout.

Brayden Point had 1 hit in 17:13. It doesn't show up in the scoresheet, but I thought he had an incredibly poised effort tonight with the puck for the Lightning. Just made some really good decisions that allowed the Lightning to either continue possession or stay away from trouble. He's been doing it a lot this season, but tonight he did it against one of the higher quality opponents you'll see.

Luke Witkowski had 3 shots, 2 hits, and 2 blocked shots in 11:10. He played well tonight. He doesn't bring you the "upside" that Nesterov has, but there's something to be said of a lower pair defenseman who plays a simple game and doesn't make stupid decisions that get you in trouble. Nolan Pratt has his name on the Stanley Cup and all the love in the world from Lightning fans for just that reason.

Slater Koekkoek had 1 shot and 2 hits in 15:04. Just keep feeding him minutes. He can take it athletically. He just needs the experience. Give. It. To. Him. The Lightning will not regret it if they do.

Joel Vermin had 1 shot and 3 hits in 15:43. He played another dynamite game as evidenced by Cooper putting Vermin out for the Overtime session. He looks like a player who, if he keeps it up, has the potential to stick.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 11-29-16 Lightning at Blue Jackets

The desperate search for rock bottom continues.

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Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 5 goals on 38 shots for the loss. One soul destroying softie in garbage time. The rest weren't necessarily his fault.

First Period
5:30 CBJ Karlsson (4), (Anderson, Murray)

Second Period
3:40 CBJ Wennberg (5), (Jones)
16:00 CBJ Anderson (7), (Hartnell, Nutivaara)

Third Period
1:57 CBJ Hartnell (5), (Savard, Anderson)
12:38 CBJ Gagner (8), (unassisted)
17:10 TB Filppula (5), (Point, Sustr)

You have the intersection of two very bad factors conspiring to make the Lightning an uncompetitive team right now. First, you've got an injury to Anton Stralman forcing certain young defensemen to play above their weight class and, at the moment, they're showing they can't handle it. Second, you've got veteran players who should be your best players making mistakes they simply cannot be making. Victor Hedman's looked terrible the past few games. Jonathan Drouin's picture's been on the side of the milk carton. Even Nikita Kucherov had a horrifically bad turnover in this game that led to a key goal that put Tampa Bay down 2-0.

What's needed? A general commitment to get back to basics and play a simpler, harder working game to get a little more possession and draw a few more penalties. Also, perhaps a minor roster shake up. If the coaching staff's faith in players like Koekkoek and Witkowski is flagging, what's the harm in giving a player like Dylan Blujus a look? You'll lose games 6-1? And what's the harm in letting some of the Lightning's tired, nicked up forwards take a little rest in lieu of some speedy energy players like Joel Vermin or Michael Bournival? A little new blood and enthusiasm wouldn't be a bad thing at this moment.

I could comment on Tim Peel's ridiculous wave off of a goal where Ondrej Palat neither touched Bobrovsky nor shoved Jack Johnson into Bobrovsky. As clownish as that call was, and as damaging as it was in this game, though, the Lightning have more than the referees to be concerned about at this time.

Brayden Point had a helper and was +1 with 1 shot in 15:56.

Luke Witkowski had 2 shots and 1 blocked shot in 9:07.

Slater Koekkoek was -1 with 1 shot and 1 blocked shot in 11:55.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Day: 11-27-16 Lightning at Bruins

Boston continues to be a house of horrors for the Lightning.

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Ben Bishop allowed 4 goals on 30 shots for the loss. 3 of the 4 goals Bishop allowed were not 10-bell variety opportunities. Soft? No. But, when you need a goaltender to give you a chance in a game, those are 3 stops he needs to make. Let's get real here: the Lightning should be playing the hot hand with Vasilevskiy right now. That's not to say Vasilevskiy's the starter and destined to park Bishop on the bench forever. Remember back in December of 2003-2004 when the Lightning hit a rough patch offensively and eventually dragged Khabibulin down into the rut with them? The Lightning switched to John Grahame as the starter for a little while and eventually broke out of the slump collectively. No one was saying John Grahame was better than Khabibulin at that time, but it was a needed shake up at that time. Same thing here. The Lightning need to ride Vasilevskiy for a week or two, in my honest opinion.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
2:24 BOS Moore (6), (Miller, Spooner)
12:30 BOS Backes (5), (Bergeron, Krug)(PP)
17:33 BOS Hayes (1), (Krejci, Schaller)

Third Period
9:43 BOS Patrnak (13), (Krug, Marchand)
17:21 TB Hedman (5), (Nesterov, Point)

This is where Tampa Bay's sleepy effort against Columbus really hurts. Tampa Bay has never had much success in Boston, and back-to-back losses now put the Lightning in a spot where they need to get at least 9 of the next 14 possible points just to stay on playoff pace (assuming they burn their insurance point they had coming into this 10-game segment of the year). It's an uncomfortable spot to be in when you have .643 hockey just to stay on minimum pace.

Brayden Point had a helper and 4 shots in 18:46 of ice time. He was also, unfortunately, just 33% on 9 draws in the game, as well, with Brian Boyle not taking draws because of his injury.

Slater Koekkoek was -3 with 1 shot in 13:59. Got caught in no man's land off a faceoff loss on Moore's game opening goal.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 11-25-16 Blue Jackets at Lightning

Thanksgiving hangover dooms Lightning.

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Ben Bishop allowed 5 goals on 38 shots for the loss. You couldn't fault him on the first four goals, but the lack of concentration on Columbus' Third Period insurance marker was... troubling.

First Period
3:46 CBJ Wennberg (4), (Saad, Johnson)
8:35 CBJ Foligno (8), (Atkinson, Werenski)

Second Period
8:33 TB Kucherov (11), (Johnson, Palat)
9:02 CBJ Anderson (6), (Hartnell)
18:28 TB Garrison (1), (Filppula, Witkowski)

Third Period
3:37 TB Palat (4), (Kucherov, Hedman)
4:34 CBJ Saad (5), (Wennberg)
11:13 CBJ Atkinson (8), (unassisted)(SH)

Nikita Kucherov was the game's third star.

As was the case in Syracuse's game, a Lightning Thanksgiving hangover at home was predictable, but nonetheless unacceptable. Columbus flat out dominated a flat Lightning team in the First Period to stake a 2-0 lead, and with a crossbar and post thrown in, it could've been 4-0. The Lightning showed resiliency to battle back the rest of the game, but their defensemen as a group played the dumbest game they've probably played in years. Some of the turnovers and weak plays along the wall they made were just unbelievable for a group with the experience and pedigree of these players. Ultimately, a soft play in the corner by Garrison led to Saad's eventual game winner and an unbelievable turnover by Hedman on the PP led to Atkinson's insurance goal. Tack that on to about a half dozen idiotic mistakes by Nikita Nesterov and other turnovers by Coburn and Sustr that could've led to goals against versus a more skilled team, and you have a classic example of why I wouldn't be a good coach. Because, simply put, I'd be in jail right now for strangling the whole bloody lot of them. Idiotic. Dumb. Moronish. Brain dead. Imbecilic. Pathetic.

Get well soon, Anton Stralman, because I can't take another night of THAT.

Brayden Point was -1 in 12:42.

Luke Witkowski was -1 with his first NHL assist and 2 penalty minutes in 8:26.

Slater Koekkoek had 1 shot and 1 blocked shot in 15:31. He and Witkowski might've been the only Lightning d-men tonight who didn't make a completely boneheaded mistake at some point.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 11-23-16 Flyers at Lightning

Lightning eventually lap overmatched Flyers.

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Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 31 shots for the victory. Both the goals he allowed were subpar short side goals and the first one, in particular, was an inexcusable softie. But, he ultimately staunched the bleeding at that second goal and made a spate of timely stops as the night rolled on to eventually give the team the chance to pull out the win.

First Period
19:57 TB Hedman (4), (Palat, Point)(PP)

Second Period
6:06 PHI Weise (2), (VandeVelde, Provorov)
19:05 PHI Provorov (1), (Read, Streit)

Third Period
13:28 TB Killorn (8), (Koekkoek, Namestnikov)
13:40 TB Callahan (2), (Point, Johnson)
18:45 TB Kucherov (10), (Filppula, Palat)

Ryan Callahan and Alex Killorn were the game's first and second stars.

Really, this was a three act play with the common thread running throughout all of it that the Lightning just have an overall higher talent level than Philly that eventually broke through. The Lightning absolutely dominated the First Period despite a lack of crispness in their passing and handling of the puck. The Flyers looked really loose in the neutral zone and were allowing Tampa Bay a lot of speed and odd man rushes, and it seemed a matter of time before Tampa Bay would start running up the score. Philly allowed a late power play goal in the frame to fall behind 1-0 and really should've counted themselves lucky, because Mason had more than one fortunate save/bounce over the course of the evening. The Lightning got a little too fat/happy with themselves in the Second Period and let off the gas a little which allowed the Flyers to run up a large shot advantage in the middle frame although very few really scoring chances came with those shots. But, the Lightning eventually conceded the lead on the softie off the rush allowed to Weise and later Kucherov losing his man off a faceoff loss late in the period on Provorov's goal. The Third Period then became a reprise of the First Period, with the exception that the Lightning started to bear down and focus on their finishing. Three quick goals later Philly was doubled up and dispirited and Mason's luck had fully run out. It really was a matter of time. The Flyers were a hot mess defensively in the neutral zone all night long, and between that and a lot of turnovers under forechecking duress by their defense, a melt down looked inevitable. That's just a bad hockey team, defensively.

Brayden Point had 2 helpers, 1 shot, and 1 blocked shot in 13:35. Made a really good look to Callahan on the goal on a quick change turnover to give the Lightning the eventual game winner.

Luke Witkowski was -1 with 1 shot and 2 hits in 7:36. Played a rough and tumble game. He took some big hits and he handed out some big hits.

Slater Koekkoek had a helper and was +2 with 1 hit in 7:32. Took a big pop in the First Period that may have contributed to his diminished ice time. Eventually, though, his jumping into the rush was a key part of Killorn's equalizing goal.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 11-21-16 Lightning at Predators

Silver linings in road trip ending loss.

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Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 30 shots for the loss. Things could've gotten out of hand were it not for several quality stops from Ben.

First Period
4:25 NSH Arvidsson (6), (Josi, Ellis)

Second Period
9:55 NSH Subban (4), (Ellis, Ribiero)(PP)
12:35 NSH Subban (5), (Forsberg, Ellis)(PP)

Third Period
19:10 TB Johnson (7), (Kucherov, Hedman)

It wasn't like Nashville ran the Lightning out of the rink, and with a couple of bounces Tampa Bay could've stolen some points from this one. But, on the 5th game of a road trip with a depleted lineup against a quality team, the Predators obviously carried the balance of the play. They staked themselves to the early lead and controlled pretty much the entire First Period. Tampa Bay made a nice push back in the Second Period, but once they started getting into the box midway through the frame Nashville got the power play goals they needed to put the game away.

All of that was really subtext though for a game that was ultimately marred by some pretty borderline dirty play. I guess that's what they do out in the Western Conference, whether it be slashing guys in the ribs behind the play or crosschecking a guy into the dasher boards to bloody him. You really began to lose track of the number of times Nashville stepped over the line in this game before J.T. Brown finally took the law into his own hands by first destroying Roman Josi with his head down behind the net on one play and later losing his mind and pummeling Ryan Ellis half to death for elbowing him from behind about 4 minutes thereafter. Sprinkle in some big hits from the likes of Cedric Paquette and you can point to, at least, a quality physical response from the team even if they didn't get the result on the scoreboard. That's a teambuilding win, in a way, that you can treat like a silver lining.

Tampa Bay finishes the second 10-game segment of the year at 25 points, meaning they're 1 point ahead of the pace they needed to be on track for the playoffs. On to the next one: 12 in 10, do it again.

Brayden Point had 2 penalty minutes and 1 shot in 10:32.

Slater Koekkoek was -1 with 2 shots and 1 blocked shot in 12:27.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Day: 11-19-16 Lightning at Flyers

There will be kittens on Graduation Day.

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Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped all 32 shots he faced for the shutout in a commanding performance that allowed the Lightning to overcome a 32-18 shot deficit. Vasilevskiy's win was his 41st NHL decision, officially graduating him from prospect status on Bolt Prospects. And, given how well he's played over the past couple of games, we can't help but feel like Andrei's doing a lot to validate our graduation methodology at the moment. He's clearly all grown up now.

First Period
14:25 TB Johnson (6), (Killorn, Filppula)(PP)

Second Period
7:40 TB Palat (3), (Namestnikov)

Third Period
4:26 TB Drouin (3), (Palat)

Vasilevskiy, Ondrej Palat, and Victor Hedman were the game's three stars.

It's very heartening to see the Lightning make such a seamless readjustment to their game in light of the injuries to Stralman and Stamkos. They needed to adopt a more low-scoring game that relies in part on goaltending and attention to defensive detail. This road trip has seen a return to a lot of the basics that have made the Lightning successful over the past three years, along with some slump-busting by the likes of Tyler Johnson and Palat and the return of Jonathan Drouin from injury. In other words, a lot of the pieces that would have been prerequisites I would have named off for weathering the storm and being met.

Today's victory clinches a successful second 10-game segment of the season, and the Lightning have already secured 1 insurance point with 1 more game left in the segment. This is good. Without Stamkos, the Lightning likely won't be as consistent in the goal scoring department. So, having insurance points socked away will be important for when the team hits speed bumps along the way to March/April.

Brayden Point had 1 hit in 4:16. The low ice time came from a very nasty cut he took on his lip that required a significant amount of stitches. If women do indeed dig scars, Brayden Point is about to become a stinking matinee idol.

Luke Witkowski had 2 hits and 1 blocked shot in 9:06.

Slater Koekkoek was +1 with 2 hits in 10:45.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 11-17-16 Lightning at Sabres

Poised Lightning handle adversity with ease.

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Ben Bishop allowed just 1 goal on 33 shots for the victory. He was extremely important in the First Period while the Lightning looked a little out of sorts 5 on 5 trying to sort out their new lines. Overall, with a couple of near disaster puck handling gaffes aside, it was a pretty typical Ben Bishop effort as he tries to round into form from a disjointed start to the year.

First Period
8:15 TB Nesterov (2), (Filppula, Drouin)

Second Period
7:39 TB Killorn (7), (Filppula, Point)(PP)
12:50 BUF Franson (1), (Kane, Fedun)(PP)
19:42 TB Kucherov (9), (Killorn)

Third Period
18:00 TB Point (2), (Johnson)(PP)

Alex Killorn, Nikita Nesterov, and Tyler Johnson were the game's three stars. Nikita Nesterov keeps showing up in the three stars selections lately doing work in relief of the injured Anton Stralman.

So, the Lightning found out today they will lose Steven Stamkos for approximately 4 months to knee surgery. Now, granted, it was Buffalo they were playing tonight. But, it's not like the Lightning haven't played without Stamkos and Stralman before, and they looked unphased by it tonight. Indeed, if you want to grab some silver linings from the Stamkos injury: 1.) It probably forces the team to play a more honest, well-rounded game knowing they have to win games 3-1/3-2 or so rather than 4-2/4-3, and 2.) It gives Yzerman a lot of cap room to play with if he wants to add a piece to put the club over the top. If they survive this, it'll make them stronger, and they know how to survive this. Now it's just a matter of grinding out the 10-game segments of the season and making sure they get into the postseason tournament.

Speaking of which, the victory moves the Lightning to 23 points through 18 games, meaning they need just 1 point in the final 2 games of the road trip to stay on our 12-in-10 pace. The response from the team in these three straight road wins after the debacle against San Jose has been solid.

Brayden Point had 1 goal and 1 assist, 2 penalty minutes, 2 shots, and 1 hit in 11:28. Interesting to see his minutes go down and his production go up.

Slater Koekkoek had 2 penalty minutes, 5 shots, and 3 blocked shots in 16:15. I like the idea of slowly raising Koekkoek's ice time. Athletically, he can take what you feed him.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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