The two defensemen, paired together for the Syracuse season opener in Lehigh Valley Saturday, have quickly renewed the chemistry that made them one of the team’s top defensive duos last season. Both are working at rounding out their games as they prepare to take the next, permanent step to the National Hockey League.
“They both had real good camps and Tampa was happy with both of them,” said Crunch head coach Rob Zettler. “There’s players up there that have established positions, and they have to understand that. But the other part is that they still need to work on some of the things in their game that they can get better at. They’re both very good hockey players and able to play in the NHL, but both can improve and keep getting better.”
Emery opens the door in the Third Period. Will Gudlevskis step through it.
Ray Emery allowed 6 goals on 26 shots for the loss in his first full game of action in the preseason. The stat line is ugly, especially in the Third Period where he allowed 3 goals on 9 shots. My theory remains the same: I think the Lightning would be thrilled for Kristers Gudlevskis to take the backup job in October and November until Vasilevskiy returns, but they're not going to hand it to him. He has to win it from Emery and right now Emery opened the door to Kristers.
0:42 TB Namestnikov (1), (Nesterov, Drouin)(PP)
4:17 DAL Lindell (1), (Honka, Shore)(PP)
11:09 DAL Seguin (1), (Klingberg, Sharp)
13:24 TB Drouin (1), (Blujus, Marchessault)(PP)
18:21 DAL Sharp (1), (Seguin, Smith)
2:01 TB Koekkoek (1), (Gourde, McGinn)
4:59 DAL Ully (1), (Smith, Goligoski)
6:47 DAL Seguin (2), (Ranford, Johns)
7:18 DAL Ranford (1), (Shore, Lindell)
The result tonight wasn't terribly surprising. This was another case of Dallas playing most of their NHLers against a depleted Lightning lineup that was sitting out its top two lines and best defensemen. Still, it's disappointing to have a game tied 3-3 early in the Third Period and then surrender 3 goals in less that 2 and a half minutes to spoil it. You'll no doubt see cuts en masse now as Syracuse Crunch camp is about to start overseas.
Matt Taormina was -1 with 2 blocked shots in 21:34. He'll likely be packing for Crunch camp now. I don't anticipate a lot of danger that he'll be plucked off waivers.
Slater Koekkoek had a goal and was -1 with 2 shots in 18:37. He's played well. I wouldn't be shocked to see him get an extended look, but I'd guess the nature of Syracuse's overseas camp probably makes it harder to keep him with Tampa Bay.
Brayden Point was -1 with 1 shot, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 15:19. He was also 23% on 13 draws. He's just a puppy, age-wise, and I'd expect the Lightning to pull the trigger here soon to send him back for his final season of junior hockey.
Tanner Richard was -1 with 2 shots and 3 hits in 13:55. He was also 36% on 11 draws. Suspect he'll have some family and friends make the trip over from Switzerland to watch him during Crunch camp.
Jonathan Marchessault had a helper and was -1 with 1 shot and 2 hits in 15:30. Maybe a slight chance he'll get plucked off of waivers if the Lightning do indeed choose to make the move right now.
Philippe Paradis was -1 with 5 hits in 11:41. Crunch camp, no doubt.
Luke Witkowski was -1 with 3 blocked shots in 17:16. I believe he's waiver eligible, too, but suspect he'll make it through.
Henri Ikonen was -1 with 1 shot, 1 hit, and 4 blocked shots in 13:54. Another likely Crunch camper.
Yanni Gourde had a helper and was -1 with 1 shot and 2 hits in 16:09. Another likely Crunch camper.
Dylan Blujus had a helper and was -2 with 2 penalty minutes, 2 hits, and 3 blocked shots in 20:21. Third on the team in ice time tonight. I've been pretty pleased how he and Dotchin have played along side the more obvious suspects like Koekkoek and DeAngelo. He's another likely Crunch camper, but the Lightning should feel a lot better about their future at that position than they did at this time even a year ago.
Nikita Nesterov had a helper and was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 1 hit in 21:19. Just 1 shot on goal? Does Nikki have a cold?
All is right with the world...
Ben Bishop stopped all 18 shots he faced for the win before giving way to Kristers Gudlevskis, who allowed 1 goal on 18 shots the rest of the way. My going theory on the backup job the first two months of the regular season is this: the Lightning would be perfectly comfortable signing Ray Emery, but they'd really prefer to give Gudlevskis the gig. A solid performance like that is very helpful to Gudlevskis' cause.
12:29 TB Kucherov (1), (Peca, Namestnikov)
1:45 TB Condra (1), (Boyle, Erne)
10:59 TB Peca (1), (Callahan, Namestnikov)
12:26 TB Kucherov (2), (Drouin, Stamkos)
9:05 FLA Trocheck (1), (Pirri, Jokinen)(PP)
The Lightning may only be 1-1-1 through 3 games of the preseason, but I think the organization has to be pretty elated with everything so far, on balance. Emery and Gudlevskis have both played pretty well in their half game auditions and Wilcox showed potential. The younger guys you would hope will step up in Tampa Bay this coming season (Drouin, Namestnikov, Brown, etc.) have all played pretty well. Condra's seemingly fitting in seamlessly in that lower line equation. Key performers who will be counted on to step up for Syracuse this year like Peca are playing well and the wave of young defensemen who will probably start making their way to Tampa the second half of the year like Koekkoek, DeAngelo, Blujus, and Dotchin have all been pretty solid. Other than Sustr's performance in the second preseason game, I'd say the Lightning have checked off a lot on their to-do list thus far.
Mike Angelidis had 1 shot, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot and was 40% on 10 draws in 11:46.
Anthony DeAngelo had 2 penalty minutes in 18:26.
Slater Koekkoek was +3 with 1 shot and 2 blocked shots in 18:21. He'll be in Tampa Bay by the playoff stretch of the season at the latest, in my opinion.
Joel Vermin had 1 shot and 2 blocked shots in 13:48.
Jake Dotchin was +3 with 2 shots in 18:46.
Peca had 1 goal and 1 assist and was +2 in 14:09. He also had 3 shots and was perfect on the 2 draws he took. It's an interesting question we've had among the Bolt Prospects staff when it comes to Peca: just how good will he be? I think our minimum expectation, based on his body of work at Quinnipiac, is that he'll be an AHL star (call it the Cory Conacher level), but will he go beyond it to become a smallish NHL star (the Tyler Johnson level)? Only time will tell, but he's had a strong start to this season, which is great to see.
Yanni Gourde had 1 hit in 11:43.
Adam Erne had a helper and was +1 with 1 shot in 13:25.
Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 5 shots, and 3 hits in 19:41. Team high in shots. Wish I could inject that gene in one or two other Lightning players every season.
Strong 55 minutes of hockey marred by late game collapse.
Ray Emery stopped all 10 shots he faced before giving way to Adam Wilcox midway through regulation. Wilcox played well for 25 minutes before eventually allowing 3 goals for the OT loss. He stopped 14 of 17 overall on the night. Emery's performance lays down a strong initial claim to the role of Bishop's backup heading into the regular season with Vasilevskiy shelved the first couple of months of the campaign.
2:58 TB Condra (1), (Angelidis, DeAngelo)
1:01 TB Drouin (1), (Killorn, Hedman)
15:18 NSH Bass (1), (Bourque, Jones)
17:28 NSH Arvidsson (1), (Fiala)
3:50 NSH Ekholm (1), (Forsberg, Ellis)(PP)
Brayden Point was the game's second star.
Unfortunately, the last 9 minutes or so of hockey kind of overshadowed 55 minutes of hockey where the Lightning accomplished most of what they set out to do tonight. They got good performances from the backup goaltenders. They got Drouin on track early in preseason. They got some good performances from the young players, especially the young defensemen. I think the staff will be happy with the night, on balance, but you want to finish it off and get the result, of course.
Anthony DeAngelo had a helper and was +1 with 2 shots and 1 hit in 21:03. They let their young thoroughbreds out for a good long run tonight.
Mike Angelidis had a helper and was +1 with 1 hit and 3 blocked shots in 11:37. He was also 67% on draws. Productive in his ice time, but that IT was limited because the Lightning know what they have there and the role he's going to be put into. Not a lot of mystery with Angelidis.
Slater Koekkoek was -1 with 1 hit and 5 blocked shots in 18:17.
Point was -1 with 2 shots and 1 blocked shot in 16:03. He was also a very nice 71% on draws. The guy has just gotten universal praise by everyone who has seen him in the last half a year or so.
Joel Vermin had 1 blocked shot in 13:55.
Henri Ikonen had 1 shot and 1 blocked shot in 11:35.
Mitchell Stephens was -1 with 2 shots and 2 hits in 14:11. It says a lot that they gave him a touch more IT than some of the more established prospects who were in Syracuse last season. They obviously have high hopes for Stephens.
Dylan Blujus had 2 shots, 2 hits, and 2 blocked shots in 19:30. Also hit a crossbar. Nice, well-rounded stat line. Good to see, with a nice chunk of minutes.
Adam Erne was -1 with 3 shots and 2 hits in 14:40. Activity is good. Syracuse fans should be excited to get DeAngelo and Erne into the program this season.
Stanley Cup Final
Chicago Wins the Series 4-2
Ben Bishop allowed just 2 goals on 25 shots for the loss. He didn't allow a great rebound on the first goal because I thought the shot got a little redirected on the way in, and then he was essentially left to fend for himself on the second chance. The second goal was a really a 2-on-1 where Bishop just couldn't push from right to left to have any kind of chance on the Kane one-timer. That would've been a difficult chance to stop healthy, but in light of what we know now, it was impossible. After the game, it was revealed Ben Bishop has been playing with a torn groin since Game Two of the series. I feel sick for the guy that he's played this well in an extreme amount of pain and just couldn't get any goal support. I've heard people in the fan base who are way, way too quick to usher Ben out the door in the next year or two to make way for the wunderkind Andrei Vasilevskiy, but those people might want to take a moment to appreciate the mental toughness it takes to play your way through that kind of injury. That is one tough hombre. He's just a bad, bad dude. Much respect.
17:13 CHI Keith (3), (Kane, Richards)
14:46 CHI Kane (11), (Richards, Saad)
In the end the Lightning were too banged up to play their normal possession game, and when they did have good chances they just couldn't capitalize. Number one on that list was Steven Stamkos, who rang a crossbar in the First Period and then had a breakaway in the Second Period where he came to a near stop dekeing to his forehand before getting stopped by Crawford and then putting the rebound off the side of the net. I may have misheard this, but I think NBC said Stamkos had something like 20-21 scoring chances in the 6 games of this series. That's an obscene number of chances to surrender to one of the two greatest goal scorers of this generation for him to not score a goal. That'll live with him all summer, I'm sure, and that crossbar in particular was just a hair off. 1/16" lower and that's probably down and in, and we may be talking about a Game Seven at this hour. It was that close. For Steven, this is an interesting moment in his career. A lot of the 2014-2015 season was spent trying to get comfortable playing hockey again after breaking his leg against Boston last season. He still scored 40 goals and had a statistically decent playoffs overall, but truth be told there were a lot of times it still felt we were seeing the 85% version of Steven Stamkos. Now, having been through this experience, does this lead to Steven having "the mother of all summers" en route to getting back on the trajectory he was on prior to the injury of becoming the best player in the game?
Getting back to Game Six, how close were the Lightning? How razor thin was the margin between ecstasy and agony in this series? The Lightning were finally getting some zone time in the Third Period to try to tie the game and the chance came into the right circle to Brayden Coburn who breaks his stick on an A- chance, which lead to the odd man rush that put the Blackhawks up 2-0 and broke the Lightning's back. Buzzard's luck if I've ever seen it. Really the Lightning were just 1-2 bounces from winning this series, even with the rash of injuries, and that's what so maddening about what transpired in the last three games.
After the game, along with the revelation about Bishop's injury, it was revealed that Tyler Johnson's been playing this series with the bone that attaches his thumb to his wrist broken, which is why he hasn't been taking faceoffs this series. We'll find out what happened to his linemate Kucherov soon enough, along with Brian Boyle. Stamkos may also be dinged. Callahan obviously had the appendix. Paquette had both his hands shot off several times at different parts of the playoffs. Also, I suspect there may be something wrong with Garrison, although it may have just been fatigue setting in that made him look particularly slow in the past couple of games. I'm sure I'm leaving some guys out. In any event, the cumulative effect of all the centermen getting injured was that Cedric Paquette, a rookie who as it was noted had his hands shot off blocking shots several times in these playoffs, had to take a ton of important defensive zone draws and he absolutely got eaten alive the first half of Game Five and pretty much all of Game Six. 0-for-13 on faceoffs tonight? That seems almost impossible, and yet it happened. That advantage allowed Chicago to manufacture possession and zone time that they otherwise struggled to create in the flow of play and probably ultimately swung the series to them.
All that said, this feels different than the Lightning's last serious run at the Cup in 2011. That team had more of a lightning-in-the-bottle feel to it with certain players (Purcell and Bergenheim) playing over their head and the last remnants of the 2004 Cup team (Lecavalier and St. Louis) making their last real kick at the can together. I felt spent (and more than a little shafted by the officials) after that Game Seven loss in the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston. I knew they were an eyelash away from winning it all because that series may well have been the Stanley Cup Final that year and I knew it was a long shot for the team to get back the following season with so many older pieces, including the desiccating remains of Dwayne Roloson between the pipes. The other thing was, psychologically, I think that team had bought in to Guy Boucher's system and mystique to such a degree that when they didn't win it all, it was such a shock to their psyche he started to lose that locker room from that moment on in a slow erosion of belief. And for me, personally? I didn't want to deal with hockey for several months after that I was so disillusioned by what had transpired.
Tonight? I'm thinking about what this team has to do tomorrow and every day thereafter until one year from now they're back in this position hoisting the Cup, because I absolutely believe they can do so. This team, structurally, has the bones of a great dynasty. They're incredibly young, incredibly deep, and now they're incredibly experienced. Recall (although I'm not comparing the two) the great Edmonton team of the 80's had to take their medicine from the Islanders before they became a dynasty. And, psychologically, I think Jon Cooper can play off the fact these guys will feel a little angry they might've been cheated at the finish line by the injury bug. This team's belief shouldn't be shaken. It should be galvanized by the fact that they were playing with a bunch of hurt centermen and a goaltender with a torn groin and they still seriously, seriously challenged a historically good Chicago Blackhawks team that has been the class of the cap era. Has been. The Lightning, with the foundation they have, will be, if they commit together that they're going to be. And, that commitment has to start with tomorrow and every day thereafter until one year from now they're hoisting the Cup.
The things that need to change with the Lightning's roster are minor, and many of them will be fixed with time. Jonathan Drouin and Vladislav Namestnikov will be ready to be regular contributors at this time next year and young guys like Cedric Paquette and J.T. Brown have found out in these playoffs, Paquette in particular, that they can be world class players on the sport's biggest stage. The Lightning will have secondary scoring depth at this time next year, and with health should be better on faceoffs, although it might behoove Yzerman to pick up a veteran faceoff ace somewhere along the line just in case.
On defense, Victor Hedman had his coming out party in these playoffs and may finally take that next step of becoming a legit Norris Trophy candidate next season while Anton Stralman looked like an All-Star in his own right. Jason Garrison and Brayden Coburn offer solid second pair options, albeit they have their clunkers here and there, and Andrej Sustr and Nikita Nesterov will only get better with age. That's six defensemen on a team that, because Cooper likes to play seven defensemen so much, might be best to carry eight. Where are the other two? You hope Slater Koekkoek, who looked darned good in his late season cup of coffee, comes to camp ready to mount a serious challenge for a spot and perhaps you look at signing up a hungry vet to round out the group. The Lightning didn't quite get everything they might've wanted from this year's hungry vet signing, Brendan Morrow, who was Yzerman's second choice behind Jarome Iginla for that slot. If Iginla had signed with the Lightning instead of Colorado, Tampa Bay might be hoisting a Cup right now. Remember, tomorrow and every day thereafter, including July 1st, the Lightning need to be focused on winning every little battle to make sure next year they finish what they started this season. In any event, with Morrow departing, I still like the idea of finding that hungry vet who wants one last run at glory and is willing to take a little bit of a discount rate to do so. The Lightning had that player in Simon Gagne in 2011 and they had Morrow this season. It's not a coincidence, either.
And, between the pipes, did I mention Ben Bishop is a bad, bad hombre? With Vasilevskiy now up at the NHL level, the Lightning should be able to cut back Ben's workload in the regular season more and hopefully conserve some of his mileage for the postseason. Also, given Ben's ended his past two seasons with injuries, I think it's probably time for Ben to up his postseason conditioning game once he rehabs from the groin. That's the same for all of the Lightning players, too. This is a pretty fit group, but Chicago, despite being a lot older, was healthier at the finish line partly because they played shorter series to get to this point but also partly because those guys understand the difference between being fit and being Stanley Cup fit. The Lightning don't need to train for an 82 game season this summer, they need to train for about a 106 game campaign so they won't have as much fatigue and as many injuries when they get to the finish line next season.
On an unrelated tangent, I just want to say how impressed I was with the Lightning fan base tonight. Approximately 17,000 showed up at Amalie Arena tonight despite the clunker that was Game Five, and it was extremely impressive to me and a sign of the fact that this season has created yet another groundswell in Tampa Bay just like the playoffs in '96, '03, '04, and '11 created expansions in the fan base. It didn't seem to me like NBC appropriately addressed what took place in Amalie tonight on the national broadcast, which is the annoying artifact of a national media still hell bent on pushing a preconceived narrative because of a jersey ban. It's all good, though, because they won't be able to get rid of Lightning fans quite so easily moving forward. Of all the faces in the crowd tonight, there was so much youth in the 15-25 year old range. These are fans who couldn't necessarily make it to Game Five with ticket prices being so astronomical, but if the economy in the area gets stronger and Tampa Bay can retain that youth in the area then this is going to be a nice boom for the fan base in about 5 years. The people who showed up tonight are Lightning fans for life, and if they can build careers in the area and develop some prosperity in the process, they're going to e buying tickets to the Lightning for life eventually, too. Tampa Bay's a tough place for young professionals to make a living in, and that's the toughest nut the Lightning have to crack because it's a structural problem with the market. With a team on the brink of becoming something very special and a little luck in the form of an economic surge in the area over the next few years (knock on wood) though, the Lightning could become a beast of a franchise. Tampa Bay is the 13th largest TV market in the country, which isn't too shabby, and the Lightning have begun to capture the hearts and minds of a much coveted demographic that will only become more powerful as time moves along.
I also wanted to say that this post marks the conclusion of Bolt Prospects' tenth season, and while it didn't have the fairy tale ending we hoped for (I was all ready to declare it the Bolt Prospects Stanley Cup), we remain incredibly humbled and thankful for the support of all of our readers. October will mark the ten year anniversary of the official opening of the website and it's been an honor and a privilege to write for you. Reflecting back on this time, for the staff, the past ten years have brought a lot of changes in our lives as we've built careers (day jobs) and built families. Some of us have moved to different cities and dealt with all manners of highs and lows in the day-to-day ebb and flow of the real world. Our love of Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Lightning and our continued to commitment to this thing we created ten years ago, Bolt Prospects, has been the one constant. We also would like to thank the Lightning organization, past and present, our friends and supporters in the media (the ones we can stand), and the players and their families (who are often the unheralded heroes of any player's career).
Lastly, and most importantly, we thank our own families for their support and understanding. For about eight months out of the year my significant other refers to herself as a hockey widow while I escape into my 125 square foot little home office to spend an inordinate amount of time watching hockey games and keeping up what the latest goings on were in obscure destinations such as Magnitogorsk, Russia. We do it because we love it (we darn sure don't do it for the money), and thankfully, they put up with it because they love us. That kind of understanding is pretty darned special, n'est-ce pas?
As I complete this post, which has taken forever to write, it's about fifteen minutes past 2:00 AM. That means it's already tomorrow... and the start of every day thereafter. Until... next year.
Tampa Bay whips New York at its own game.
Eastern Conference Finals
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-2
Ben Bishop stopped all 26 shots he faced behind a masterful defensive effort to get the shutout. He was challenged pretty hard by the talking heads in the media after allowing 10 goals total in the previous two games of the series, and he smothered what few chances the Rangers developed tonight. He was especially strong in the First Period as the Lightning played a classic road strategy where they successfully weathered the home club's early charge. In the end, U of Maine Justice reigned supreme, and were I a superstitious man I might be advocating having Nesterov hit Bishop in the tender bits during warm-ups before every game from here on out if that's the performance you end up getting out of it.
13:29 TB Filppula (3), (Stamkos, Stralman)
18:22 TB Stamkos (7), (Palat, Kucherov)(PP)
I am absolutely shocked at this result. Not so much that the Lightning won, mind you, but how they won was absolutely amazing. The Lightning essentially followed the Rangers' own recipe and baked up a sweet confection filled with defensive dominance. The Lightning typically do not play well without the puck. They are a possession team and they have looked lost for most of the past couple of years in games where the other team tilts the ice against them. Tonight, playing against an amped up Rangers team fresh off a 5-1 win on their home ice in MSG, they played a nearly flawless, defense-first road game where they comfortably absorbed the Rangers' pushes and eventually manufactured the goals they needed on a counter rush and late on the power play. At the heart of it all was a Herculean effort by the team's much-maligned penalty kill, which went 4-for-4 tonight and made the Rangers look positively non-threatening on their last 3 chances with the extra man. These are things I'm fairly certain the Lightning were not constructed for, and yet they executed that style with amazing efficiency. And, once they had that 2-goal lead, they put the lid on in the Third Period with a calmness they absolutely failed to muster in their Game Three victory that ended up getting pushed to Overtime.
So, I'll say this: If the Lightning continue to prove they can win games like this consistently when they don't have the lion's share of possession, I don't know how you can beat them in a 7-game series. They continue to shore up every major hole and weakness in their game little by little as these playoffs move along. Bad PK last year? Looked pretty good most of these playoffs. Non-existent power play all regular season? Now they're getting key goals at key times. Waiting on your franchise cornerstones (Stamkos and Hedman) to rise up and be the team's best players along with Bishop? Sure looked that way tonight. When you layer learning to play a strong defensive game without the puck and learning how to protect leads in tight games on top of that, they're on the verge of becoming positively terrifying to play against. And, imagine this: Vladislav Namestnikov, Jonathan Drouin, and Slater Koekkoek aren't even regular contributors to this team, yet. They'll be even more talented at this time next season. I won't throw the "dy" word out there quite yet, but you can see where this might be progressing. They haven't played their best hockey consistently yet, and yet they've still managed to put the veteran-laden President's Trophy winner on the ropes after disposing of the presumptive MVP netminder in the previous round and NHL royalty in the Red Wings in the opening series. It just shows how incredibly talented this team is.
Now, here's another test for the Lightning. Much like the Montreal series, you don't want this game to go to a Game Seven in their barn. You don't want to step foot in New York again until next season. Now: finish them. Put the offensive jump from Game Four together with the defensive play from Game Five and the finishing from Game Two and Game Three and put the Rangers away. Do so, and the team punches its ticket for the Stanley Cup Finals. To paraphrase Tyler Johnson, how cool is that?
Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 1 hit in 8:02, with his ice time limited in a tight game on the road with the team not holding last change. I have to say, I'm pleased how he's tightened up his game in the defensive zone after looking a little loose in that department in the Montreal series. He could be a monster in another year or two once he gets a full regular season in to develop further at the NHL level.
Comeback Crunch snap the streak.
Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 3 goals on 24 shots for the OT victory.
SYR Marchessault, (23) , 0:57
BRI Quine, (21) (Pulock, Jeffrey), 11:54 (PP)
BRI Langkow, (8) (Jeffrey, Quine), 14:12
BRI Gillies, (5) (Ness, Sundstrom), 17:31
SYR Kunyk, (10) (Marchessault, Martindale), 0:26
SYR Point, (1) (Marchessault, Martindale), 3:43 (PP)
SYR Martindale, (16) (Marchessault, Blujus), 3:17 (PP)
Brayden Point scored his first pro goal in the contest to tie the game early in the Third Period.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Ben Bishop stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout win. That's some U of Maine Justice right there for the Panthers. I think he's been off a little mechanically the past couple of games, either due to being banged up or being fatigued, but he's a battler and he battled his way to getting the goose egg tonight.
6:10 TB Stamkos (41), (Johnson, Nesterov)(PP)
11:19 TB Stamkos (42), (Callahan)
1:03 TB Callahan (24), (Stamkos)
18:13 TB Johnson (27), (Drouin)
There's so much good wrapped in this game, it's hard to make sure you hit all the high notes. From an in-game standpoint, the Lightning had 4 regular defensemen out of the lineup going against what should've been a desperate Panthers squad, and they managed to shut them out. Kudos to the young defensemen, and kudos to Coach Zettler and the staff in Syracuse. It's been fantastic to watch the sharp progress this season by Nesterov and the steady progress of the likes of Witkowski, Koekkoek, Blujus, and Dotchin. It's a really hard act following a guy who is arguably an all-time great AHL coach like Jon Cooper, but Zettler has shown some developmental mojo with these young defensemen and it makes you excited to see what he can accomplish working with a prospect like Anthony DeAngelo.
The Lightning also got a power play goal for the fourth straight game and Steven Stamkos snapped out of his funk with a vintage PP goal and a laser beam from the right wing faceoff dot. Stamkos needs to be Stamkos if the Lightning are going to do anything in the playoffs, and if he were to find his PP mojo, that alone could win the Lightning a playoff series or two they might not otherwise deserve.
From a standings standpoint, the Lightning clinched home ice in the first round of the playoffs and tied Montreal in the standings with the Habs holding a game in hand. The Lightning have the ROW tiebreaker, so all the pressure is on Montreal right now. The Lightning get 4 days to rest and heal now while Montreal has to keep getting points if they want to maintain control of their own destiny in the division title pursuit. If they lose a game, the Lightning may be able to get Hedman, Sustr, and Killorn back on the ice for the final 2 games at home with the real prospect of earning a banner in the balance.
Oh, and the Lightning eliminate the Panthers from playoff contention. It's never a bad thing to kick dirt on their grave, is it?
Slater Koekkoek was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 1 hit in 16:19. This wasn't quite the same effort for Slater as against Ottawa, IMO, but it was still a solid performance for the rookie. If I was a Syracuse fan, I'd be very excited to see him in the playoffs because he's going to go back to the Crunch with a ton of confidence.
Luke Witkowski had 2 penalty minutes and 1 hit in 15:34. Quiet is good.
Nikita Nesterov had a helper and was +2 with 4 shots, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 21:18. There was a lot of gushing about Nesterov tonight and rightfully so. He ate big minutes and he changes the complexion of the Lightning power play with his shoot first mentality and ability to get pucks through and on net. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think he's essentially running Barberio out of town for next season. They're similar players, but Nesterov's ceiling seems so much higher and he's already shown himself to be just as good, if not better, in his own third.
Vladislav Namestnikov played 11:36. He had one memorable rush where he slithered into the Panthers zone, but it was a quiet night for Namestnikov with Tyler Johnson returning and pushing him down off the line with Palat and Kucherov. Tonight was Namestnikov's 41st game of the season, so he graduated from prospect status on the website. Congratulations, Baby Faced Killer.
Lightning nearly steal both points.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 34 shots for the OT loss. His rebound control wasn't all that great tonight, but he was sparkling on first shots, which was nearly good enough to complete the larceny.
5:03 OTT Stone (20), (Turris, MacArthur)
16:53 TB Drouin (4), (Stralman, Filppula)(PP)
4:43 OTT Wiercioch (3), (Stone, Turris)
Bishop was the game's third star.
Most of the Lightning's injured players actually participated in the morning skate today, which signals to me that if tonight's game had been a priority some of them would have gone. As it was, it was clear that getting rest and getting healthy was deemed more important than still pursuing the division title. Fair enough, under the circumstances, and it reflected in a pretty flat First Period by the team. However, as the game wore on, I think the Lightning realized there were points to be stolen on the table and their intensity improved as the game went on. They got 1 point to keep pace with Montreal tonight, but couldn't thieve the 2nd. Still, it's more than I would've expected from the body language I saw in the First Period. They trail Montreal by 1 point with the Habs holding a game in hand and the Lightning having 3 games left on the slate. They would hold the ROW tiebreaker, which looms large if they can get some help and Montreal stubs their toe a couple of times in their last 4 games.
One other point of interest, pun intended, is the Lightning got their 12th point tonight in this 10 game segment. In other words, the Lightning hit 12 points in every 10 game segment of the season but 1, and the miss was an 11 point segment. They may not be consistent game to game, but their frighteningly consistent segment to segment, which is very good compared to last season when they had about 3 misses, as I recall, along the way. Maturation.
Slater Koekkoek had 3 shots, 1 hit, and 3 blocked shots in 17:55. He was a stud tonight. He was active in all three zones and particularly in clearing out his front porch. You saw the total package of what Koekkoek can do and he nearly had an OT winner jumping into the play, to boot. Very impressive.
Luke Witkowski had 1 shot, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 18:19 to go with 2 PIMs. He didn't play a perfect game, but he played a good one. I think, in particular, when the game got chippy in the Second Period it got right into Luke's wheelhouse and he started to really come alive.
Nikita Nesterov was -2 with 4 shots, 5 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 19:38. The IT tells you the coaching staff appreciates what he's doing, but he's had some hard luck where his good two-way play hasn't paid off with pluses with the Lightning forwards struggling to pot goals.
Vladislav Namestnikov had 1 hit and was 55% on 11 draws in 9:50. IT was down tonight, and it was hard to tell if he got dinged or if it was a coach's decision. Vladdy is at 40 NHL games this season, which means his next appearance will mark his graduation from prospect status on the website.
The needle hits E in Toronto.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 28 shots for the loss. He wasn't the reason the team lost, but one or two semi-soft goals definitely made the sledding a lot more comfortable for Toronto. In a game like this, the Lightning really needed Andrei to be flawless.
8:53 TOR Kadri (17), (Lindstrom, Brennan)(PP)
12:03 TOR Booth (7), (unassisted)
18:04 TB Callahan (23), (Palat, Kucherov)(PP)
0:24 TOR Rielly (8), (Kadri, Gardiner)
Shots were 41-28 Lightning, so I'm not going to say the Lightning were somehow dogging it or that they had a let down in a trap game. I just think they almost emptied out the tank against Montreal, so they simply couldn't muster the same intensity level and didn't have the extra gear against Toronto. Not with all the injuries they are trying to work through, anyway. And, the Leafs got a great performance from Reimer, which compounded things.
I hate to see the Lightning's division title hopes in peril like this, on the one hand. On the other, I don't want to see this team dead dragging tired going into the opening round of the playoffs, either. It's a boon to be able to get Bishop some rest like he did tonight, and it might also be a silver lining if circumstances allow them to take their foot off the gas the last couple of games of the year and give guys like Palat and Paquette a little more time off to get right for the postseason, on top of all the guys who are already on the shelf.
Slater Koekkoek was -1 with 2 shots in 15:31. Didn't look horribly out of place, and the old Joe Reekie number looks good on him. Thought he showed as advertised. I feel like he'll challenge for a roster spot in the Fall, and his progress will be very important for the success of the team next year. You figure he'll either make the squad or be the first call up from Syracuse if he doesn't make it.
Luke Witkowski had 2 shots, 6 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 16:50. 3 giveaways is a little bit of an ugly number, but all in all he handled the extra workload reasonably well.
Nikita Nesterov was -1 with 5 shots and 2 hits in 22:11. The minutes don't lie. He's the guy the coaching staff turned to in order to fill the gap, and I suspect they're not at all displeased.
Vladislav Namestnikov had 1 shot and 1 hit in 15:12 and was 56% on draws. He's 2 games from graduation from prospect status on the site.