The biggest win of the season.
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 31 shots for the victory. In my opinion, even in the absence of goal support, Bishop's play this season is approaching the brilliance of his Vezina finalist season two years ago.
19:52 TB Kucherov (9), (Stamkos, Hedman)(PP)
0:25 TB Filppula (3), (Brown, Callahan)
8:33 TB Kucherov (10), (unassisted)
12:06 OTT Ceci (3), (Ryan, Stone)
19:46 TB Brown (3), (Callahan)(EN)
This was a big game for a number of reasons I'll elaborate on later, and it was obvious it was going to be a big game once the Lightning failed to get points out of the Kings game to close the road trip. I warned after that game the Lightning needed to avoid falling into the trap of playing flat as a pancake to start the first game back from a road trip. Well, my worst fears were confirmed and the first 12 minutes of the game were among the worst the Lightning have played all season. Unfocused, sloppy, turnover-riddled, just bad hockey. Chances were 6-1 in favor of Ottawa after about 10 minutes and only Bishop and Ottawa's own lack of sharpness in finishing kept the Lightning from suffering an early haymaker from the Sens. The Lightning slowly climbed back in the game and then Ottawa gave Tampa Bay a fortuitous two-man advantage where Nikita Kucherov, thank goodness, actually shot the puck and put the Lightning up 1-0. The rest of the game was a tale of Bishop's sharp play and the Lightning capitalizing on enough of their own chances along the way to build a 3 goal lead in the Third Period to seize a more leisurely feeling win for a change. Beautiful.
The standings impact cannot be understated. On a head-to-head basis, the win pulls the Lightning to within 4 points of Ottawa for 3rd in the division. Falling 8 points behind third place in the division would've been crushing. From a micro standpoint, the victory clinched a successful third 10-game segment for the season. As we've hammered home for the past 2+ seasons, you need to get at least 12 points every 10 game segment of the year to comfortably make the playoffs. The Lightning got 12 points in Segment One of the year but crashed and burned with just 7 points in Segment Two to dig a big 5 point hole for the season. One of the first rules for getting yourself out of a hole when you find yourself in one: stop digging. The Lightning did that by getting the big win tonight. You didn't want to see the Lightning going into a game against Metropolitan Division leading Washington needing 2 points just to avoid digging themselves into a deeper hole for the year. On a macro-level, that could've led to full-on disaster. Now the Lightning get a chance, if they can manage points against the Capitals, to cut into the deficit they created for the season to as little as 3 points. Ultimately, that's how the Lightning get out of the hole they've built for themselves. It's not reasonable to expect them to just go on some gigantic 8-9 game winning streak to get back into prime playoff position. They've got to keep putting together segments where they get 13, 14, 15 or so points and pay down that deficit over the span of a handful of 10-game segments.
That task should get easier as the Lightning continue to get healthier. With Ondrej Palat's return tonight, the team is now only missing Cedric Paquette from its regular lineup. Once he gets back, hopefully Jon Cooper can keep some steady line combinations in place and the Lightning can get their full 5-on-5 scoring swagger back while they continue to try and fix that thing they call a power play. If that scenario plays out, we may find the silver lining of this early season was that this Lightning team learned to be more mindful of the defensive side of the puck when they found themselves in their extended goal scoring slump. Knowing how to win games against multiple styles of opponents and being able to win games a variety of ways is the hallmark of a championship caliber club.
Jonathan Marchessault was -1 with 2 penalty minutes in 8:56. He wasn't much of a factor tonight, and now we'll see the challenge that Marchessault has to overcome to stick in the NHL. With guys like Johnson and Palat returning, it's pushing Marchessault down to lower lines with less talented linemates in more of a checking role. How he adapts to that role and his ability or inability to make contributions in it will tell the tale.
Nikita Nesterov had 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 13:32. On balance, I don't think he'll be asking Nigel Kirwan for the Blueray edition of his game film from tonight.
Lightning survive bizarre Third Period to go 2-0 on California roadie.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 26 shots for the win, but left the game in the Third Period after a (uncalled!) high stick by Hertl went into his mask. Reports are that Bishop has some redness but thankfully no cut, no damage to the eye, and no damage to the bone around the eye. Thank goodness, because he's playing at a really high level right now. Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 8 shots in relief to get the Lightning across the finish line.
2:19 TB Kucherov (7), (Hedman)
11:20 TB Condra (3), (Sustr, Brown)
13:35 SJ Tennyson (1), (Braun, Hertl)(PP)
16:44 TB Kucherov (8), (Stamkos)(PP)
3:01 TB Boyle (6), (Brown)
8:26 SJ Ward (10), (Burns, Pavelski)(PP)
14:32 SJ Burns (10), (unassisted)(PP)
This was the tale of a really good, opportunistic, smart road game played by the Tampa Bay Lightning up until the 8:13 mark of the Third Period when all hell broke loose. The Lightning came out on the First Period and really caught San Jose flat, and turned possession into a slick goal by Kucherov and then a greasy goal off Condra's skate to develop the 2-0 lead. San Jose came back in the Second Period but the Lightning used a 5-on-3 goal by Kucherov to maintain the 2 goal margin. Early in the Third Period, Boyle potted a rebound goal set up by the scoring speed of J.T. Brown and this thing looked like it was going to be elementary. Then a post whistle scrum mysteriously led to Hedman alone getting called for cross checking and San Jose quickly got a cheap PP goal to pull within 4-2. Then Bishop leaves the game after scrambling from his crease holding his eye. Then Killorn takes a boarding call leading to the Lightning margin being cut to 4-3. Then the Sharks nearly score at the buzzer thanks in part to uncalled interference on Joe Thornton. So, what should've been an easy win after building a 3-goal margin turned into a big ball of anxiety.
I liked using Stamkos on the PK. A lot.
The victory gives the Lightning 10 points in this 10-game segment of the season with 3 games left to go. The California trip is already a success, and if they can manufacture a win tomorrow night against the Kings, or any points, they'll be set up well to pay down their debt and get back closer to playoff position. So, securing the 2 points tonight what tremendously important.
Jonathan Marchessault was +1 with 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 6:03. With all the penalty killing and the size the Sharks have, this wasn't a game that Jonathan ended up being used in a lot.
Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 8:48. Honestly, he's been quiet since coming back from Syracuse, and that's been a good thing. He's being efficient in his time that he does get on the ice.
Like bullseyeing womp rats on their T-16 back home, the Lightning defeat Anaheim on Star Wars Night.
Ben Bishop (and on a couple of occasions his horseshoe) was the difference tonight. He allowed 1 goal on 33 shots for the victory, and generally outplayed Gibson to get the 2 points.
2:35 TB Drouin (2), (Namestnikov, Garrison)
4:15 ANA Perry (9), (Getzlaf, Rakell)
16:22 TB Marchessault (2), (Drouin, Filppula)(PP)
Bishop was the game's first star. Kudos to the homers at Honda Center for denying Drouin a richly deserved star.
Styles make the fight and stylistically the Lightning still aren't built to handle Anaheim's style, but they have some sort of voodoo power over the Ducks that allows them to pull out victories even when they get outplayed. Tonight's margin came on the strength of superior goaltending by Bishop and a couple of goals manufactured by the slick hands of Jonathans Drouin and Marchessault. I'll take it. The Lightning clearly need at least 4 points out of this California trip, so a loss tonight would've cut the margin of error to zippo. Now they just need to manufacture one more win on the trip to call it a success, and if they can get 3 or 4 points out of the remaining 2 games, all the better. It seems iffy for Tyler Johnson to come back on this roadie, but it seems like Paquette's return is imminent and Palat might not be super far off either, so if the Lightning can at least weather this 10 game segment there's reason for hope. If they actually can get 13-14 points out of it, there's reason to be ecstatic.
For the record, on the two goals the Lightning had waved off: I thought the call on the Kucherov goal was appropriate and the goaltender interference call against Callahan on Killorn's waved off goal was pure baloney. It's not Callahan's fault Lindholm decided to be a clumsy oaf and bowl over his own goaltender. Fortunately it became a moot point with Marchessault scoring the eventual GWG just a few moments later, so despite their best attempts the refs didn't actually influence the score. It ended up being right at 2-1 where it rightfully should have been.
Jonathan Marchessault had a power play goal and 2 shots in 8:56. He clearly lost IT to Drouin's return, but he showed off his sniper's touch to get the GWG. He can shoot. That much has never been in doubt. With players coming back in the next couple of weeks and the Lightning possibly getting to their full deck of cards, it'll be interesting to see what they do with Marchessault. In my opinion, he's played well enough to stick on this recall, but the roster math is daunting for him. If the Lightning didn't play so much better with 7 d-men in the lineup, I might suggest sending one down to make more permanent room for Marchessault, but I doubt that's in the cards.
Nikita Nesterov played 7:18. Considering where his game was when he was sent down to Syracuse, a quiet night at the rink is an improvement.
Miserable weekend ends on a hopeful note.
Kristers Gudlevskis stopped all 31 shots he faced for the shutout victory. His 2.01 GAA and .935 sv% thus far this season marks a clear progression from the previous two seasons when he muddled around the .900 sv% mark.
SYR Blunden, (4) (Peca, Nesterov), 4:05
SYR Paradis, (4) (Mormina, Richard), 15:41
SYR Blunden, (5) (Nesterov, DeAngelo), 18:51 (PP)
SYR Gourde, (4) (Richard, Paradis), 18:31 (EN)
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Baby Triplets and Wilcox steal the show.
Adam Wilcox sparkled, allowing just 1 goal on 26 shots for his first pro victory. The pendulum has swung a little bit, with Gudlevskis looking a little subpar in his first game back from Tampa Bay, and maybe Wilcox move to the top spot next weekend.
SYR Marchessault, (5) (Richard, Koekkoek), 10:02
SYR Marchessault, (6) (Gourde, Richard), 14:42
LV MacDonald, (1) (Gostisbehere, Brent), 19:42 (PP)
Coach Zettler may have found a gem with the assembling of the line with Marchessault, Gourde, and Tanner Richard this weekend. The line generated 4 goals in 2 games this weekend, and look like they'll have some longevity if they can stay in Syracuse together. Unfortunately, with Palat injured tonight up top, one of these forwards (Marchessault) may have to be earmarked for a trip to the big club.
Looks like Nikita Nesterov will also be recalled after a 2 game confidence/conditioning stint this weekend with the Crunch.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Crunch comeback dissolves into Third Period disappointment.
Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 4 goals on 25 shots for the loss. That's not exactly the kind of triumphant return one might've hoped for in Gudlevskis first action back from Tampa Bay. Then again, some rust due to inaction was probably inevitable.
ALB Thomson, (2) (Scarlett), 16:40
ALB Blandisi, (3) (Lorito, Sislo), 1:41 (PP)
SYR Gourde, (2) (Marchessault, Richard), 11:41
SYR Nesterov, (1) (DeAngelo, Vermin), 17:45 (PP)
ALB Blandisi, (4) (Lorito, Sislo), 4:03 (PP)
SYR Marchessault, (4) (Gourde, Richard), 8:21
ALB Kujawinski, (2) (Mozik, McKelvie), 14:38
It's a shame the Crunch spend all game crawling out of their initial 2 goal deficit only to relent the winner after getting the even footing for the second time in the game. Nikita Nesterov paid instant dividends in his return to the club by potting a power play goal that was the first equalizer toward the end of the Second Period. That's good news. Nesterov's regressed a bit early this year in Tampa Bay due to lack of action and a loss of confidence. Getting the chance to get more minutes, especially on the power play, is a good way for Nikita to get his swagger back. In the mean time, I'd expect a recall on the blueline to Tampa Bay for tomorrow's game against Minnesota (Slater Koekkoek?).
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Lightning crush Sabres against the run of play.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 31 shots for the victory. I still don't think he's 100% up to NHL speed following the puck, but there were a couple of times in this game you could see his quickness and technical proficiency with his angles really got into Buffalo's shooters' heads. They were cutting it fine because they felt they had to against the big Russian mountain.
5:55 TB Stamkos (7), (Filppula, Palat)
11:35 TB Johnson (2), (Killorn, Kucherov)
18:20 TB Kucherov (5), (Namestnikov, Coburn)
4:21 BUF Eichel (5), (Weber, Ennis)
19:30 TB Hedman (1), (Sustr)(SH)
Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov were the game's first and second stars.
Hockey's a funny sport. The Lightning played a much better game against Detroit last time out and couldn't find the payoff for the chances they manufactured with their hard work. Tonight, I felt they got outworked and they definitely got outchanced and outshot, on balance, by Buffalo. The Sabres had their forecheck really working on the Lightning in the first 40 minutes, but when the Lightning were able to break that pressure and come out of their zone, they were able to catch Buffalo on 3-on-2's on the counter. The skill players did the rest to build the 3-0 lead. They probably didn't deserve to have that big of a margin, but considering how snake bitten they've been offensively, I'm not going to complain about it. They were definitely guilty of playing down to their opponent and even more guilty of taking their foot off the gas once they got up 3-0. But, to their credit, they really tightened up defensively in the Third Period to quell the Buffalo uprising and deliver the W.
With the win, the Lightning have 6 points through 6 games of this 10 game segment of the season. A win against Minnesota would be tremendous if they can get it next time out.
Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 2 hits and 2 blocked shots in 15:40. The stat line looks OK, but I think the tape will reveal Nesterov didn't cloak himself in glory tonight. He looked like the physically overmatched young blueliner that struggled in his rookie pro season of North American hockey tonight, taking some big hits and getting overwhelmed physically, rather than the offensive juggernaut he was in his sophomore pro campaign. Not his finest hour.
No relief for Lightning offensive woes.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 33 shots for the loss. Can the team in front of Ben please give him a break and get him a sliver of goal support?
7:51 TB Kucherov (3), (Namestnikov, Palat)(PP)
16:53 BOS Beleskey (2), (Miller, Hayes)
5:54 BOS Connolly (4), (Marchand, Chara)(PP)
18:50 BOS Marchand (5), (unassisted)(EN)
Nikita Kucherov was the game's third star.
I don't want to overplay this by saying the Lightning played horrible, because I thought they played a pretty honest game nose to nose with a hot Boston team tonight. But, they're still not doing enough to generate the greasy goals they need to snap out of this funk they're in. They were inconsistent tonight with what they need to do, which is to start throwing pucks from all angles into dangerous areas and having as many bodies as possible crashing those dangerous areas. There's still too much of a reliance on the rush to generate chances and too much of a willingness to pass the puck around the perimeter in search of more pristine but also unscreened looks at the net. Tonight was a little bit better, but it still wasn't good enough, and I still don't see the number of goalmouth scrums I'd expect to see from a frustrated, goal hungry team. They need to be playing to the echo of the whistle right now and they also need to be unafraid to mix it up if that's what it takes to break out of this antiseptic rut that they're in. It also wouldn't hurt if the team's power play didn't choose the biggest moments of the game to play their worst hockey. It's been an annual rite of passage to watch this power play underachieve.
Bolt Prospects Alumni Brett Connolly with the winner for Boston. Off the Christmas card list. We'll fix your little red wagon.
Jonathan Marchessault was -1 with 2 hits in 7:02.
Nikita Nesterov had 4 hits in 18:00 in his first night assuming a good chunk of minutes for the scratched Matt Carle. Those expecting Carle's absence to be the panacea for all the team's woes learned tonight the scope of their problem is larger than just their third pair left defenseman, but I do think Nesterov showed he's no worse of an option than Carle in the near term.
Lightning lose against the run of play, and the iron, and the refs...
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 23 shots for the hard luck loss. I thought his rebound control got a little shaky for a little stretch in the Second Period, but overall he looked a lot sharper with rest.
15:59 STL Gomez (1), (Parayko, Brouwer)
19:19 STL Brouwer (3), (Pietrangelo)(EN)
Bishop was the game's third star.
This is a tough one to swallow. The Lightning can play better, especially in the way of manufacturing some greasy goals in the dirty areas, but this isn't like the Chicago game. They dominated possession and the run of play against St. Louis and they really probably deserved better than a loss. It was a pretty good road performance against a good squad and ultimately nothing for the team to hang their head about to close this road trip.
Of course, the outcome would've been different were it not for the horrific officiating the Lightning had to overcome tonight, especially in the Third Period as they pushed for the equalizer. J.T. Brown gets body slammed in the Second Period. No call. Ondrej Palat gets tripped along the wall in the Second Period. No call. Nesterov gets tripped in the offensive zone in the Third Period. No call. Condra gets tripped in the neutral zone in the Third Period. No call. The Lightning technically went 0-for-1 on the PP thanks to a generous 20 seconds of PP time awarded after an even-up call where the refs whistled Tampa Bay for too many men... on a play where St. Louis also had six skaters on the ice. When one team has a possession edge the way the Lightning did tonight and as well as their forecheck functioned at times, it seems a wee bit suspicious that the other team gets 3 times the PP time. Indeed, as the Third Period wore on, it became clear nothing less than first degree homicide was going to be called on St. Louis in this game. Tell me how depriving one of the most offensively talented teams in the league, Tampa Bay, of any real power plays while on national TV on NBCSN helps the NHL sell its product? I know, I know. Toronto says, "Shut up Lightning fans. It's a privilege for the team just to be allowed to play in the league." It's a total joke.
Nikita Nesterov had 2 penalty minutes, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 15:51. He also had one of the more heinous turnovers in front of Bishop you'll ever see and the penalty he took was at a key time of the game when the Lightning were trying to get an equalizer. It was the very definition of a game where a young guy did the opposite of what he needs to do to make a case for himself to get steady ice time.
Gudlevskis gets the Lightning across the finish line...
Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 1 goal on 32 shots for the OT loss. Truth be told, the Lightning threw him to the wolves tonight with the hope that he would somehow be able to steal a point or two and he did. For the first time in his career, and I hate to possibly jinx it, he's starting to show some consistency game to game. He's as athletically gifted as just about anyone to come through this organization with his size and freakish quickness. If he starts to settle down a play consistently, he's a legit future NHL starter with those gifts, although it might not happen in Tampa with the logjam in the organization.
0:17 CHI Toews (1), (Kane, Seabrook)
Gudlevskis was the game's third star.
Even in defeat, as frustrated as they were on offense, the Lightning have to be ecstatic to get a point out of this game. They were coming off an OT game against Winnipeg last night against the defending champs in their barn with the organization's third string goalie between the pipes. Gudlevskis was as close to a sacrificial lamb as there is in hockey tonight as the Lightning made the strategic choice to try to get Bishop rested for the road trip finale in St. Louis. Under those circumstances, I'm happy.
The Lightning got their 4th point of the road trip and will finish no less than .500 on a swing through arguably the NHL's toughest division. That's nothing to sneeze at considering the Lightning aren't playing their best hockey yet. More importantly, Gudlevskis delivered the Lightning their 12th point of the season. For the uninitiated to the site, we break regular season hockey into 10 game segments. If you get at least 12 points every 10 games, you stay comfortably on pace to get to the playoffs. Gudlevskis got the Lightning over the 12 in 10 finish line tonight with 1 more game to go in the segment. Getting a couple of insurance points in St. Louis would be fantastic, but either way the Lightning fought off any potential Stanley Cup Final hangover and got their 12 in 10. Now, they need to do it again.
Nikita Nesterov had 2 penalty minutes, 2 hits, and 3 blocked shots in 13:19.