There will be kittens on Graduation Day.
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.
14:25 TB Johnson (6), (Killorn, Filppula)(PP)
7:40 TB Palat (3), (Namestnikov)
4:26 TB Drouin (3), (Palat)
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.
Lightning continue absolute ownership of the Islanders.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed just 1 goal on 32 shots for the victory. He made a bevy of key, difficult saves at important times to allow the team in front of him to eventually build the game into a laugher. Vasilevskiy is now 3 decisions away from graduation from prospect status here on Bolt Prospects, by my count.
8:03 TB Stamkos (8), (Johnson, Namestnikov)(PP)
11:00 TB Kucherov (5), (Hedman, Stamkos)
2:50 TB Johnson (5), (Stamkos, Palat)(PP)
8:04 NYI Ladd (2), (Boychuk)
1:08 TB Boyle (4), (Paquette)
In boxing, the old saying goes "Styles make the fight". Sometimes, though, the "styles" or the matchups simply align to where one team just has absolute dominance over the other. Such is the case between Tampa Bay and the Islanders. Something about the styles and the matchups just gives the Lightning an absolute leg up on Brooklyn's team. The Lightning obviously have a skill and speed advantage between the two teams, but the familiarity between the two clubs out of the playoff series last year seems to have bred a contempt that leads the Lightning skill to bear down on the Islanders and bury them with added zest and zeal.
Making it worse for the Islanders is that they played a horribly undisciplined game. The Lightning spent half the game on the man advantage and made the Isles pay on two of them. By the end, it looked like the dispirited Isles had given up, and I honestly wonder how much longer the shabbily clad and quaffed Coach Capuano keeps his job after an effort like that. They were a hot, sad mess.
Brayden Point had 1 shot in 16:10 of a very quiet outing.
Slater Koekkoek was +1 with 1 blocked shot in 14:46 of a very quiet outing.
Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.
Lightning manufacture a point in their first game back from a long road trip.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 31 shots before allowing 2 of 10 to convert in the penalty shot session for the Shootout loss.
4:01 BOS Carlo (2), (Bergeron)
10:47 BOS Spooner (2), (Krug, Krejci)(PP)
15:09 TB Hedman (2), (Kucherov, Filppula)(PP)
4:38 BOS Pastrnak (6), (Bergeron, Marchand)
8:30 TB Johnson (3), (Stralman, Stamkos)(PP)
10:04 Johnson (4), (Coburn, Koekkoek)
BOS- Nash, Hayes
The Lightning were unsurprisingly a little flat in their first game back from a long road trip. Using the power play to overcome that flatness, along with decent goaltending, is a pretty textbook way to weather the storm. The inability to score on a 4-on-3 power play in OT to steal the second point was regrettable, but under the circumstances there are some silver linings to take out of the contest.
Brayden Point was +1 with 4 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 17:05. He also had Tampa Bay's lone goal in the penalty shot session, where he's been money so far this season.
Slater Koekkoek had a helper, 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 13:20. That's three assists in his first two games up with the team this year, for those keeping score at home. Keep raising his minutes up.
Frustrating performance leaves first segment of the season in state of doubt.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 23 shots for the loss. The goals he allowed were not necessarily soft goals, and he made one or two really dazzling ones late in the game, but it wasn't good enough to make the game competitive on a night where the offense was struggling.
3:57 NJ Henrique (2), (Severson, Cammalleri)
13:13 NJ Severson (1), (Henrique, Greene)
5:22 NJ Smith-Pelly (1), (Lappin, Quincey)
1:59 TB Johnson (2), (Point)
Just a frustrating night for the Lightning, which may have carried the balance of play throughout the game in outshooting New Jersey 33-23. But, New Jersey was opportunistic capitalizing on mistakes early to throw Tampa Bay into a hole, and without Kucherov in the lineup the Lightning didn't seem to have the offensive dynamism to crawl out. Also, if we're being honest, the Lightning played one of their all-too antiseptic games where they didn't create enough traffic and get in front of the goaltender's eyes enough to make it hard on a netminder as strong as Schneider. They were just a little too easy to play against tonight. Against a team like New Jersey, you do yourself a big disservice by not finding a greasy goal or two in those high traffic areas, and that building in particular is not one you want to fall in a hole in and then play a white gloves kind of style.
Heading into the final 2 games of this opening 10 game segment of the season, the Lightning need 2 more points, at least, to stay on playoff pace. That looked like a lock heading into the Montreal game, but it's looking a little dicey now. Hopefully Ben Bishop will have a performance tomorrow that will be the slump snapper. The Lightning need it.
Brayden Point had a beautiful helper and 3 shots in 16:50. His assist was so good he got Tyler Johnson off the side of the milk carton. I just hope he gets to collect the reward for finding a missing person like that.
Determined Lightning outclass Ottawa.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 28 shots for the victory. He had next to no work for the first half of this game, so when Ottawa made their push toward the end of the Second Period he looked a little shaky, particularly on his rebound control. He collected himself and made some key saves at the start of the Third Period to keep the Sens at bay and eventually allow the Lightning to cruise to the win.
2:36 TB Namestnikov (1), (Palat, Stralman)
6:45 TB Stamkos (3), (Namestnikov, Kucherov)(PP)
15:27 OTT Neil (1), (unassisted)
8:02 TB Killorn (4), (Filppula, Garrison)
18:03 TB Filppula (3), (Point)
The Lightning showed me something tonight after a bit of a clunker last time out against Colorado. They came into this game... maybe not grumpy... but certainly determined to get the bad taste of that match out of their mouths. They completely dominated the First Period and most of the Second Period to build a 2-0 lead. In the future, you'd hope they'd build up that 3-0 lead to make things easy on themselves, but they did give Ottawa a couple of power plays that allowed the Senators to build some momentum and make a game of it cutting the lead to 2-1. The Lightning showed composure, though, and eventually reasserted their dominance and eventually turned the game into a laugher.
Side note: Stamkos' power play goal was a textbook example of what I was clamoring for last season and what Washington does so well: create a pressure point with Kucherov and Namestinkov on the opposite side of the ice from Stamkos' circle, and allow Steve to drift to the open spots/seams for easy goals away from the play. That's how you make this power play unstoppable if you don't have a quality righty point man who scares people.
Halfway through the opening 10 game segment of the season, Tampa Bay has a brisk 8 points. They need just 4 over the next 5 games to stay on minimum playoff pace. When you get off to a hot start like this, though, it's a perfect opportunity to put the hammer down and bank some insurance points to cover any potential bumps in the road as the season drags on.
Brayden Point had a helper and was +2 with 1 shot, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 14:35.
Lightning overcome another sluggish start to advance to 2-0-0.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 34 shots for the victory. Both goals allowed were redirections, and he showed a lot of maturity after getting down on a couple of quick early goals. The really good ones shut the door the rest of the way when they get in that situation, and that's what Andrei did tonight. He was strong on his angles and wasn't giving New Jersey anything to shoot at and his rebound control was strong, as well. It was a really solid season debut.
0:52 NJ Palmieri (1), (Moore)
4:26 NJ Zajac (1), (Parenteau)
7:53 TB Stamkos (1), (Palat, Drouin)
10:07 TB Killorn (1), (Kucherov, Johnson)
5:43 TB Filppula (2), (Garrison, Point)
Glass half full: Yet another resilient effort where the Lightning stayed the course, got it together, and eventually pulled off the win. The Lightning got goals from three different lines tonight and they have nine goals from eight different goal scorers so far this season. Balance is a good thing. And, as mentioned, Vasilveskiy was solid.
Glass half empty: Spotting opponents two goal leads to start the game isn't sustainable. I think the Lightning, psychologically, come out a little too comfortable in these home games with the attitude that, because of their talent, it'll be more of a coronation than a contest. They haven't paid the price for it thus far this year, but eventually they will. Bottom line, hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard.
Two games down, four points earned. The Lightning need at least eight points in the next eight games to establish postseason pace.
Brayden Point had a helper, his first NHL point, and was +1 with 5 shots and 1 hit in 15:09. He keeps putting 5 on net every night and he'll have that first NHL goal soon, too.
Lightning concludes the preseason with an offensive outburst.
7:29 NSH Smith (1), (Bitetto, Granberg)
9:59 TB Nesterov (1), (Point, Drouin)(PP)
13:27 NSH Smith (2), (Subban)
16:18 TB Point (1), (Stamkos, Nesterov)
2:32 TB Drouin (1), (Stamkos, Palat)
6:43 TB Johnson (1), (Stralman, Stamkos)(PP)
13:12 TB Palat (1), (Drouin)
13:20 NSH Wilson (1), (Gaudreau)
Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point were the game's first and second stars. Point continues to produce in an extended look which may continue on into the regular season thanks to Nikita Kucherov's ongoing contractual impasse.
Point had 1 goal and 1 assist with 3 shots in 13:58 of ice time.
Joel Vermin was -1 with 1 shot in 14:07.
Lightning miss a second straight preseason shutout by an eyelash.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed just 1 goal on 28 shots for the OT win. The lone blemish was a goal surrendered in a 6-on-4 situation with 1:05 left in regulation. If the performances of the past two nights by Gudlevskis and Vasilevskiy are any indication, Yzerman might have the flexibility he needs if he does choose to move Ben Bishop for cap reasons.
5:21 TB Johnson (1), (Palat, Nesterov)[/b]
18:55 CAR Skinner (2), (DiGiuseppe, Rask)
1:38 TB Palat (1), (unassisted)
Very interesting lineup tonight from the Lightning and a pleasantly surprising performance. Tonight's group mixed in more NHL forwards, at least on the wings, but they pretty much went with Syracuse's defensive corps plus Nikita Nesterov, who may be a bubble player in this camp. It helps when you have Vasilevskiy behind you, but to almost get a shutout with that group is not too shabby.
Brayden Point had 4 penalty minutes and 1 shot in 16:09. He was also 33% on 9 draws. Sorry, son, you don't get to score a goal every game.
Cam Darcy had 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 11:31 and was 30% on 10 draws. PLEASE, Jeff Halpern, teach these kids to win faceoffs.
Joel Vermin had 1 shot, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 18:44.
Gabriel Dumont had 1 shot, 4 hits, and 4 blocked shots in 14:02. For a guy who didn't score, his stat line still looks quite active, I have to say.
Henri Ikonen had 1 blocked shot in 14:15. The window is closing on the young Finn.
Brian Hart had 4 hits in 10:14. He then hit someone with an aluminum chair and put them in the Sharpshooter.
Luke Witkowski was +1 with 4 hits and 2 blocked shots in 21:10. He's not giving any quarter in camp to anybody.
Dominik Masin had 2 penalty minutes, 2 shots, and 2 hits in 19:55.
Matt Taormina had 1 shot in 19:46.
Dylan Blujus had 3 blocked shots in 19:29.
Jake Dotchin had 2 penalty minutes, 1 hit, and 2 blocked shots in 19:10.
TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to a three-year contract extension worth $3.5-million per season, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced today.
Vasilevskiy, 21, appeared in 24 games with the Lightning last season, posting a record of 11-10-0 to go along with a 2.76 goals-against average and .910 save percentage. The Tyumen, Russia native also posted one shutout in his second season with the Lightning. Vasilevskiy played in eight Stanley Cup playoff games in 2016, registering a record of 3-4 to go along with a 2.76 goals-against average and .925 save percentage. He appeared in all seven of the Lightning’s Eastern Conference Final games against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Despite Stamkos' return, Lightning run out of gas and run out of time.
Eastern Conference Finals
Pittsburgh Wins the Series 4-3
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 39 shots for the loss. The winner was a pretty awful softie on a puck off the end boards that he failed to squeeze and was jammed in short side. I feel absolutely ill for the young man that it became the margin, although soft goals usually are. His 37 saves gave the Lightning an opportunity to pull this out despite getting grossly outworked for the bulk of the game. Put it another way: if you gave me the option to lock the Penguins in at 2 goals allowed or roll the dice, I probably would've taken the former. If Ben Bishop had been healthy for this series would the Lightning have advanced? Perhaps. But it'd be foolish to say the Lightning lost the series because of Vasilevskiy, because he gave them an opportunity in pretty much every game.
1:55 PIT Rust(4), (Kunitz, Malkin)
9:36 TB Drouin(5), (Filppula, Hedman)
10:06 PIT Rust(5), (Lovejoy, Malkin)
Steven Stamkos' return to the lineup tonight was a pleasant surprise, and I thought it gave a very tired Lightning team a little bit of an energy injection they desperately needed. They played arguably their best defensive period of the series in the First Period and had a handful of opportunities to break through for the important opening goal, but they couldn't find the opportunistic finish. That's too bad because in the Second Period things started to come unglued for the Lightning defense as breakout after breakout up the wall got picked off and jammed up and the Penguins outpossessed the Lightning 3:1. They got the all important first goal on a botched Lightning line change that led to a coverage mistake and Rust hitting the top corner from the high slot coming into the zone. Jonathan Drouin tied the game with a little Drouin magic on a great play on the rush where he pulled up on the wing at the hash mark, careened to the middle of the ice, and eventually ripped a high corner shot past Murray. The celebration was short-lived as Rust got the soft goal on Vasilevskiy just 30 seconds later. Vasilevskiy and the team in front of him had a gritty performance to keep the game close into the Third Period, but they simply didn't have the energy to complete a comeback or the savvy to manufacture a tying goal off a faceoff win. In the end, the Lightning's season ended with 3 lost faceoffs deep in the Penguins zone with the goaltender pulled.
Injuries hurt this team, no doubt. Stamkos did nearly tie the game on a break in the Second Period where he nearly got a shot to leak through Murray under his stick side armpit. But, he wasn't fully up to speed in this game and the morale shot he gave the club only went so far. Anton Stralman looked like a shadow of himself as the series wore on and it became clear he just didn't have the strength in his mending leg to keep up with the pace of the series. And Bishop never returned from his apparent high ankle sprain. It's a remarkable testament to the organization's depth that they advanced as far as they did with those impediments, but it would be short-sighted for the Lightning organization not to look at some of their other failings in this series as they look to improve the club in the offseason.
They did not learn the lesson of the Chicago series last year when it comes to the importance of faceoffs in playoff hockey. Maybe Yzerman thought a healthy Tyler Johnson would be enough to improve the Lightning's outlook in the circles, but in the end the Lightning's centers got their lunch money taken all playoffs long. Pittsburgh won 58% of draws tonight and most of the important ones, to boot. The Blackhawks were able to climb into the Stanley Cup Final last season despite getting slaughtered early in the series in the run of play by manufacturing cheap possession and a few goals off of offensive zone faceoff wins. The Lightning simply don't have that capability and therefore could not manufacture some cheap possession to quell the Penguins uprising in the run of play when they had control of large swaths of the game like in the Second Period tonight. In the offseason, I would expect Steve Yzerman to take a serious look at improving that aspect of the team.
And, of course, the power play continues to be a huge disappointment although the trickle of man advantages the team was awarded in this series hardly made the power play much of a factor against the Penguins. I suspect a rescrambling of the roster could make restructuring of the power play elementary, so I won't harp on the traditional needs to get a decent righty point man or a lefty on the RW half board who can create pressure points lower in the zone.
There were plenty of positives from this playoff run, though, and we should celebrate those, too. The Lightning penalty kill was outstanding throughout the playoffs and the work they did all series long against the Penguins did not get the love it deserved in the media. As a unit, they held off a very good Penguins group dotted with superstar snipers and playmakers. There are many who believe the Lightning's penalty kill numbers in the regular season were solely the doing of Ben Bishop, but I would think the work they did against Pittsburgh might lead to a re-examination of that point of view.
Jonathan Drouin started to become a star in these playoffs, and I think there were enough positive vibes from both the player's and the coach's side of the equation to lead to a mending of the relationship and Drouin staying in Tampa Bay. He was the Lightning's only consistently dangerous player the last two games of the Penguins series and he showed a lot of competitive spirit trying to match the likes of Crosby and Malkin by taking the game into his own hands. Sometimes that led to some overhandling and turnovers, and he'll have to learn to use his teammates a little better moving forward, but you love the initiative he showed. He didn't shrink from the moment, and I suspect he's going to absolutely burn the league down from a scoring standpoint next season.
The Lightning's young defense had a few standouts who came on as the playoffs wore on. The wheat definitely got separated from the chaff as Nikita Nesterov fell to the wayside while Andrej Sustr and Slater Koekkoek got better and better as the postseason wore on. Koekkoek had the greenest of green lights to jump into the play against the Penguins and he didn't embarrass himself in that capacity. He truly is a Hedman Lite type of player and he's only going to get better as he, presumably, cuts his teeth as a first time regular in Tampa Bay next year.
Lastly, the run proved the Lightning's core group of players are going to be an elite group capable of competing for multiple championships for years to come. Hedman, Kucherov, and to a lesser degree Johnson all followed up last year's strong playoff run with equal or better performances as the team advanced into the league's final four for back-to-back years. In the last 12 years the Lightning have won a Stanley Cup, two Eastern Conference Championships, and made four Eastern Conference Finals appearances. It's hard to argue the team hasn't become an elite level group even with some of their star players missing due to injury.
Was this a successful season in the end equation? Honestly, I tend to gauge success for a hockey team based on the banner test. If you win a banner of some sort (division, conference, or league title) that tends to be a good indicator of success. The team fell short on that count this season, but I think I can say I am content with the year under the circumstances, and I'm much more at peace with the way it ended versus the one goal Game Seven loss against Boston in 2011. That team had a little bit of a lightning in a bottle aspect to it and to lose a close game by that little is something that I, as a fan, will take to my grave. Pittsburgh was simply the better team in Game Six and Game Seven this year, so I don't have the same what-if's haunting me at this hour.
That leads to the more difficult set of questions for the offseason, though. Specifically, what happens with Steven Stamkos? Unfortunately, I think the possibility of a Stamkos return was made less likely by the circumstances of this postseason. With the Lightning proving they could make it to within 1 goal and 1 win of the Stanley Cup Final without Stamkos, it seems less likely to me they'll be willing to break the bank and lose roster flexibility just to keep him. Conversely, while Stamkos has said he wants to win and I suspect will be willing to give the Lightning a little home town discount to stay with the team, the NHLPA and his camp are unlikely to allow the kind of deep discount that would be necessary to retain players like Bishop, Hedman, and Kucherov, who also have deals coming up. Put simply: this playoff run may have proven Stamkos isn't a core player at playoff time for the team, although I would argue they wouldn't have made the playoffs without his regular season goal scoring prowess. If the team does indeed let Stamkos go, replacing his goal scoring will be a difficult and important task. The Lightning have learned the lesson over the past two years that the regular season and playoffs are two different animals. They showed they can make a run without Stamkos in the latter half of the two, but it remains to be seen if they can make the postseason without him. If he indeed does depart, the Lightning power play that has revolved around him for some 7 years will undergo a radical alteration, which may be an improvement simply because it will break up the staleness of the team's approach with the man advantage.
The question of Ben Bishop then becomes an easier one to handle: he stays. Vasilevskiy did nothing to embarrass himself in this series and there may yet be a time that he supplants Bishop as the team's starter, but that day hasn't come yet. Bishop's ability to steal games and his big game ability in the postseason are things Vasilevskiy hasn't proven he possesses... yet.
Then there's the question of the three I like to refer to as the Dead Money Trio: Matt Carle, Valtteri Filppula, and Ryan Callahan. Carle ended up a healthy scratch for Game Seven tonight because he no longer possesses the skating ability to keep up with elite level teams like Pittsburgh. Was he better in this year's playoff run that last years? Yeah, but that's a bar so low you could roller skate over it. He looks done as an NHL'er, although his contract still looks like an untransferable albatross. Filppula and Callahan certainly had a little more utility than Carle. Filppula was decent, at times, defensively and on faceoffs. Callahan added a lot of physicality and hustle to the lineup in the postseason. But, at their price points, the Lightning simply didn't get their money's worth from a production standpoint. Both guys make well more than double what Brian Boyle makes and they didn't make nearly the contribution Boyle made as both a goal scorer and in the intangible leadership aspects of the team. The Lightning may do well to begin to look to shed these three contracts over the next couple of years as they begin to mix and match around their true core players to retool for future Cup runs.
The Lightning are, by necessity, going to see their fair share of roster changes because of some of the factors I listed above. But, in all honesty, I would hope Yzerman makes more of a shake up by design, as well. Last year the team really only made one roster change by replacing retiring Brendan Morrow with Erik Condra. I think the lack of new blood and enthusiasm led to some of the uninspired regular season play from the team. Once you've been to within 2 wins of the Stanley Cup, a weeknight game in Buffalo is a bit of a come down. That's where having some fresh faces with some enthusiasm and hunger could have helped pull the team out of its doldrums. That, like the need to improve on faceoffs and the power play, needs to be another lesson learned from this campaign.
Slater Koekkoek was -1 with 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 15:22. He was given the ice time and the opportunity to go for it and there were moments in the Third Period he rarely seemed to leave the ice. He has the skating ability to be a difference maker for the team, and I think the playoff experience he gained will be hugely valuable for him and for a coaching staff that's just learning about all of the capabilities Slater brings to the table.