Crunch score bittersweet victory against one of the league's top teams.
Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 2 goals on 34 shots and stopped all 5 shooters he faced in the penalty shot session for the victory.
TOR Conacher, (2) (C. Smith, Valiev), 0:33
SYR Tambellini, (27) , 6:33
SYR Stephens, (1) (Broll), 11:53
TOR Arcobello, (25) (Corrin, Leivo), 4:45
It was a big win against a very talented Toronto team that by far and away has had the best regular season in the AHL. Unfortunately, the Crunch didn't get any help in the other games around the league and were eliminated from making the postseason. It's a shame for a Syracuse team that's really seemed to find itself in the last quarter of the regular season and had a nice stretch run. As it is, they should finish well over .500 for the campaign with some momentum going into the offseason and some nice new blood coming onto the roster.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Syracuse crushes Utica, keeping extremely slim hopes alive.
Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 3 goals on 28 shots for the victory.
UTI LaBate, (9) (Hensick, Landry), 9:02 (PP)
UTI Bancks, (14) (Hensick, Landry), 5:11
SYR Vermin, (7) (Peca), 7:04 (SH)
SYR Darcy, (4) (Taormina, Dotchin), 9:06
SYR Vermin, (8) (Peca, Taormina), 10:04 (PP)
UTI Friesen, (12) (Grenier, Fedun), 13:50 (PP)
SYR Erne, (13) (Walcott, Blujus), 2:01
SYR Ikonen, (3) (Richard, Thomas), 3:39
SYR Tambellini, (25) (Peca), 17:56
SYR Tambellini, (26) (Thomas, McGinn), 19:18
It's kind of remarkable that the day Jonathan Drouin sat out due to a lower body injury that the Crunch went and scored 7 goals.
Peca continues his strong late season charge, extending his points streak to 6 games with 1 goal and 10 points in that span. Going back to March 6th, he's got 1 goal and 16 points in a 13 game stretch, including 5 multi-point games. He's definitely throwing his hat in the ring to be the next Conacher/Johnson type in the Lightning organization.
Speaking of multi-point efforts, Ben Thomas had his first as a pro today. He's got 3 helpers in his first 4 pro games. He's been like found money thus far for Syracuse.
Unfortunately, despite the severity of today's whipping of the Comets, it still only counts as 2 points in the standings. That places Syracuse 6 points back of Utica for 3rd in the North Division with the Comets still holding a game in hand. Portland and Bridgeport maintain an 8 point gap on Syracuse in the crossover scenario, so it looks like catching Utica in the final 5 regular season games is the formula for the postseason. The Crunch do have 2 more head-to-head matchups against the Comets, but it's still going to be like threading the needle for the Crunch to make the playoffs.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
No Drouin, no problem.
Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 1 goal on 29 shots for the victory.
UTI Friesen, (10) (Sautner, Kenins), 4:12
SYR Erne, (12) (Richard, Gourde), 10:37
SYR Vermin, (6) (Peca, Martindale), 19:01 (PP)
SYR Peca, (6) (Tambellini, Vermin), 19:45 (EN)
Joel Vermin and Gudlevskis were the game's first and second stars.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Lightning have multiple personality disorder in Ohio.
Ben Bishop was outstanding, allowing just 1 goal on 26 shots for the victory. Part of me wants to see him start again tomorrow versus Toronto.
11:11 TB Marchessault (3), (unassisted)
16:46 CBJ Dubinsky (5), (Calvert, Foligno)
6:13 TB Boyle (8), (Killorn)(SH)
Brian Boyle and Bishop were the game's first and third stars.
It seems like Columbus is always a strange place for the Lightning when they play there, and tonight was no different. The game split pretty cleanly into three acts.
First, the Lightning were awfully sloppy in the First Period with multiple turnovers in the no-no zone within 10 feet of either blueline. Ben Bishop had to be sharp to deny the resulting A chances, but it wasn't as if Columbus was athletically dominating Tampa Bay. The Lightning were just not sharp on their breakout passing or their decision-making with the puck.
For the following 30 minutes, the Lightning absolutely dominated Columbus. The Blue Jackets had next to no puck possession as the Lightning continually pressed the attack down low in the offensive zone. Unfortunately, the Lightning could never expand to a multiple-goal lead, and the specter of Columbus stealing a smash and grab win hung thick over the game. It was only a great effort play by Alex Killorn to create a shorthanded goal that put the Lightning a goal up in the Third Period.
Then there was the final 10 minutes of the game. Awful. Columbus ran roughshod over the Lightning physically while they pressed for the equalizer. Was it fatigue due to the Lightning being down to 10 forwards (again)? Perhaps, but that doesn't explain why the Lightning defense suddenly started losing players in coverage and losing every race to loose pucks. Columbus came within a half inch of tying the game on a puck that sat on the line behind Bishop. Only by the grace of a little slush did Tampa Bay manage to get out of town with the 2 points. I have no idea what to make of the team's effort tonight, if anything. I'll take it, though. Beats suffering a smash and grab loss.
That's a dirty team Columbus has, by the way. It has to be said. Scott Hartnell did his best to break Brian Boyle's ankle with a slash at one point and there were several plays where the Blue Jackets cross checked forwards into the boards on plays that could've been borderline boarding that weren't called. Hartnell deserved to get his clock cleaned by the two straight rights he was fed by Ryan Callahan right after the horn at the conclusion of the First Period. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
Jonathan Marchessault had a goal, 2 shots, and 1 hit in 8:40. He was gifted a turnover that was a perfect centering pass and he made no mistake with it. The guy is a pure finisher. There's no doubt about that.
Joel Vermin played 1:38. He had 1 shift. Made an awful turnover at his own blueline on a cutesy one-touch pass that led to the Lightning getting hemmed in for a minute and nearly falling behind because of it. And, to add injury to insult, he got injured on the play and didn't return. Guess that means Yanni Gourde is a lock to make his NHL debut tomorrow.
Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 1 blocked shot in 10:54.
Soft goals and a dysfunctional power play.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 pretty brutal goals on 10 shots for the loss before giving way to Ben Bishop, who allowed 1 on 18 the rest of the way. 2 soft goals, 2 goal loss. Soft goals almost always tend to be the margin.
12:24 LA Andreoff (1), (Shore, Doughty)
0:27 TB Boyle (1), (Callahan)
0:39 LA McNabb (1), (Kopitar)
3:47 LA Lucic (1), (Carter, McNabb)
The Lightning came out flat the first 10 minutes of the game, but otherwise were respectable in this contest at even strength. They definitely generated enough chances, but LA has Jonathan Quick and the Lightning didn't get anywhere near that quality of goaltending to start the game.
Where the Lightning needed to help themselves, and didn't, was on an obscenely bad 0-for-6 night on the power play including completely squandering over a minute of 5-on-3 time. The whole unit is awful and I don't mean to pick on one guy, but Kucherov's got to come off the number one unit. He keeps passing up Grade A chances to shoot for telegraphed passes through the box that almost always get deflected or outright picked off. The guy who scored that scorcher of a shot on the rush against San Jose should not be this differential with the man advantage, but he is, and it's clearly in his head now. Mind you, I didn't like Palat in that spot on the number one unit either before he got hurt and the one guy I think could fix it (Drouin) isn't considered completely trustworthy by the coaching staff for his decision-making either. In any case, the other thing I'll say is that it might be time for Cooper to start to delegate the power play to an assistant to get a fresh approach and a fresh voice on the issue. The Lightning power play has been unwatchable since about the second month of LAST season, and they can no longer stay competitive being this inept.
The tough thing about losing this game is that it kind of makes Thursday's game against Ottawa a must-win. They're sitting at 10 points in this 10-game segment with 2 games left in it. 12's the minimum they need. You don't want to have to play Washington needing the 2 points just to not dig yourselves an even deeper hole in the standings. So, they must get that 2 points against Ottawa and hope they can get 1-2 points against the Caps to start to pay down that 5 point deficit they have overall for the season. That means they cannot, cannot, cannot, CANNOT, CANNOT, CANNOT come out flat on the first game home from a long road trip on Thursday against the Senators. Let me reiterate: the stakes are much larger than they appear on the surface. They CANNOT come out flat on Thursday on the first game back home from a long road trip.
Jonathan Marchessault had 2 penalty minutes, 5 shots, and 2 hits in 11:36. He had a good game. Got absolutely robbed by Quick on what looked like a sure goal, was feisty physically, and by-goodness he shot the puck. Decision time is upon us with regards to Marchessault's waiver status, and he's made the Lightning's decision really difficult over the past few weeks.
Joel Vermin had 1 hit and 2 blocked shots in 8:53.
Choke job on Channelside.
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 22 shots for the loss.
16:20 TB Killorn (4), (Stamkos, Stralman)
1:39 TB Stralman (2), (Stamkos, Filppula)
3:51 NYI Bailey (5), (Nelson, Strome)(PP)
16:51 NYI Clutterbuck (5), (unassisted)
16:24 NYI Tavares (11), (Nielsen, Leddy)(PP)
It was Black Saturday at the rink tonight, and the Isles got 2 free points just for showing up. The Lightning absolutely dominated about 45-50 minutes of this game, but went 0-for-4 on the PP (rarely looking threatening) and going 1-for-3 on the PK (and also looking rarely threatening). When you couple those with a Clutterbuck cheapie on a puck Coburn misplayed in front of his own net, you get a tragedy like tonight's outcome. The Lightning had a chance to pull into the halfway point of this segment in very good shape to rehabilitate some of the damage they caused in games 11-20. Instead, they'll have to win 3 of the next 5 just to make sure they don't dig the hole any deeper. It's not good enough. It was something to shrug off last season when the team was so good at even strength it could get by without a functional power play and still lead the league in goals. This season, it can't be shrugged off. They HAVE to figure out this power play or they're through, and it starts with the other 4 players on the ice starting to create pressure points and take shots rather than telegraphing everything to Stamkos. If I could've reached through my TV and choked out Kucherov tonight on the power play I would've for passing up two solid chances for a lesser opportunity to Stamkos. It can't happen. It's not unselfishness. It's self-destructiveness.
Jonathan Marchessault had 1 shot, 4 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 16:45. Marchessault nearly set up a go ahead goal late in the Third Period to Namestnikov with a good read an exceptional quickness.
Joel Vermin was -1 with 1 hit in 11:57.
Luke Witkowski had 1 shot and 3 hits in 7:31.
Caps power play takes Tampa Bay to school.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 37 shots for the loss. I thought he showed a little rust early in the First Period but shook it off quickly and nearly got the Lightning to the Second Intermission with a chance to steal points.
7:09 WSH Ovechkin (12), (Chimera, Kuznetsov)(PP)
18:03 WSH Chimera (6), (Kuznetsov, Niskanen)(PP)
19:18 WSH Johansson (4), (Carlson, Schmidt)
5:16 WSH Oshie (6), (Backstrom, Carlson)(PP)
10:49 TB Boyle (5), (Callahan, Brown)
12:45 TB Hedman (2), (Namestnikov)
Tonight's game should be an object lesson on what an unstoppable weapon a potent power play can be. The Lightning actually weren't that bad at even strength in this game, but Washington completely outclassed the Lightning with the man advantage, creating 4-5 minute surges every time they got a power play, and goals, that tilted the game in their favor. Were I the coaching staff, I don't know that I'd show the team the tape of this game, but I'd set aside a good half a day to dissect the Caps power play and use it to fix the Lightning's.
Unlike the Lightning, who channel everything through Steven Stamkos in a way that often seems forced and telegraphed, the Caps create multiple pressure points away from Ovechkin's spot in the left wing circle that force PK's to lose their shape and lose Ovechkin, allowing him to drift to open ice for goal scoring chances. The Caps can do this because they have a lot of other high quality forwards (which the Lightning can match, both in terms of playmakers and trigger men) and quality power play point men (which is a personnel shortfall because the Lightning's only real scoring threat on D, Hedman, is only really good on the rush and isn't nearly as potent on the PP). The Lightning should at least start trying to work 2 and 3 man games from the right wing circle down with some of the skilled puckhandlers they have like Kucherov, Drouin, Namestnikov, and Palat, sprinkled in with shooters like Johnson. I think the Lightning have tried to do that, at times, but the difference is they don't ever threaten to actually score from those positions, and end up artificially forcing passes through the seam to Stamkos, which doesn't put Steven in a good position to score. The Lightning have to train the guys on the strong side of the ice to be more assertive and look for their own opportunities to score, allowing Stamkos the ability to drift to open ice and for passing lanes to develop more organically. Having a legit power play trigger man or two to add another set of pressure points would be ideal, but right now the Lightning don't have those guys and they need to continue to develop them or find them elsewhere. Put it another way: until the other 4 guys on the Lightning PP can threaten the other team's PK, they've got no reason not to completely overload on defending Stamkos.
Further complicating issues was the mysterious injury of Tyler Johnson, who skated one shift and was done. A Caps player jumped on Johnson's back/neck in the neutral zone early in the shift before Johnson eventually nearly scored off the rush near the end of that shift. He looked fine, but I wonder if the pop to his neck re-aggravated whatever happened when Johnson got elbowed in the head by Bolland against the Panthers. Either way, to lose one of your top two centers a whopping 2 minutes into the game was a heck of a blow to the Lightning, and contributed greatly to what ultimately occurred.
Jonathan Marchessault had 3 shots and 1 hit in 14:58. He got a lot of garbage time ice time to go along with some good shifts early in the game, and I think he continues to build a case to stay with the team.
Joel Vermin was +1 with 2 hits in 9:46. His forechecking popped loose the puck that became Hedman's goal. He's not as far along as Marchessault, but he's done nothing to this point to invalidate himself as an NHL prospect.
Lightning getting right.
Ben Bishop stopped all 30 shots he faced tonight for the issuance of some U of Maine Justice and the shutout win. He didn't have to be as brilliant tonight, and he got help from his lucky horseshoe a couple of times, but he deserved it. After getting the short end of the stick on goal support so very often this season, he deserved to get the clean sheet in this one.
5:57 TB Kucherov (6), (Sustr, Vermin)
12:35 TB Stamkos (10), (Callahan, Killorn)
13:49 TB Stamkos (11), (Kucherov, Namestnikov)(PP)
5:29 TB Boyle (4), (Brown)
10:01 TB Marchessault (1), (Kucherov, Stamkos)(PP)
Styles make the fight, in boxing parlance, and Anaheim's style is very difficult for the Lightning to match up against. They're a big, fast, bludgeoning north-south team that really puts a ton of pressure on the Lightning's defense and smaller forwards. So, the Lightning don't get to comfortably play the possession style they're used to and have to play more of a counterattacking style against a team like this, which they did to a tee tonight. Anaheim swarmed the Lightning in waves the first 30 minutes of the game, but the Lightning were disciplined positionally and with their backcheck pressure and they ultimately got their goals on counters and the power play and blew this one wide open to make it a laugher. Anaheim played a ton of games in the past week, so by the time the Third Period came they were too out of gas to mount much resistance. Kudos to the Lightning for understanding the strategic situation and playing hard and sharp within its constraints.
Jonathan Marchessault had a power play goal, 2 penalty minutes, 3 shots, and 4 hits in 11:40. Impressive game by him against a very big Anaheim team that was targeting him a bit. What impressed me the most about his goal is he actually drew the penalty it came on by frustrating a very good skating defenseman in Cam Fowler with his speed and tenacity.
Joel Vermin had a helper, his first NHL point, and was +1 with 1 hit in 12:22. Hustles and plays fairly smart positional hockey. His work on Kucherov's goal to start the Lightning snowball headed downhill toward success was critical.
Luke Witkowski had 4 penalty minutes, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 8:17. Had a wild night that included trying to fight half the Anaheim Ducks on the ice after one faceoff and a critical misplay of a bouncing puck that led to a 2-on-1 where Getzlaf struck the iron. He's surviving, somehow, but you can't make mistakes like that too often before you eventually get fitted for the goat horns.
The turning point of the season?
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 21 shots for the win. He was sparkling. Sharp as a razor, including stopping a penalty shot by Kreider. He really did well to correct the 5-hole issues he had against Pirri in the last game in denying Kreider tonight.
14:47 TB Killorn (3), (Filppula)
13:43 NYR Moore (2), (unassisted)
18:55 TB Filppula (2), (Brown)(SH)
Bishop and Valtteri Filppula were the game's first and second stars.
The Lightning have been getting better in terms of their effort and energy level in recent games, but they've been getting zero payoff to this point with the ultimate indignity coming on the late goal in their 1-0 loss at Florida in the last game out. That futility coupled with the sudden rash of injuries that left 5 forwards out with injury for tonight's game and the fact the Rangers were going for their 10th consecutive win provided the recipe for a potential blood bath. And then something happened...
Tonight the Lightning played their most honest game of the season. Not their flashiest. Not their best. Their most honest. They hustled to loose pucks. They threw their bodies in front of shots. They took hits to make plays. The Rangers worked really hard, and this is no slight on New York's effort level. But, for maybe the first time this season, the Lightning simply wanted the 2 points more tonight by a clear and decisive margin. The old adage is that the harder you work the luckier you get, and that rang true tonight. Killorn's game opening goal was a heinous softie by Lundqvist and that ended up being the margin of victory. And, with under 2 minutes to go, with the Rangers in a position to potentially rob the Lightning of their payoff once again on a late PP, they got the vital turnover they needed for J.T. Brown to get free for a beautiful 2-on-1 setup to Filppula for the game winning goal. I thought the team was close to turning the corner 3 games ago in the OT home loss to the Panthers, where they played a chippy emotional game and just couldn't get the payoff at the finish line. Tonight they played an emotional game against one of last year's playoff foes and they got the payoff. The schedule is brutal coming up, but maybe this is the rocket fuel the team needed to start to get back on track. Sometimes when in a deep slump, it's not about tactics or any one lineup tweak. It's simply about playing with more emotion and energy and outworking your opponents.
Kudos to the callups from Syracuse to contributing to the night's victory. Honestly, maybe it was a blessing in disguise to have the Crunch's forwards up. People who haven't seen Syracuse the last couple of years might be surprised to know the speed/skill level in the Lightning's AHL pipeline isn't what it was in the Norfolk and early Syracuse days. They play a much different style in Syracuse right now than they do in Tampa Bay, and their offense comes from working hard and manufacturing goals the honest way. If some of that rubs off from the callups onto the Lightning's veterans up top, all the better. And if the Lightning's early season goal scoring troubles forces them to play a more responsible defensive style the rest of the year, which has always been a tough thing for Cooper to preach to such an offensively gifted group, maybe this tough going in the early season has been a blessing in disguise too. We'll see as the next few games unfold.
Jonathan Marchessault was -1 with 2 penalty minutes (for an undeserved diving call on a guy who weighs 5 pounds soaking wet), 3 shots, and 3 hits. These past couple of games have really been his best in a Lightning uniform so far. He needs to find the finish, though.
Joel Vermin had 1 shot and 1 hit in 10:14 in his NHL debut. He looked good. He has NHL skating ability and he was assertive and hustled well. Like Marchessault, he's slightly built, so the real challenge is fighting his way through the backwash in close quarters.
Luke Witkowski had 1 hit in 7:15. The man took some hellacious bumps and found himself in some defensive jams, but he hustled his way out of the holes he found himself in.
Gudlevskis stands on his head.
Kristers Gudlevskis allowed just 1 goal on 48 shots for the victory. That's darned near shades of the Lightning's affiliation with Springfield territory, when guys like Boutin were having to fend off 50-some shots a game. He gets back on track and one ups Wilcox who has had a couple of good starts in a row and now we have two goaltenders cooking in the AHL in a way that the Lightning haven't seen since the heady days of Tokarski and Janus. This is good.
SYR Vermin, (3) (Nesterov, Mormina), 10:45
UTI Zalewski, (3) (Pedan, Fedun), 12:23
SYR Peca, (4) (Vermin, DeAngelo), 1:01 (PP)
Syracuse punctuated their victory tonight with a feverish 5-on-3 PK toward the end of the Third Period to seal the win.
Box score from TheAHL.com.