With the end of the Lightning and Crunch seasons, we conclude our Bolt Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their recent contributions on and off the ice.
The Bolt Prospect of the Week for April 23, 2014 is … Luke Witkowski, D, Syracuse Crunch (AHL – USA).
Twenty-eight Bolt Prospect of the Week awards have been handed out this season, usually for offensive production or goaltending mastery. Not this week.
This week’s award goes to a rarely appreciated player type, a stay-at-home defenseman.
Luke Witkowski finished his rookie pro season last week, taking another step toward his dream of playing in the NHL. Not every prospect can step right into the NHL. Most have to be grown, groomed, and guided along the developmental path to the big show. Witkowski, who is now six seasons removed from his draft year, was named the Syracuse Crunch’s Most Improved Player for the year last week. To celebrate, he scored his second goal of the season on Sunday, though it didn’t make any highlight reels.
Young Bolts defeat Baby Habs. It's an omen!
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 1 goal on 23 shots for the win in possibly his last game in the Lightning organization.
HAM Beaulieu, (7) (Blunden, Tokarski), 8:14 (PP)
SYR Rankin, (16) (Namestnikov), 15:07
SYR Witkowski, (2) (Paradis, Desjardins), 16:17
SYR Marchessault, (23) , 14:27
Jonathan Marchessault and Desjardins were the game's first and third stars.
Syracuse finished the season 1 game under .500, but it's important to note the team did earn points in 10 of its last 13 games. Those expecting an instant reload after seeing 9 prospects under 24 move up to Tampa Bay this season are probably overly optimistic, but the performance of players like Marchessault down the stretch do give hope that Syracuse can get into the postseason again next year.
In the meantime, several Crunch players should join the Lightning and if the team can extend their series against the Habs, could possibly provide some depth options for Jon Cooper.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
The Syracuse Crunch’s 2013-2014 season was defined by hills and valleys.
The proverbial wheels fell off after a fast start, and by the time the Crunch recovered it was too late for a playoff push, leaving lofty pre-season expectations unfulfilled.
The Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2012 American Hockey League affiliate, Norfolk, hoisted the Calder Cup, and the Crunch won the Eastern Conference championship in 2013 but fell in Game 6 of the Calder Cup Finals last June.
“You have to keep the bar that high,” said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler. “As soon as you lower the bar or lower the standard, everybody takes their foot off the gas. That standard has been set here the past couple years. But more than that is the process, the effort, and the commitment level that it took to get to those places – those are the standards you have to keep in place and the winning takes care of itself.”
Montreal defense throws the net over the Lightning.
Montreal Leads the Series 2-0
Anders Lindback allowed 3 goals on 23 shots for the loss before giving way to Kristers Gudlevskis, who allowed 1 on 4 shots the rest of the way. If Cooper had a wild hair to put Gudlevskis in for Game Three, the wraparound goal Gudlevskis allowed might've quieted that thought down. As for Lindback, the third goal went through him on a greasy little bounce back to Gallagher off the blocked shot and he whiffed on the poke check on Bourque's goal, but on balance he played reasonably well and kept the Lightning around for most of the game. Goaltending isn't the reason the Lightning are losing this series so far.
2:34 MTL Desharnais (1), (Subban, Pacioretty)(PP)
10:35 MTL Bourque (1), (Vanek, Subban)
11:46 MTL Gallagher (1), (unassisted)
14:39 MTL Bourque (2), (Eller)
18:01 TB Purcell (1), (Hedman, Filppula)(PP)
The first 10 minutes of the game took on the dimension of a lot of the regular season games between Tampa Bay and Montreal with the Lightning dominating possession and the Canadiens getting a few counter attacks in. That's where the Lightning need to get this series to get back into it. If possession is even or tilted in favor of Montreal, Price is probably too good to overcome. Unfortunately, in the second half of the First Period, a 4-minute minor on Stamkos started to take the starch out of the Lightning's offensive flow and when Desharnais scored the PP goal early in the Second Period after a ticky tack call on Panik, the offensive flow completely dissipated altogether. There's just too much inconsistency moving up the ice as a unit. Passing is off. Guys aren't consistently supporting their linemates. It wasn't as lopsided as the score indicates (shots were 27-26), but the Lightning need to get better within their structure to defeat Montreal's. It's a process, and they were certainly more together and composed than in Game One, and this series is nowhere near over. I reiterate the lesson of the 2003 series against Washington, when a young, talented Lightning team really looked terrible against a veteran Caps team in Game One and Game Two. Once they figured it out in Game Three, they swept the rest of that series. I have a feeling the Lightning may be capable of a similar breakout, but getting that first win is going to be the toughest. Hopefully the Lightning realize that and also realize the worst thing they can do at this moment is panic. Just win one game. That's all they need to worry about right now.
Mike Kostka had 1 shot, 1 hit, and 2 blocked shots in 13:13. His lack of speed and strength and decision making with the puck were a bit of an issue again tonight. At this stage, if I'm Cooper, I'm going to try to spark something by throwing Mark Barberio in against his hometown team for Game Three in lieu of Kostka, but we'll see how he plays it.
Cedric Paquette was -1 with 12 penalty minutes, 2 shots, and 2 hits in 10:18. He certainly wasn't at fault for the minus in the first Bourque goal where Salo was turned the wrong way, and he had a pretty glorious chance on Price in tight off a nice setup by Purcell. I like what Paquette brings, and on paper he's a playoff-style performer. But, needing a spark, again, if I'm Cooper I'm going in with Pyatt in Game Three.
It's officially a losing season for Syracuse.
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 5 goals on 24 shots for the loss.
RCH Schaller, (9) (Gillies, Irwin), 7:44
RCH Adam, (29) , 11:04
RCH Irwin, (7) (Varone, Ruhwedel), 12:42 (PP)
RCH Deslauriers, (19) (Sundher, Porter), 2:49
SYR Marchessault, (22) (Connolly), 3:33
RCH Varone, (18) (Larsson, Hutchings), 15:27
Syracuse falls to 2 games under .500 with 1 game left to play. It's disappointing the team didn't finish stronger to set up what you hope is a rebound year next season.
Box score from TheAHL.com.