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NHL Game Night: 10-21-17 Penguins at Lightning

This feels different.

PIT-1
TB-7

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed just 1 goal on 29 shots for the victory. He's been lights out all season, but lately he's been putting together the stats to match. Really want to terrify an opposing NHL GM? Remind them Vasiy's only 23 years old. You're welcome.

First Period
1:36 TB Kucherov (9), (Hedman, Stamkos)(PP)
14:16 TB Stamkos (3), (Namestnikov, Kucherov)(PP)
19:59 TB Gourde (1), (Coburn, Point)

Second Period
0:30 TB Point (4), (Palat, Gourde)
5:58 TB Stralman (1), (Sergachev)
7:12 TB Kucherov (10), (Stamkos, Killorn)

Third Period
10:32 TB Sergachev (3), (Stamkos, Namestnikov)(PP)
18:18 PIT Guentzel (3), (Rust, Letang)(PP)

Steven Stamkos, Vasilevskiy, and Nikita Kucherov were the game's three stars.

I wasn't able to watch the game, so rather than comment on the particulars of this game I want to frame the performance of these first nine games of the campaign and offer some overall perspective.

The Tampa Bay Lightning missed the playoffs by one point last season partly because of injuries, partly because of a bizarre goaltending situation, but probably most of all because the team just didn't seem to have the maturity to approach every game with the necessary urgency. After several years of success, the club seemed to think its bona fides alone were necessary to win hockey games, often discarding good habits and taking shortcuts on the way to being dead last in the Eastern Conference in February before a late season charge nearly punched their postseason ticket. Fresh off that disappointment the Lightning rebuilt their leadership council this season with Stamkos and Ryan Callahan returning from injury and Dan Girardi and Chris Kunitz added into the mix in free agency. Still, through the first two games against the Florida Panthers, this team didn't look like it had learned its lesson as it headed into a games against league royalty like Washington and Pittsburgh that looked like colossal landmines on the schedule.

Seven games later the Lightning are 7-1-1-0. This feels different.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you tonight's drubbing of the defending Stanley Cup champions alone means the Lightning are ready to hoist the hardware themselves. Certainly, an objective observer will point out Antti Niemi hasn't exactly cloaked himself in glory in either of his encounters with the Lightning this year. But, with wins against a bevy of other quality opponents and a team that seems to have found a steely eyed determination and cold blooded professional, it's hard not to consider the Lightning as one of the early season contenders from the East. The only times I've seen this from the Lightning were the second half of the '03-'04 season when that team followed their leadership council of Dave Andreychuk and Tim Taylor all the way to a Stanley Cup, and the 2011 playoff run where Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis applied what they had learned from that run and came within an eyelash of winning it all before going down in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals to Boston. The current Lightning core never quite seemed to have the maturity and experience to fully grasp the level of intensity it takes to really and truly be great in all three zones day in and day out. Close, at times? Sure. But, it took the embarrassment of last season and the realization they've probably reached about the midpoint of their Stanley Cup window to get to this point. Now, they look like a team willing (and fully able) to do what it takes. This feels different, and I like it.

Slater Koekkoek had 1 hit in 11:15.

Yanni Gourde had 1 goal, 1 assist, and was +2 with 2 penalty minutes and 4 shots. He was also 33% on 9 draws. It was just a matter of time. If he's putting up 4 shots a night, he's a 20 goal scorer this year, I think.

Gabriel Dumont had 2 shots and 2 hits in 12:18. He was also 38% on 13 draws.

Jake Dotchin was +2 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 3 hits in 12:52.

Mikhail Sergachev had 1 goal and 1 assist and was +1 with 1 shot and 2 hits in 16:56. Now we're getting close to the workload I think he needs to get to for the Lightning to really hit the higher end of some of its season's goals. When you're in a game that has nearly 40 minutes of garbage time, clearly there's no better time to let a young horse like Sergachev get plenty of reps. He did well with them, I see.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.