NHL Game Night 10/10: Panthers at Lightning
3-0-0 is a great start. However, I was not impressed with the team's play tonight.
Make no mistake about it, Johan Holmqvist stole the win tonight with a 30 saves on 31 shots effort that included multiple odd man rushes and breakaways. He got the win despite the Lightning being outshot 31-23 by an inferior opponent.
I will lay blame at the feet of the forwards. In general, this group is overpassing and they're trying to cut cute passing plays East-West rather than moving the puck down into the zone North-South and working the cycle on the forecheck. And when you do that high in the offensive zone just after getting over the blueline and you get your passes picked off it will be an odd man rush the other way every single time. Every. Single. Time. And it happened over and over again tonight.
First line: Martin St. Louis has two shots so far this season. TWO. This is from a guy who scored 43 goals last season, and yet he seems to show no proclivity to shoot first so far this season. The allure of passing the puck to a Richard Trophy winner may be strong, but St. Louis needs to show the confidence to take his shots. He has passed up far too many golden opportunities from the slot and the circles this season to try the perfect pass to #4 and that needs to change.
Second line: I am unimpressed so far with Michel Ouellet. Lets make it official. I'm not impressed. I think he's stealing money so far. He's slow to get in on the forecheck and on the rare occassion he does he doesn't seems terribly willing to compete physically to make a play. I've been pleasantly surprised with Jan Hlavac so far. He made one really bad cross ice pass tonight but in general he's been active, he's been competing, and he's been generating chances. Ouellet's been a bit of a passenger, and we're seeing a bit of the reason why the Pens saw it fit to walk away from his arbitration award. There's no doubt this guy has a cannon for a shot (although so far this year it's been sighted about as often as a Filip Kuba body check) but the rest of his game seems absent to this point. He was a power play specialist in Pittsburgh and the Lightning are giving him an opportunity to try and prove he's an even strength scoring line performer as well. So far he hasn't seized that opportunity though, and I wonder how long it will be before John Tortorella decides to send a message to Michel.
One way to send a message would be to bust Ouellet down to the checking lines and give Mathieu Darche, who played very well tonight, an opportunity to play with Brad Richards. Darche had an assist, two shots on goal, and one hit in 10:35 tonight. I dare say he probably made the Lightning full time this season with the way he played and that either Craig MacDonald or Andreas Karlsson may be the one to go once Karlsson's abdominal pull heals. He created Chris Gratton's first goal tonight by using his speed off the rush and then in the third period generated another big scoring chance with his speed and hustle. He gives the team an added dimension of scoring punch on the lower lines and he gives them an option to spot on the scoring lines in case one of the scoring line forwards isn't playing up to par.
And Gratton has been fantastic so far this season. Whether its Ward and Darche or Tarnasky and Roy he plays with, he has created chances and given this team much needed physical spine. And that's the good news, other than the win, from tonight's lackluster play. A year ago the Lightning would not have won this game. They wouldn't have gotten the scoring from the lower lines and they would not have gotten the goaltending they did tonight from Holmqvist. That points to good things ahead in the long term, even if there are short term adjustments to be made.
Gratton led the Lightning attack with 2 goals while Ouellet, Darche, Jason Ward, and Paul Ranger each added individual assists. Ranger, it should be noted, has a point in every game so far this season.
Rookie Mike Lundin played just 7:47 in a close game registering one blocked shot and taking his first big regular season NHL hit in the third period. Doug Janik played an even more sparing 6:47 receiving just 9 shifts.