Witkowski, Luke

NHL Game Night: 3-30-15 Lightning at Canadiens

The most dangerous animal is a wounded animal.

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Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 28 shots for the victory. The percentage wasn't nice, but the degree of difficulty was high on many of Bishop's denials. Considering he was playing behind Anton Stralman and some road cones by the end of the night, it was a masterful performance.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
1:24 TB Namestnikov (8), (Stamkos, Bishop)
4:24 MTL Pacioretty (37), (Plekanec, Markov)(SH)
4:57 TB Drouin (3), (Stralman, Bishop)(PP)
18:07 TB Kucherov (28), (Namestnikov, Palat)

Third Period
0:23 MTL Petry (5), (Eller)
6:21 TB Namestnikov (9), (Palat)
16:10 MTL Subban (14), (Beaulieu, Desharnais)(PP)
19:03 TB Stralman (9), (Boyle)(EN)

Vladislav Namestnikov and Ondrej Palat were the game's first and second stars.

Let's recap, shall we? The Lightning entered this game down 3 regular defensemen (Coburn, Garrison, and Sustr) and an all-star centerman (Johnson). By the end of the game, they lost Victor Hedman to an undisclosed injury that led him to skate just 1 shift in the Third Period. By all rights, the Lightning could have just folded. Montreal, having not won against Tampa Bay all season and seeing an opportunity to jump out to a potential 3 point lead in the division at home with precious few games left to go, had everything to play for. Everything in the stew was against the Lightning. Right?

Wrong. The Lightning just rolled over Montreal like a conquering, unstoppable army to complete a 5-0-0 sweep against the Habs this season. They outshot them 44-28 and outplayed them so badly the Canadiens were booed off their home ice at the end of the Second Period. That wasn't a game. That was the Lightning reaching into Montreal's chest cavity, pulling their heart out, and then feeding it to them. That was a team that outworked Montreal by such a wide margin that it was irrelevant who was back on defense, because for much of the night Montreal simply could not get the puck long enough to put any pressure on the precocious children wearing white Tampa Bay jerseys for it to matter an iota. I've never seen a team that unbelievably undermanned outplay a playoff caliber team by such an unbelievably wide margin. It was majestic. I have no clue who the Lightning will have left to play defense by the time they roll into Toronto tomorrow night. They might have to pull the first kid out of the stands with a Stamkos jersey on and give him a pair of skates at this rate. It doesn't matter, though. I just want to spend the next 18 hours or so basking in the unmistakable power of what this Lightning team is capable of when it truly decides it wants to do something. The last time I felt this good was one of the Lightning's ECF wins in the 7 game series against Boston.

Also, I'd like to say Cedric Paquette is the baddest man on the planet. Dump Truck truly is made of steel. 1 shot, 7 hits, and 1 blocked shot. He had an axle bent at an unnatural angle against the goal post in Detroit and looked absolutely done for the season. And yet, there he is, taking the first shifts and the last shifts of a win in his home province against Montreal. That's a tough man. That's the living embodiment of Lightning want-to.

The Lightning closed back to within 1 point of Montreal for the division lead with both teams having 5 games left to play on the schedule. The Lightning win clinches a playoff spot (foregone conclusion) and puts them at triple-digit points for the season at 101. I have no clue if the Lightning, given how many guys are injured, can finish off this division title run and grab hold of the banner. I do know, unequivocally though, the Lightning are a better team than Montreal. The tape of these 5 games doesn't lie.

Luke Witkowski was +2 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 2 hits, and 3 blocked shots in 13:09. He did what we've come to expect of Witkowski. Move it quickly and don't put yourself in peril. Show snarl when called for. Simple. Efficient.

Nikita Nesterov was +2 with 3 shots, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 15:03. He showed a lot of hustle and jam in his own third of the rink tonight to go along with the usual acumen he has in the offensive third. This was a really good rebound game after the rust he showed against Detroit.

Namestnikov had 2 goals, 3 points, and was +3 with 2 shots and 1 hit in 13:57. He was also 64% on 11 draws. He stepped into Tyler Johnson's spot alongside Kucherov and Palat and played every bit like an all star. Close your eyes and imagine the Lightning lineup with Namestnikov and Drouin with 1 more year of seasoning at this time next season. Glorious, isn't it? Baby Faced Killer is now 3 games away from graduation from prospect status on the website.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Day: 3-28-15 Lightning at Red Wings

When things go completely pear shaped...

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Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 22 shots for the loss. He was fairly sharp, although he seemed to let his focus waver a bit on the third goal, in which Nyquist beat out an icing call to one hand the puck on net.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
5:25 DET Andersson (2), (Quincey, Weiss)
7:19 DET Abdelkader (23), (Nyquist)
9:19 DET Nyquist (24), (Quincey)

Third Period
18:21 DET Glendening (11), (unassisted)(EN)

The game today was almost inconsequential. Jason Garrison was lost at 3:43 of the First Period after being boarded by Justin Abdelkader. At best, it appeared that Garrison might have a sprained shoulder. At worst, you might have some more severe damage to that shoulder or to the collar bone, etc. Looked like weeks to me. Compounding the issue, Cedric Paquette severely hurt his left leg bounding into the post to break up an EN attempt by Abdelkader at the close of the game. That looked like end of season, to me. It's really a shame, too, because I though Dump Truck was one of the few bright spots in today's contest. As it is, best case scenario, the Lightning are going to limp through the final games of the regular season and hope that they get Coburn and Garrison back for the postseason. Worst case, neither will be ready. And Paquette? Let's just say it's a very good think Namestnikov has come on the way he has, because I'm not sure the Lightning will be getting Ceddy back until the Fall.

The Lightning's division title hopes may have taken a mortal hit with the day's injuries, and their viability as a club that can have staying power in the playoffs has also potentially taken a nasty hit. Namestnikov will no doubt just slide into Paquette's roster spot, but there will likely need to be an emergency recall for Garrison while that situation sorts itself out. Garrison's a left sider, so while Luke Witkowski has gotten a look earlier this season, I'm left to wonder if perhaps Slater Koekkoek will get his first taste of the NHL now.

As for the game, it was one of those contests where the circumstances that unfolded seemed to just suck the life right out of the Lightning. It didn't help that the officiating was awful. Abdelkader probably should've gotten 5 and the gate for the hit on Garrison, and there were several other boarding calls on Detroit that went completely uncalled in the First Period. The Lightning survived that, but never found their legs and eventually saw the game snowball against them in the Second Period as the Wings managed to get a couple of goals off delflections and that one-hander that aren't normal goals. I wouldn't call them fluky, but they're just not things you see often, and that has a way of knocking the wind out of your sails, too.

Nikita Nesterov was -2 with 2 shots in 15:41. It was looking like he might be earmarked for a return to Syracuse at some point. Now, it's looking like he's going to be a regular in the team's top six the rest of the way in the regular season. His turnover led to Detroit's second goal, and he showed some signs of rust today, in my opinion. He had a harder time with the pace after being out of the lineup for so long. Hopefully, he catches back up quickly.

Vladislav Namestnikov was -1 in 10:11. Like everyone in white not named "Paquette" or "Morrow", his energy was off tonight. The Lightning announced they were burning one of their last two full callups before the game to keep Vladdy on the roster the rest of the year. Wonder if they can get a "take-back" with what happened to Paquette.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 2-17-15 Lightning at Kings

Lightning PP undermines them again.

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Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 28 shots for the loss. He kept the game close and gave the Lightning a chance, particularly in the Second Period, but the team had no chance when he couldn't maintain contact by keeping out the third goal.

First Period
12:11 TB Nesterov (1), (Palat)

Second Period
7:04 LA Kopitar (12), (Lewis, McNabb)

Third Period
3:36 LA Nolan (4), (King, Shore)
13:59 LA Carter (16), (Doughty, King)
19:23 TB Johnson (21), (Kucherov, Hedman)

The Lightning power play, which has been around 12% for the past couple of months, is evidently < 3% on the backside of back-to-back games. < 3%? It's hard to imagine a professional power play that bad (sans, of course, Syracuse's). The power play is so bad right now, it actually generates momentum for the other team. It's inexcusably bad, in fact.

One night after stepping up and starting to take the bull by the horns, Steven Stamkos gets the puck taken off of him high in the offensive zone on the play that ended up transitioning into the Kings' lead goal. I don't mean to unfairly single anyone out, but he's got to be better.

Luke Witkowski was -2 with 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 10:25. One night after his best performance of his young NHL career, he got crumpled behind his net in the First Period and subsequently co-donned the goat horns by backing down too much in the face of the rush on the Kings' lead goal.

Nikita Nesterov had his first NHL goal and was +1 with 4 penalty minutes, 2 shots, and 2 hits. It was a mixed bag of good and bad. Overall, you have to praise the assertiveness and whatever mistakes he made were mistakes of commission rather than tentative mistakes.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 2-15-15 Lightning at Sharks

The biggest win of the season thus far.

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Ben Bishop sparkled, allowing just 2 goals on 35 shots for the victory. He chose a good night to uncork a bottle of '13-'14 Bishop: an excellent vintage, for sure.

First Period
19:44 TB Stamkos (30), (Stralman, Filppula)

Second Period
7:12 TB Killorn (12), (Callahan, Stamkos)
10:27 SJ Couture (21), (Nieto, Irwin)

Third Period
0:10 TB Palat (12), (unassisted)
11:38 SJ Burns (15), (Marleau, Thornton)(PP)
16:19 TB Paquette (12), (Filppula, Garrison)
17:40 TB Callahan (17), (unassisted)(EN)

Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos, and Ryan Callahan were the game's three stars. Remember what I wrote after the Blues game debacle? The part about the Lightning needing Hedman and Stamkos to step up and be the team's best players? Remember how I also said that when Stamkos is on his game, he makes Ryan Callahan so much better? Case it point: tonight. It wasn't the complete game from either player, but it was a good game from both Hedman and Stamkos, with Stamkos playing an integral role in manufacturing the Lightning's initial 2-0 lead and setting the tone for success. Along with Bishop playing well, you saw the triumvirate that could take the Lightning deep in the playoffs. If those three play well, the Lightning are almost impossible to beat, because it takes pressure off the d-corps and allows the ThatDisputedName/Triplets/AnotherLoveTKO line (I'm not getting into the middle of that mess) to be in a position where they just need to chip in 1 goal instead of carrying the bulk of the scoring load for the Lightning to win.

Beyond those top two lines, you also got a key insurance goal from Cedric Paquette and Jonathan Drouin looking incredibly dangerous all game long, including ringing a post that nearly put the Lightning up 3-0.

Luke Witkowski had 1 shot, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 18:52. To go through a game against the Sharks and play nearly 19 minutes and stay pretty unblemished is solid. It portends good things. Witkowski could be this Lightning team's Nolan Pratt. That's the type of guy you need if you want to win championships: a bottom pair guy who can go up and play second pair minutes when pressed into service and give you some grit, hustle, and steadiness.

Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 2 shots and 1 blocked shot in 15:28. He got stone cold robbed of his first NHL goal by Niemi in the First Period.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 2-12-15 Blues at Lightning

We need to talk...

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Ben Bishop allowed 5 goals on 34 shots for the loss. He didn't stand on his head, and it would've taken one of those kind of nights for him to make good on the slop in front of him tonight.

First Period
1:50 STL Oshie (15), (Steen)
4:47 STL Jaskin (8), (Steen)(PP)

Second Period
8:03 TB Johnson (20), (Kucherov, Stralman)(PP)
12:15 STL Steen (19), (Backes)
14:11 STL Backes (19), (Oshie, Pietrangelo)
15:23 STL Stastny (11), (Berglund, Cole)
17:28 TB Connolly (11), (Filppula)

Third Period
6:31 TB Stamkos (29), (Killorn, Stralman)
18:55 STL Tarasenko (29), (unassisted)(EN)

Let's talk again about effort, because apparently it didn't sink in after the First Period of the Kings game. Let's talk about getting whipped 6-3 on the scoreboard and giving up 44 shots on goal in the game. Let's talk about a team, defensively, putting up about as much resistance as a straw house before the big bad wolf. What would the Lightning call that particular defensive system? The Pamplona Lock? The Turnstyle Trap? I'm not one of these guys who jumps up and down screaming that the defense needs to be a bunch of maulers and that the Lightning need 6 Scott Stevens' out their mashing the bones of their opponents into paste. But, my goodness, how about the defense TRYING win puck battles? How about forwards TRYING to pick up late men cutting into the circles and slot? The team looked allergic to competition tonight, with a complete reticence to even attempt to win 50/50 pucks. This wasn't about getting outmuscled. This was about not even being willing to make the attempt.

It's time for core players to be core players in Tampa Bay, and I'm looking at two guys right now. Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman both wore some pretty big goat horns in this game, and I expect so much better from the two guys who should be the franchise cornerstones.

Stamkos made one of the more horrific turnovers you'll see trying to carry the puck through the high slot of his own zone with the game still very much in play with his team trailing just 2-1. The captain can't make that mistake. Can't do it. And, he can't compound the mistake by allowing himself the luxury of dragging his way through the rest of the period. The effort level was uneven, and when you wear the "C" and you're supposed to be arguably the best player in the league you can't do that. And, as much as I hate to say it, uneven effort's been a theme for Stamkos this season, which is why he hasn't even been the most valuable forward in the Lightning locker room, let alone the best player in the NHL. It's time for Steven Stamkos to play like the player he is. Stow the excuses about the broken leg. If he wants to give in to excuses or drag around feeling sorry for himself or playing tentative, hand in the "C". He's better than what he's showing, and I think he misses Marty St. Louis pushing him, quite frankly. Time to be more of a self-starter and time to be the player the team can follow through the gates of hell.

Equally uneven has been the play of Victor Hedman. The other day I thought he did an amazing job setting the tone against the Ducks by setting up the opening goal. Those types of offensive efforts have been sporadic at best, though, and Hedman's play in his own end have steadily been sliding into dumpster fire territory. Tonight he played like a 6'6" marshmellow. There's no way to put lipstick on it, and the bummy effort he made on Tarasenko's EN goal was absolutely embarrassing. That's just a complete lack of pride, right there. Can't have it. You've got so many young defensemen on this team: Sustr, Barberio, Nesterov, Witkowski. I expect Andrej Sustr to struggle and have moments where he's playing tentative or lacking confidence. You accept that with a guy who has played just under 100 games. Victor Hedman's sitting on 370 games and is probably the best player, athletically, on the Tampa Bay Lightning. There's no excuse. Time to be more of a self-starter and time to be the player this defensive corps can follow through the gates of hell.

Both these guys have it in them, but they've had the luxury to this point of not having to be the alpha dogs because of the depth of talent the Lightning have on the roster. And, yes, I get that Steven Stamkos is sitting on 29 goals and both these guys have good numbers. Great. That doesn't equal championships, though. For the Lightning to reach their full potential and hang banners, they're going to have to push themselves and their teammates to do more and to apply the same level of effort every minute of every practice and every game. The standards for these two guys have to be higher. They're two of the three cornerstones along with Bishop. Efforts like tonight aren't going to cut it down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs. The apprenticeship time is over. Time to pay the cost and play like a boss.

Luke Witkowski was +1 with 1 hit and 2 blocked shots in 18:38. The coaching staff fed him some more ice time, and he showed himself to be responsible and willing to engage physically. God bless him for it, too. Someone on the defensive corps had to.

Vladislav Namestnikov had 1 shot and 1 hit in 9:51. He got called up to replace the injured Paquette and promptly got nicked up in the First Period and was ultimately a non-factor in the game.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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