Witkowski, Luke

NHL Game Night: 2-7-17 Kings at Lightning

When Kucherov got his mojo back.

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TB-5

Ben Bishop turned aside all 28 shots he faced for the shutout victory. Got help from his horseshoe to usher back in a night of U. of Maine Justice.

First Period
7:46 TB Drouin (16), (unassisted)

Second Period
6:55 TB Kucherov (20), (Namestnikov, Sustr)
11:02 TB Dumont (1), (Brown, Hedman)
18:18 TB Kucherov (21), (Namestnikov, Witkowski)

Third Period
13:08 TB Coburn (2), (Drouin, Vermin)

Nikita Kucherov, Bishop, and Vladislav Namestnikov were the game's three stars. After struggling to regain his usual form for more than a month, Kucherov showed signs of getting back to his hold self in the last game against Anaheim. I'm happy to say the indications from that game were real and that Kucherov looks like he might be ready for a strong stretch run. As for the much maligned Namestnikov, he needs more nights like this because he's playing for his job in Tampa Bay at this point.

Do these back to back wins mean the Lightning suddenly have a chance to stride back into the playoff chase? Well, to comfortably make it in at 96 points, they'd need 42 of a remaining 56 points. Is a .750 winning clip realistic? There's your answer.

Brayden Point was +1 with 1 shot and 1 hit in 14:49. He was also 29% on 7 draws. Point's next game will be his 41st of the season and he will graduate from prospect status on the website.

Luke Witkowski had a helper and was +1 with 1 shot and 3 hits in 8:25.

Jake Dotchin was +1 with 5 hits in 14:00.

Gabriel Dumont had his first goal in a Lightning jersey and was +1 with 1 shot and 1 hit in 10:42. He was also an uncharacteristic 17% on 6 draws.

Joel Vermin had a helper and was +1 with 1 blocked shot in 10:29.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 2-2-17 Senators at Lightning

Dumpster fire continues to rage unchecked.

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Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 29 shots for the loss. He had one goal he probably needs back that went in off his glove. I can't fault him the rest, considering the drive by defense we saw most of the night. Still, it's a step backward after a string of quality starts by Vasilevskiy.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
3:39 TB Johnson (16), (Kucherov)
6:33 OTT Stone (17), (Smith, Ceci)
11:03 OTT Turris (18), (Hoffman, Karlsson)(PP)

Third Period
2:53 OTT Hoffman (18), (Turris, Stone)(PP)
7:46 TB Point (5), (Boyle, Palat)
9:22 OTT Stone (18), (Karlsson, Brassard)
19:35 OTT Kelly (4), (Karlsson)(EN)

Brayden Point was the game's third star. He's one of the players who needs the most vetting coming down the stretch of this lost season. He's responded well so far, and if he shows he's up to the task of playing center at the NHL level he may make Tyler Johnson expendable. Johnson, despite the goal he scored tonight, continues to make some very questionable decisions with the puck that are just infuriating to watch. He was a very good north-south player who has suddenly turned into an Old Marty St. Louis-style backward passing pain in the buttocks/liability, without the garbage time points.

At this point, we're watching the sad shell of a team that already appears to be going through the motions and anticipating their offseason tee times. I'm seeing players in position defensively but not making the extra effort to close out opposing shooters. I'm seeing board battles routinely lost by the team's best defenseman, Hedman. I'm seeing numerous mental mistakes at both bluelines with the puck by players who are just playing unfocused, careless hockey. At this point, it's clear the leadership of this team has evaporated and I've written off the chance of this team waking up until, maybe, Stamkos returns from injury. Get ready for a savagely bad next dozen or so games, at least.

Lay Down for Liljegren?

Make #2 for Makar?

Point had a goal and was +1 with 1 shot in 13:18. He was also 29% on 7 draws. He's been the silver lining in the past two very dreary games.

Luke Witkowski had 2 hits and 1 blocked shot in 10:58.

Jake Dotchin was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 3 hits, and 2 blocked shots in 19:09.

Gabriel Dumont was -1 with 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 8:14.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 1-21-17 Lightning at Coyotes

Lightning's season dies in the desert.

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Ben Bishop allowed 5 goals on 17 shots for the loss before being pulled for Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy turned aside all 6 shots he faced the rest of the way.

First Period
8:05 ARI Reider (9), (Vrbata, Ekman-Larsson)
10:19 ARI Vrbata (11), (Hanzal, Reider)
18:39 TB Paquette (4), (Dumont, Bournival)

Second Period
14:56 ARI Stone (1), (Hanzal, Vrbata)(PP)
18:25 ARI Fischer (1), (McGinn, Burmistrov)
19:44 ARI Hanzal (10), (Vrbata, Reider)

Third Period
9:45 TB Namestnikov (6), (Filppula, Palat)
14:18 TB Palat (10), (Johnson, Nesterov)(PP)

Tampa Bay outshot Arizona by a very significant 48-23 margin, but that only underlines what a mess the team's goaltending has been this season. Bishop allowed two of the softest goals you'll see in your life in the First Period to put his team down 2-0, and lookee there, the team lost the game 5-3. Soft goals, as they often are, turn out to be the margin of error. Unfortunately, the Lightning have had a soft goal or questionable goaltending gaffe in each game of the current road trip, which is horribly demoralizing to a team. When you have to work twice as hard as the other team for a goal because your goaltending is faulty, it robs your team of its spirit. It really does.

The calculus now is pretty much impossible to overcome, to the extent that I'm ready to write the team's eulogy. They'd have to play about .750 hockey the rest of the way to get back on playoff pace, and that seems impossible given all the challenges the team is facing. The goaltending has been disappointing all season long. The center play has been steadily devolving since Steven Stamkos and subsequently Brayden Point got injured earlier in the season. Key forwards like "The Triplets" have suddenly gone missing on the scoresheet over the past several weeks. And, the defense continues to struggle to compensate for the team's inability to consistently play its possession style game and against the counters they routinely face when that style goes off the rails.

The Lightning have an excellent core of their hockey team, in general, and a rebuild is certainly not warranted. But, a serious in-season evaluation and a retooling is definitely in order. Bottom line, this team probably has one goaltending move, two or three moves on the blueline, and three or four moves at forward to make. Not big moves, in all cases, but necessary moves. If done shrewdly, and if the Lightning can get a little more luck with injuries in 2018-2019, there's little to suggest this year won't just be a little bump in the road and not a sinkhole.

Luke Witkowski was +1 with 1 shot and 1 hit in 8:06.

Jake Dotchin was -1 with 4 hits in 11:47 in his NHL debut.

Gabriel Dumont had a helper and was +1 with 5 shots, 6 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 13:53. He was also 71% on 7 draws. His game tonight was the continuation of a fantastic road trip by the line of Paquette/Dumont/Bournival, which along with the play of Jonathan Drouin has been the real bright spot of going out west.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 1-19-17 Lightning at Sharks

Soft goal and lack of finishing doom promising Lightning performance.

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Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 24 shots for the loss. His soft goal to start the Third Period ultimately became the margin of losing, which soft goals often do. Ben Bishop got away with it against the Kings and managed to salvage a point against the Ducks with questionable mistakes, but it's not sustainable for any team to regularly be spotting teams a free goal.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
5:01 SJ Carpenter (2), (Martin, Burns)
6:51 TB Drouin (14), (Boyle, Kucherov)(PP)

Third Period
0:22 SJ Couture (15), (Labanc, Donskoi)

Jonathan Drouin was the game's second star. His highlight reel goal was the lone bright spot in another frustrating night at the office for the Lightning's finishers. They had some chances, but ultimately 25 shots and a correspondingly low number of overall scoring chances isn't enough. Better play is needed from the likes of Nikita Kucherov and the team's other big guns even as they start to get the defensive side of their game right.

The loss means Tampa Bay will again lose ground on playoff pacing in this 10-game segment of the season. How much? That remains to be seen. The team will be at least 7 points off pace by the end of the segment.

Luke Witkowski had 2 shots, 2 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 12:58.

Gabriel Dumont had 5 hits in 10:17.

Joel Vermin was -2 with 2 hits in 5:17.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 1-17-17 Lightning at Ducks

Hockey gods unfair to the Lightning.

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ANH-2 (OT)

Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 21 shots for the loss. He played reasonably well, but you can make an argument his first goal allowed on a strange play where he vacated his crease before the whistle could be blown on a mask issue ultimately cost him a shutout and Tampa Bay a second point.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
4:36 TB Filppula (7), (Nesterov, Stralman)
4:57 ANH Getzlaf (6), (unassisted)

Third Period
NO SCORING

Overtime
0:54 ANH Rakell (19), (Kesler)(PP)

Jonathan Drouin was the game's third star. Best player on the ice, and it wasn't even close. Like many of the Lightning's players in the game, he had everything but the finish.

It's unfair really. This was probably the Lightning's best game of the season in all three zones. The attention to detail and hustle over the last couple of games has been amazing, and the Lightning pretty well dominated this game for 60 minutes with only the occasional uprising from Anaheim's top line. It's a shame the Lightning couldn't find one more finish, and it's a shame the Lightning ultimately lost the game on a power play off a penalty Tyler Johnson had to take in OT when he lost an edge pulling up in the offensive zone on a rush. The hockey gods are cruel.

The standings calculus is so dire right now it almost doesn't bear dwelling on. Suffice it to say the Lightning started to turn their game around about two weeks too late, and the margin of error for this segment is that they need to get 7 of 8 remaining points in this 10 game segment just to tread water relative to their position of 6 games ago.

Luke Witkowski had 2 penalty minutes and 3 hits in 9:22.

Gabriel Dumont was -1 with 1 shot and 3 hits in 8:03. He played a lot with Bournival and Paquette on a checking line that was absolutely fantastic in this contest. They were good against the Kings. They were dominant against guys well above their pay grade in this contest.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Day: 1-16-17 Lightning at Kings

Lightning stave off Kings even with Hedman ill.

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Ben Bishop just allowed 1 goal on 32 shots for the victory. His puckhandling gaffe turned out to be the only goal he allowed. That's how you overcome a mistake in style: with perfection and a trove of situational saves.

First Period
8:33 LAK Clifford (3), (unassisted)
14:33 TB Johnson (13), (Drouin, Witkowski)

Second Period
18:47 TB Boyle (11), (Filppula, Kucherov)

Third Period
NO SCORING

Jonathan Drouin and Anton Stralman were the game's first and second stars.

The Lightning showed a lot of grit under the gun of a lot of adversity when an ill Victor Hedman tapped out of the game in the pregame warmups. The Lightning got big minutes from Andrej Sustr and Nikita Nesterov to try to make up the difference, and they put in an inspired effort with their hustle and tenacity against the bigger, stronger Kings club.

Luke Witkowski had a helper and was +1 with 7 penalty minutes and 3 hits in 10:05. He did his job today setting the tone with a monster hit early in the game and then answering the bell to drop the gloves in an ensuing altercation. He got their minds right for what they needed to do in this game.

Gabriel Dumont had 4 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 9:56.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 1-8-17 Lightning at Penguins

Better effort. Crushing result.

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PIT-6

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 6 goals on 40 shots for the loss. He actually played really well for the first 40 minutes of this contest, but a guy can only face so many breakaways, odd man rushes, and unmarked defenders with point blank chances. At this point, his confidence looks shot and the Lightning may be unnecessarily toying with the prospect of ruining a young player the hockey world had thought was incapable of being ruined.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
2:19 TB Drouin (12), (Filppula, Hedman)
6:44 PIT Sheary (10), (Rust, Crosby)
11:14 PIT Fehr (5), (Cullen)

Third Period
2:33 PIT Kunitz (4), (Maatta, Bonino)
3:28 PIT Wilson (5), (unassisted)
5:40 TB Namestnikov (5), (Drouin, Stralman)(PP)
7:50 PIT Kessel (13), (Crosby, Sheary)
17:20 PIT Letang (3), (Schultz, Cullen)(PP)

For 40+ minutes tonight was a much more spirited effort than we've seen of late. Imperfect, but the effort level and urgency level was there. Vlad Namestnikov even had a wide open wraparound that looked like a sure goal that would've knotted the game at 2-2 early in the Third Period. He blew the chance and then the wheels came off with the Lightning playing their 3rd in 4 days. This is a team that's played as much hockey as any team in hockey over the last 2.5 years and one that has largely had the same group of guys for that run with very few changes by Steve Yzerman. That probably has contributed to their proneness to injury and it probably explains how mentally, emotionally, and spiritually drained they've looked over this death march through the middle part of the season. Should they not find a way to snap out of it soon, wholesale changes will need to be made in the offseason. Rebuilding? No. But likely a retooling of the defense and lower lines, along with a strategic move or two on the scoring lines to inject something fresh into a stale and struggling group of players that need... something.

Luke Witkowski was -2 with 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 10:16.

Slater Koekkoek was -1 with 1 blocked shot in 11:10.

Matthew Peca had 1 shot, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 9:08. He was also 55% on 11 draws. I thought he had a small rebound today after two subpar games in a row the last couple of times out.

Adam Erne had 2 shots, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 11:19. His linemates need to get used to how crafty he is passing the puck out of the corners and in behind the attacking cage.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Day: 1-7-16 Lightning at Flyers

The Lightning's season is circling the drain.

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Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 44 shots for the loss. He was markedly better today than his past couple of starts, but unfortunately he didn't get much support in front of him as the Lightning got outpossessed and outplayed at the skater positions.

First Period
5:34 TB Kucherov (16), (Namestnikov, Nesterov)

Second Period
1:11 PHI Konecny (6), (Voracek, MacDonald)
8:42 PHI Couturier (7), (Provorov, Voracek)
9:51 PHI Raffl (8), (Giroux, Schultz)
16:44 TB Killorn (13), (Nesterov, Drouin)
17:41 PHI Gudas (2), (Schenn)

Third Period
NO SCORING

The Lightning just got whipped today. They got outshot 44-26 and the score reflected it. They simply played a flat game, lost most every 50/50 puck, and their passing was awful in all three zones. There's no excuse for this team to play this flat, given that they should be fighting for the playoff lives at the moment. We're getting very near to a point of no return from which the Lightning simply won't have a realistic chance to get back into it in the standings. You'd think you'd see the urgency because of that. Nope. This team, after two and a half years of heavy lifting, just looks out of gas. There's consequences (big roster changes) that come with that if that happens to be the case.

Luke Witkowski was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 13:29. I thought he played a really nice game this afternoon.

Matthew Peca was -2 in 13:07. He made a pretty horrendous turnover to Voracek at the end of the First Period that Vasilevskiy bailed him out of. Beyond that, it was his second straight subpar outing. He's probably not much longer for the NHL on this callup stint if this keeps up.

Adam Erne had 3 shots and 3 hits in 8:36. He played another nice game today. He had some big hits, stole the puck to create a scoring chance for a teammate in the offensive zone on another play, and drew a penalty getting hooked on a breakaway on another play. He was one of the few Lightning players who looked like he had energy today.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

AHL Game Night: 12-28-16 Bears at Crunch

Wall-cox rises up.

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SYR-3 (OT)

Adam Wilcox allowed 2 goals on 19 shots for the win. That's still not a warm and fuzzy stat line in terms of save percentage, but Wilcox has needed a performance like this since getting the #1 job in full with Gudlevskis being recalled. He made a lot of key situational saves tonight to make a victory possible.

First Period
16:17 SYR Brodeur (1), (Condra, Conacher)(SH)
16:43 SYR Gourde (9), (unassisted)(SH)
18:47 HER Mitchell (4), (Lewington, Stephenson)

Second Period
1:20 HER Thomas (14), (Djoos, Bourque)(PP)

Third Period
NO SCORING

Overtime
3:01 SYR Gourde (10), (Witkowski, Taormina)

Yanni Gourde and Erik Condra were the game's first and second stars. Luke Witkowski was hosed given that feathery soft give-and-go he worked to make Gourde's game winner happen.

Syracuse, at least in terms of overall balance of play, seemed to be in a more dominant position tonight with the return of a lot of key regulars like Conacher, Condra, and Richard from Tampa Bay now that they've had some time to get re-acclimated. The win moves Syracuse out to a 2 point lead in the North Division, and just as importantly this was a quality victory against a good Hershey team from the other side of the conference where the teams seem a little stronger, on paper, so far this year.

Box score from TheAHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 12-10-16 Penguins at Lightning

Despite valiant effort, the hole gets deeper for Tampa Bay.

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TB-3

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 37 shots for the loss. A lot of bang-bang plays from prime scoring areas a big gunners. Can't blame Vasilevskiy for those.

First Period
12:03 PIT Crosby (19), (Dumoulin, Letang)
17:57 TB Drouin (5), (Stralman, Kucherov)(PP)

Second Period
3:38 TB Filppula (6), (Nesterov)
10:19 TB Drouin (6), (Garrison, Namestnikov)
17:25 PIT Malkin (11), (Kessel, Letang)(PP)

Third Period
5:08 PIT Crosby (20), (Kessel, Letang)(PP)
8:36 PIT Malkin (12), (Daley, Kessel)(PP)

Jonathan Drouin as the game's second star after leaving the game for stitches with a cut on his cheek in the First Period and coming back to score two goals. His performance is something to build on moving forward.

Tampa Bay got outshot 37-23, so I cannot sit here with a straight face and tell you the Lightning were the better team in the run of play tonight. But, 5 on 5, I do think they competed hard and defended fairly well, and it hurts that this is the result they got. Pittsburgh got the benefit of their usual officiating advantage and they rode it to the win on the power play, and even still Val Filppula had a wide open cage on a chance he shot back into Murray that should've allowed Tampa Bay to get at least a point out of the night. The problem is there are no moral victories at this point, and after the Lightning close out this 10-game segment of the season they will be at least 4 points behind a comfortable playoff pace. Those are hard points to be chasing down the rest of the season.

Brayden Point was 64% on draws in 15:33. Impressive work.

Luke Witkowski was +1 with 3 hits in 7:46.

Joel Vermin was +1 with 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 13:57.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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