Witkowski, Luke

NHL Game Night: 11-19-15 Rangers at Lightning

The turning point of the season?

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Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 21 shots for the win. He was sparkling. Sharp as a razor, including stopping a penalty shot by Kreider. He really did well to correct the 5-hole issues he had against Pirri in the last game in denying Kreider tonight.

First Period
14:47 TB Killorn (3), (Filppula)

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
13:43 NYR Moore (2), (unassisted)
18:55 TB Filppula (2), (Brown)(SH)

Bishop and Valtteri Filppula were the game's first and second stars.

The Lightning have been getting better in terms of their effort and energy level in recent games, but they've been getting zero payoff to this point with the ultimate indignity coming on the late goal in their 1-0 loss at Florida in the last game out. That futility coupled with the sudden rash of injuries that left 5 forwards out with injury for tonight's game and the fact the Rangers were going for their 10th consecutive win provided the recipe for a potential blood bath. And then something happened...

Tonight the Lightning played their most honest game of the season. Not their flashiest. Not their best. Their most honest. They hustled to loose pucks. They threw their bodies in front of shots. They took hits to make plays. The Rangers worked really hard, and this is no slight on New York's effort level. But, for maybe the first time this season, the Lightning simply wanted the 2 points more tonight by a clear and decisive margin. The old adage is that the harder you work the luckier you get, and that rang true tonight. Killorn's game opening goal was a heinous softie by Lundqvist and that ended up being the margin of victory. And, with under 2 minutes to go, with the Rangers in a position to potentially rob the Lightning of their payoff once again on a late PP, they got the vital turnover they needed for J.T. Brown to get free for a beautiful 2-on-1 setup to Filppula for the game winning goal. I thought the team was close to turning the corner 3 games ago in the OT home loss to the Panthers, where they played a chippy emotional game and just couldn't get the payoff at the finish line. Tonight they played an emotional game against one of last year's playoff foes and they got the payoff. The schedule is brutal coming up, but maybe this is the rocket fuel the team needed to start to get back on track. Sometimes when in a deep slump, it's not about tactics or any one lineup tweak. It's simply about playing with more emotion and energy and outworking your opponents.

Kudos to the callups from Syracuse to contributing to the night's victory. Honestly, maybe it was a blessing in disguise to have the Crunch's forwards up. People who haven't seen Syracuse the last couple of years might be surprised to know the speed/skill level in the Lightning's AHL pipeline isn't what it was in the Norfolk and early Syracuse days. They play a much different style in Syracuse right now than they do in Tampa Bay, and their offense comes from working hard and manufacturing goals the honest way. If some of that rubs off from the callups onto the Lightning's veterans up top, all the better. And if the Lightning's early season goal scoring troubles forces them to play a more responsible defensive style the rest of the year, which has always been a tough thing for Cooper to preach to such an offensively gifted group, maybe this tough going in the early season has been a blessing in disguise too. We'll see as the next few games unfold.

Jonathan Marchessault was -1 with 2 penalty minutes (for an undeserved diving call on a guy who weighs 5 pounds soaking wet), 3 shots, and 3 hits. These past couple of games have really been his best in a Lightning uniform so far. He needs to find the finish, though.

Joel Vermin had 1 shot and 1 hit in 10:14 in his NHL debut. He looked good. He has NHL skating ability and he was assertive and hustled well. Like Marchessault, he's slightly built, so the real challenge is fighting his way through the backwash in close quarters.

Luke Witkowski had 1 hit in 7:15. The man took some hellacious bumps and found himself in some defensive jams, but he hustled his way out of the holes he found himself in.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

Koekkoek, Witkowski Work Together in Return to Crunch


By Jeremy Houghtaling

After being two of the final cuts from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s training camp, Slater Koekkoek and Luke Witkowski are back together on the Crunch blueline.

The two defensemen, paired together for the Syracuse season opener in Lehigh Valley Saturday, have quickly renewed the chemistry that made them one of the team’s top defensive duos last season. Both are working at rounding out their games as they prepare to take the next, permanent step to the National Hockey League.

“They both had real good camps and Tampa was happy with both of them,” said Crunch head coach Rob Zettler. “There’s players up there that have established positions, and they have to understand that. But the other part is that they still need to work on some of the things in their game that they can get better at. They’re both very good hockey players and able to play in the NHL, but both can improve and keep getting better.”

NHL Preseason Game Night: 10-1-15 Stars at Lightning

Lightning start to tighten up in the stretch run to the regular season.

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Ben Bishop allowed just 2 goals on 25 shots for the victory. The Lightning seemed to indicate Bishop would get just a couple of games in during the preseason to tune things up. He'll need to carry a heavy load in the first couple of months of the regular season with Vasilevskiy on the shelf, so two is fine with me, and he looked solid in both.

First Period
0:33 TB Kucherov (1), (Palat)

Second Period
15:47 DAL McKenzie (1), (Fiddler, Demers)
16:31 TB Filppula (1), (Killorn, Nesterov)

Third Period
4:51 DAL Nichushkin (1), (Seguin)
15:28 TB Brown (1), (Drouin, Sustr)

Valtteri Filppula, Nikita Nesterov, and Alex Killorn were the game's three stars.

Both teams had most, albeit not all, of the bullets loaded in the gun, so this was a good test for the Lightning and a good result after the strange clunker they had in Johnstown against the Pens (BTW, hey, did you know that night was NBCSN's debut of the movie Slapshot that was filmed in Johnstown?!). It wasn't without a price after Nikita Kucherov exited early with a lower body injury, but assuming that was just precautionary, the Lightning have to feel pretty good about the night. They held the Stars to a reasonable shots and goals total, their bell cow goaltender played well, and they got nicely distributed scoring from 3 of 4 of their apparent regular season lines. Bonus: J.T. Brown is actually starting to finish plays. If he finishes just 1/4 of the A chances he generates with his hustle and speed, I figure that's 15-20 goals right there.

Mike Angelidis was -1 with 5 penalty minutes, 3 hits, and he was 50% on draws in 11:28.

Jonathan Marchessault had 4 shots in 14:07.

Luke Witkowski had 9 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 4 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 13:22.

Nesterov had a helper and was +2 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 4 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 24:06, as the Lightning gave him a good, hard look tonight and he responded well. He also had 6 shots that he took that were blocked that didn't make it through on net.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Preseason Game Night: 9-26-15 Lightning at Stars

Emery opens the door in the Third Period. Will Gudlevskis step through it.

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Ray Emery allowed 6 goals on 26 shots for the loss in his first full game of action in the preseason. The stat line is ugly, especially in the Third Period where he allowed 3 goals on 9 shots. My theory remains the same: I think the Lightning would be thrilled for Kristers Gudlevskis to take the backup job in October and November until Vasilevskiy returns, but they're not going to hand it to him. He has to win it from Emery and right now Emery opened the door to Kristers.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
0:42 TB Namestnikov (1), (Nesterov, Drouin)(PP)
4:17 DAL Lindell (1), (Honka, Shore)(PP)
11:09 DAL Seguin (1), (Klingberg, Sharp)
13:24 TB Drouin (1), (Blujus, Marchessault)(PP)
18:21 DAL Sharp (1), (Seguin, Smith)

Third Period
2:01 TB Koekkoek (1), (Gourde, McGinn)
4:59 DAL Ully (1), (Smith, Goligoski)
6:47 DAL Seguin (2), (Ranford, Johns)
7:18 DAL Ranford (1), (Shore, Lindell)

The result tonight wasn't terribly surprising. This was another case of Dallas playing most of their NHLers against a depleted Lightning lineup that was sitting out its top two lines and best defensemen. Still, it's disappointing to have a game tied 3-3 early in the Third Period and then surrender 3 goals in less that 2 and a half minutes to spoil it. You'll no doubt see cuts en masse now as Syracuse Crunch camp is about to start overseas.

Matt Taormina was -1 with 2 blocked shots in 21:34. He'll likely be packing for Crunch camp now. I don't anticipate a lot of danger that he'll be plucked off waivers.

Slater Koekkoek had a goal and was -1 with 2 shots in 18:37. He's played well. I wouldn't be shocked to see him get an extended look, but I'd guess the nature of Syracuse's overseas camp probably makes it harder to keep him with Tampa Bay.

Brayden Point was -1 with 1 shot, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 15:19. He was also 23% on 13 draws. He's just a puppy, age-wise, and I'd expect the Lightning to pull the trigger here soon to send him back for his final season of junior hockey.

Tanner Richard was -1 with 2 shots and 3 hits in 13:55. He was also 36% on 11 draws. Suspect he'll have some family and friends make the trip over from Switzerland to watch him during Crunch camp.

Jonathan Marchessault had a helper and was -1 with 1 shot and 2 hits in 15:30. Maybe a slight chance he'll get plucked off of waivers if the Lightning do indeed choose to make the move right now.

Philippe Paradis was -1 with 5 hits in 11:41. Crunch camp, no doubt.

Luke Witkowski was -1 with 3 blocked shots in 17:16. I believe he's waiver eligible, too, but suspect he'll make it through.

Henri Ikonen was -1 with 1 shot, 1 hit, and 4 blocked shots in 13:54. Another likely Crunch camper.

Yanni Gourde had a helper and was -1 with 1 shot and 2 hits in 16:09. Another likely Crunch camper.

Dylan Blujus had a helper and was -2 with 2 penalty minutes, 2 hits, and 3 blocked shots in 20:21. Third on the team in ice time tonight. I've been pretty pleased how he and Dotchin have played along side the more obvious suspects like Koekkoek and DeAngelo. He's another likely Crunch camper, but the Lightning should feel a lot better about their future at that position than they did at this time even a year ago.

Nikita Nesterov had a helper and was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 1 hit in 21:19. Just 1 shot on goal? Does Nikki have a cold?

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Preseason Game Night: 9-23-15 Lightning at Predators

Overmatched Lightning B squad falls on the road.

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Adam Wilcox allowed 4 goals on 21 shots for the loss before giving way to Allen York at mid-game. York allowed 1 goal on 9 shots the rest of the way.

First Period
7:47 NSH Neal (1), (Josi, Fiala)
8:40 NSH Weber (1), (Ribeiro, Wilson)(PP)
16:14 NSH Smith (1), (Josi, Bartley)

Second Period
4:31 NSH Smith (2), (Wilson, Ribeiro)
6:39 TB Namestnikov (1), (Blunden, Peca)(PP)
10:14 TB Brown (1), (Tambellini)

Third Period
17:47 NSH Sissons (1), (Arvidsson, Moses)(PP)

I don't want to call this a throw away game, but this was essentially sticking the Palat/Johnson/Kucherov line on a depleted Syracuse Crunch roster and putting them up against darned near all of the Nashville Predators opening night roster. The Preds had about a 4 to 1 experience advantage in the lineup tonight, and it showed in the final score. The good news is the Lightning managed to staunch the bleeding pretty well after it got to 4-0 and got some production from lower line guys like Namestnikov and Brown (good for Tampa Bay) and Blunden, Peca, and Tambellini (good for Syracuse). The only thing that gives me any real pause is Andrej Sustr getting a -3 hung on him, which continues the bleeding from his playoff run of last year.

Tanner Richard had 4 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 2 hits in 14:56. He was also 60% on draws.

Jonathan Marchessault was -1 with 3 shots and was 50% on draws in 15:07.

Philippe Paradis was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 3 shots, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 10:12.

Luke Witkowski stayed clean in 19:48 of ice time.

Jake Dotchin fought a Predator and had 3 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 18:33.

Matthew Peca had a helper and was -1 with 2 shots and 1 hit in 15:02. He only took 2 draws and was 0-for-2.

Dominik Masin was -2 with 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 17:45. I'd imagine he's ticketed for Peterborough come tomorrow, but we'll see.

Daniel Walcott had 2 hits and 1 blocked shot in 18:23. He's becoming a favorite on the website.

Nikita Nesterov had 2 penalty minutes and 5 shots in 21:05. You never have to ask Nesterov to put pucks on net. He starts shooting from the parking lot.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 4-11-15 Bruins at Lightning

A brief moment of sweet schadenfreude before the bullets fly for real next week.

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Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 38 shots and stopped all 3 shooters in the penalty shot session for the SO victory. He was sharp as a samurai sword tonight. That's good to see heading into the playoffs.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
5:08 TB Marchessault (1), (unassisted)
6:00 BOS Eriksson (22), (Kelly, Seidenberg)

Third Period
5:12 TB Nesterov (3), (Carle, Marchessault)
18:54 BOS Marchand (24), (Krug, Krejci)

Overtime
NO SCORING

Shootout
BOS- NONE
TB- Hedman

Jonathan Marchessault, Bishop, and Nikita Nesterov were the game's three stars.

Boston played the bulk of this game very desperate and very hungry, and the Lightning held back a lot of their injured players to rest with a view toward the playoffs starting next week. The shot deficit (38-25) and possession advantage Boston had reflects that they were the team that had more to play for (up until halfway through the Third Period when Pittsburgh put the last shovel-full of dirt on their graves). With that said, I give credit to the Lightning for matching Boston's intensity level and physicality, even though they didn't have the same urgency stalking them. They hustled. They scrapped. They got sticks and bodies in passing and shooting lanes. They manufactured a win. They'll have to do that a few times when they don't have their A-game in the playoffs coming up.

Tampa Bay gets Detroit in the First Round. I'm not scared of the matchup. If the Lightning play their game, they can beat Detroit. Handily. Time to start burying the memories of last April.

Marchessault had 1 goal and 1 assist and was +2 with 2 shots and 3 hits in 11:20. His goal was a beauty of a shot from the RW faceoff circle, and he was dangerous offensively in his TOI. He had at least one issue hanging in physically to get a puck out at his own blueline, but more good than bad. He's in a rough spot given how deep this organization is, but he's definitely knocking on the door of being an NHLer.

Luke Witkowski was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 8 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 18:14. He was one of the tone setters physically, and he darn near sawed McQuaid in half on one hit in this game. He even had a pretty fancy rush late in the game to nearly get the winner. Thought we were looking at Luke Witk-Orr for a minute. I suspect he'll head back to Syracuse now with Marchessault and bolster the Crunch's division title and playoff hopes.

Nesterov had a goal and was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 3 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 19:39. NBCSN's broadcasters gushed about Nesterov's offensive assertiveness all game, and rightfully so. He's a classic pace-pushing offensive defenseman who comes out ahead on the ledger because he helps create way more chances than he surrenders. Yes, he got beat physically out of the corner by Marchand on one play in the First Period and had to take a minor. Yes, there's a turnover here and there. But, he comes out way ahead on the ledger, overall. Garrison, Sustr, and Coburn are all slated to return at some point in the opening round against Detroit. I'm not sure Nesterov sits, though. I think he may have earned a look-see in playoff action, a la Paquette last year, and maybe a guy like Barberio or Sustr sits instead.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

P.S. Kick rocks, Jack Edwards.

NHL Game Night: 4-9-15 Devils at Lightning

Down to the wire.

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Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 24 shots for the OT victory. The stat line was ugly, but the Devils got some puck luck in this game, and Ben made the toe save of the game on Cammalleri late in the Third to keep the Lightning alive.

First Period
5:06 NJ Bernier (15), (Henrique, Gomez)(PP)
6:26 TB Johnson (28), (Kucherov, Palat)
9:13 TB Nesterov (2), (Johnson, Kucherov)(PP)

Second Period
10:17 NJ Elias (13), (Gionta)
17:42 TB Stamkos (43), (Palat, Hedman)(PP)
17:58 NJ Bernier (16), (Henrique, Gomez)

Third Period
NO SCORING

Overtime
1:22 TB Johnson (29), (Kucherov, Palat)(PP)

Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat were the game's first and third stars.

Honestly, I wasn't that upset with the effort, even though it took OT for the Lightning to dispose of New Jersey. The Devils got some favorable bounces on blocked shots, etc., but for the most part the Lightning controlled this game, outshooting their opponent 31-24. My only disappointment was the mental let downs after goals scored, but that's correctable. The bright side was that the power play went 3-for-8 and continues to pile up some goals over the last couple of weeks. If the Lightning can muster a power play in the playoffs, they may be unbeatable. That's a big if, mind you.

Unfortunately, Montreal beat Detroit in OT, so Montreal would have to lose in regulation in their finale against Toronto for the Lightning to have a chance to take the Atlantic Division. If they win the division, they could face Ottawa, Pittsburgh, or the Islanders in the first round. Should Tampa Bay stay in the Atlantic second seed spot, which is more likely, they'll probably get Detroit, although Ottawa could still nudge past the Wings at the tape.

The Lightning's finale is a tantalizing opportunity to give a team they've traditionally had difficulty with an early trip to the golf course. Boston lost to Florida tonight, so they cannot get into the Atlantic three seed, and any type of loss, regulation or OT, and Boston is done like dinner. My 2 cents: the Lightning should relish this opportunity to put Boston away now rather than potentially having to do it in some sort of 7 game series somewhere down the line. Put them into an early grave, I say.

Luke Witkowski was -1 with 1 shot, 3 hits, and 2 blocked shots. He looks ticketed for a return to Syracuse with Andrej Sustr on track to possibly return for the Boston tilt. I'm thinking Luke's experience from this callup will allow him to focus his offseason attention on sharpening up some aspects of his game like handling and distributing the puck that he could get even more efficient at in order to become a regular NHLer. He's not quite there yet, but he's not a glaring liability, either. That next step's got to come, and I think it comes in the form of being a little bit less of a "hot potato" guy on the puck.

Nikita Nesterov had a goal and was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 19:06. He changes the complexion of the Lightning's second PP unit with his shoot-first mentality, and the experience he's gained with the Lightning's injury issues will only benefit the squad in the form of reliable depth when other injuries happen in the playoffs. It's nice to know Nesterov can step up and play some quality minutes if necessary.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 4-4-15 Lightning at Panthers

Satisfying.

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Ben Bishop stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout win. That's some U of Maine Justice right there for the Panthers. I think he's been off a little mechanically the past couple of games, either due to being banged up or being fatigued, but he's a battler and he battled his way to getting the goose egg tonight.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
6:10 TB Stamkos (41), (Johnson, Nesterov)(PP)
11:19 TB Stamkos (42), (Callahan)

Third Period
1:03 TB Callahan (24), (Stamkos)
18:13 TB Johnson (27), (Drouin)

Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan, and Bishop were the game's three stars.

There's so much good wrapped in this game, it's hard to make sure you hit all the high notes. From an in-game standpoint, the Lightning had 4 regular defensemen out of the lineup going against what should've been a desperate Panthers squad, and they managed to shut them out. Kudos to the young defensemen, and kudos to Coach Zettler and the staff in Syracuse. It's been fantastic to watch the sharp progress this season by Nesterov and the steady progress of the likes of Witkowski, Koekkoek, Blujus, and Dotchin. It's a really hard act following a guy who is arguably an all-time great AHL coach like Jon Cooper, but Zettler has shown some developmental mojo with these young defensemen and it makes you excited to see what he can accomplish working with a prospect like Anthony DeAngelo.

The Lightning also got a power play goal for the fourth straight game and Steven Stamkos snapped out of his funk with a vintage PP goal and a laser beam from the right wing faceoff dot. Stamkos needs to be Stamkos if the Lightning are going to do anything in the playoffs, and if he were to find his PP mojo, that alone could win the Lightning a playoff series or two they might not otherwise deserve.

From a standings standpoint, the Lightning clinched home ice in the first round of the playoffs and tied Montreal in the standings with the Habs holding a game in hand. The Lightning have the ROW tiebreaker, so all the pressure is on Montreal right now. The Lightning get 4 days to rest and heal now while Montreal has to keep getting points if they want to maintain control of their own destiny in the division title pursuit. If they lose a game, the Lightning may be able to get Hedman, Sustr, and Killorn back on the ice for the final 2 games at home with the real prospect of earning a banner in the balance.

Oh, and the Lightning eliminate the Panthers from playoff contention. It's never a bad thing to kick dirt on their grave, is it?

Slater Koekkoek was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 1 hit in 16:19. This wasn't quite the same effort for Slater as against Ottawa, IMO, but it was still a solid performance for the rookie. If I was a Syracuse fan, I'd be very excited to see him in the playoffs because he's going to go back to the Crunch with a ton of confidence.

Luke Witkowski had 2 penalty minutes and 1 hit in 15:34. Quiet is good.

Nikita Nesterov had a helper and was +2 with 4 shots, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 21:18. There was a lot of gushing about Nesterov tonight and rightfully so. He ate big minutes and he changes the complexion of the Lightning power play with his shoot first mentality and ability to get pucks through and on net. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think he's essentially running Barberio out of town for next season. They're similar players, but Nesterov's ceiling seems so much higher and he's already shown himself to be just as good, if not better, in his own third.

Vladislav Namestnikov played 11:36. He had one memorable rush where he slithered into the Panthers zone, but it was a quiet night for Namestnikov with Tyler Johnson returning and pushing him down off the line with Palat and Kucherov. Tonight was Namestnikov's 41st game of the season, so he graduated from prospect status on the website. Congratulations, Baby Faced Killer.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 4-2-15 Lightning at Senators

Lightning nearly steal both points.

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Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 34 shots for the OT loss. His rebound control wasn't all that great tonight, but he was sparkling on first shots, which was nearly good enough to complete the larceny.

First Period
5:03 OTT Stone (20), (Turris, MacArthur)
16:53 TB Drouin (4), (Stralman, Filppula)(PP)

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
NO SCORING

Overtime
4:43 OTT Wiercioch (3), (Stone, Turris)

Bishop was the game's third star.

Most of the Lightning's injured players actually participated in the morning skate today, which signals to me that if tonight's game had been a priority some of them would have gone. As it was, it was clear that getting rest and getting healthy was deemed more important than still pursuing the division title. Fair enough, under the circumstances, and it reflected in a pretty flat First Period by the team. However, as the game wore on, I think the Lightning realized there were points to be stolen on the table and their intensity improved as the game went on. They got 1 point to keep pace with Montreal tonight, but couldn't thieve the 2nd. Still, it's more than I would've expected from the body language I saw in the First Period. They trail Montreal by 1 point with the Habs holding a game in hand and the Lightning having 3 games left on the slate. They would hold the ROW tiebreaker, which looms large if they can get some help and Montreal stubs their toe a couple of times in their last 4 games.

One other point of interest, pun intended, is the Lightning got their 12th point tonight in this 10 game segment. In other words, the Lightning hit 12 points in every 10 game segment of the season but 1, and the miss was an 11 point segment. They may not be consistent game to game, but their frighteningly consistent segment to segment, which is very good compared to last season when they had about 3 misses, as I recall, along the way. Maturation.

Slater Koekkoek had 3 shots, 1 hit, and 3 blocked shots in 17:55. He was a stud tonight. He was active in all three zones and particularly in clearing out his front porch. You saw the total package of what Koekkoek can do and he nearly had an OT winner jumping into the play, to boot. Very impressive.

Luke Witkowski had 1 shot, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 18:19 to go with 2 PIMs. He didn't play a perfect game, but he played a good one. I think, in particular, when the game got chippy in the Second Period it got right into Luke's wheelhouse and he started to really come alive.

Nikita Nesterov was -2 with 4 shots, 5 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 19:38. The IT tells you the coaching staff appreciates what he's doing, but he's had some hard luck where his good two-way play hasn't paid off with pluses with the Lightning forwards struggling to pot goals.

Vladislav Namestnikov had 1 hit and was 55% on 11 draws in 9:50. IT was down tonight, and it was hard to tell if he got dinged or if it was a coach's decision. Vladdy is at 40 NHL games this season, which means his next appearance will mark his graduation from prospect status on the website.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 3-31-15 Lightning at Maple Leafs

The needle hits E in Toronto.

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Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 28 shots for the loss. He wasn't the reason the team lost, but one or two semi-soft goals definitely made the sledding a lot more comfortable for Toronto. In a game like this, the Lightning really needed Andrei to be flawless.

First Period
8:53 TOR Kadri (17), (Lindstrom, Brennan)(PP)
12:03 TOR Booth (7), (unassisted)
18:04 TB Callahan (23), (Palat, Kucherov)(PP)

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
0:24 TOR Rielly (8), (Kadri, Gardiner)

Shots were 41-28 Lightning, so I'm not going to say the Lightning were somehow dogging it or that they had a let down in a trap game. I just think they almost emptied out the tank against Montreal, so they simply couldn't muster the same intensity level and didn't have the extra gear against Toronto. Not with all the injuries they are trying to work through, anyway. And, the Leafs got a great performance from Reimer, which compounded things.

I hate to see the Lightning's division title hopes in peril like this, on the one hand. On the other, I don't want to see this team dead dragging tired going into the opening round of the playoffs, either. It's a boon to be able to get Bishop some rest like he did tonight, and it might also be a silver lining if circumstances allow them to take their foot off the gas the last couple of games of the year and give guys like Palat and Paquette a little more time off to get right for the postseason, on top of all the guys who are already on the shelf.

Slater Koekkoek was -1 with 2 shots in 15:31. Didn't look horribly out of place, and the old Joe Reekie number looks good on him. Thought he showed as advertised. I feel like he'll challenge for a roster spot in the Fall, and his progress will be very important for the success of the team next year. You figure he'll either make the squad or be the first call up from Syracuse if he doesn't make it.

Luke Witkowski had 2 shots, 6 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 16:50. 3 giveaways is a little bit of an ugly number, but all in all he handled the extra workload reasonably well.

Nikita Nesterov was -1 with 5 shots and 2 hits in 22:11. The minutes don't lie. He's the guy the coaching staff turned to in order to fill the gap, and I suspect they're not at all displeased.

Vladislav Namestnikov had 1 shot and 1 hit in 15:12 and was 56% on draws. He's 2 games from graduation from prospect status on the site.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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