Tampa Bay Lightning
Extra hockey fun in Syracuse.
Adam Wilcox allowed 3 goals on 36 shots for the OT victory. Not surprisingly, Zettler rode the hot hand from last weekend. It's up to Gudlevskis to take the lead dog's job back.
BNG Hobbs, (1) (Robinson, Fraser), 3:13
SYR Peca, (3) (Witkowski, Vermin), 10:31
BNG Lindberg, (3) (Dzingel, Kostka), 19:01
BNG Robinson, (1) (Claesson), 15:19 (SH)
SYR Vermin, (2) (DeAngelo, Wilcox), 2:13 (PP)
SYR McGinn, (1) (Peca, Vermin), 12:16 (PP)
SYR Tambellini, (4) (Gourde, Witkowski), 3:30
My running theory for this season for the Crunch is that their ceiling ultimately depends on Matthew Peca's development. The Crunch need his speed and creativity to give them some offensive punch off the rush and on counters to augment the more meat and potatoes approach they showed to manufacturing goals most of last season. So, anytime Peca gets a multi point game, that's a good sign.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 26 shots for the loss. The third goal was a hugely deflating softie that went in off of his glove. For everyone who has been ready to ship Bishop out of town at the earliest convenience and make Vasiy the guy, pump the breaks. The kid's 21, and he is mortal. There will be rough patches that he needs to develop through.
5:57 BUF Eichel (6), (Franson)(PP)
0:52 TB Stamkos (8), (Kucherov)(PP)
1:40 BUF Franson (1), (Eichel, Ennis)
5:24 BUF Foligno (1), (Legwand, Deslauriers)
19:24 BUF Ristolainen (4), (Johnson)(EN)
Ryan Callahan was the game's second star.
I could sit here and tell you the Lightning outshot the Sabres, and they did. I could tell you they grossly outchanced the Sabres in the last 40 minutes of the game, and they did. There's not any comfort in that, because the Lightning have such a significant talent advantage on the Sabres that they should be outshooting and outchancing them. Ultimately, this comes down to something more fundamental than talent and tactics. At this point, it's looking more and more like the Lightning emotionally and mentally don't have the will. The Sabres wanted this game more. They've wanted it more in all four games this season and have routinely jumped on the Lightning in every first period where Tampa Bay often looked flat as a pancake. The difference is that they got the payoff tonight.
So now the Lightning need to ask themselves if they have the will to turn this around. It's as simple as that. They need to outwork opponents. Absent that, they're not going to make the odd man rushes and the lucky breaks they need to get out of this slump. In retrospect, I wish Yzerman had made more than one small tweak to the roster to get more fresh, hungry blood onto the roster, but that's water under the bridge now. Short of a tweak like bringing up Koekkoek, the answers will have to come from inside that room, and it'll have to start with that fundamental question. Do you want it more than the other team? And if they can't convincingly answer that in the affirmative, they're screwed.
It's not a question anymore of whether the team is in trouble. They'll finish this segment in the red by at least 2 points based on our old 12 in 10 rule. It's only a question of how deep the hole will be. Note that this is the first time, on a season-wide basis, the Lightning have been behind schedule in over 2 years. They've missed segment targets about 4 times in the previous two seasons, but they've always had insurance points banked to cover the damage. This is uncharted and dangerous waters.
Offense comes up snake eyes... again.
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal 25 shots for the loss. I wish I could say I've never seen anything like this before, but I remember November and December of 2003-2004 when the team couldn't score goals for Nikolai Khabibulin to save their lives. It took a temporary switch to John Grahame in January to break the team out of its scoring funk, and the rest is history. It may take running out Vasilevskiy for more starts to change the dynamic for the Lightning over the next couple of weeks.
0:26 MIN Spurgeon (2), (Coyle, Pominville)
The Lightning weren't bad tonight, except for the first 5-10 minutes of the Second Period. They had the bulk of the possession and plenty of chances. Dubnyk just decided to stand on his head tonight. It happens, but it's getting more than frustrating. And, it's seriously jeopardizing Tampa Bay's position in the standings, too. At this juncture, they've got to run the table in the final 4 games of this segment to stay on comfortable pace for the playoffs. It's not un-doable with the schedule ahead, but it's certainly tough to operate with no margin of error and it's looking more and more like the Lightning will be in a hole of undetermined size heading into the second quarter of the campaign.
Complicating things further is the injury of Ondrej Palat, who left the game tonight after a scrum in front of the Lightning net in which a Minnesota Wild player landed hard on the back of his left leg. Could be an ankle. Could be a knee. Could be a broken leg. I won't speculate on injuries anymore after we watched Paquette wrap his leg around the goalpost in Detroit late last season only to play the very next game. But, it certainly looks like Palat could be unavailable for some of this upcoming stretch.
Baby Triplets and Wilcox steal the show.
Adam Wilcox sparkled, allowing just 1 goal on 26 shots for his first pro victory. The pendulum has swung a little bit, with Gudlevskis looking a little subpar in his first game back from Tampa Bay, and maybe Wilcox move to the top spot next weekend.
SYR Marchessault, (5) (Richard, Koekkoek), 10:02
SYR Marchessault, (6) (Gourde, Richard), 14:42
LV MacDonald, (1) (Gostisbehere, Brent), 19:42 (PP)
Coach Zettler may have found a gem with the assembling of the line with Marchessault, Gourde, and Tanner Richard this weekend. The line generated 4 goals in 2 games this weekend, and look like they'll have some longevity if they can stay in Syracuse together. Unfortunately, with Palat injured tonight up top, one of these forwards (Marchessault) may have to be earmarked for a trip to the big club.
Looks like Nikita Nesterov will also be recalled after a 2 game confidence/conditioning stint this weekend with the Crunch.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Lightning crush Sabres against the run of play.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 31 shots for the victory. I still don't think he's 100% up to NHL speed following the puck, but there were a couple of times in this game you could see his quickness and technical proficiency with his angles really got into Buffalo's shooters' heads. They were cutting it fine because they felt they had to against the big Russian mountain.
5:55 TB Stamkos (7), (Filppula, Palat)
11:35 TB Johnson (2), (Killorn, Kucherov)
18:20 TB Kucherov (5), (Namestnikov, Coburn)
4:21 BUF Eichel (5), (Weber, Ennis)
19:30 TB Hedman (1), (Sustr)(SH)
Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov were the game's first and second stars.
Hockey's a funny sport. The Lightning played a much better game against Detroit last time out and couldn't find the payoff for the chances they manufactured with their hard work. Tonight, I felt they got outworked and they definitely got outchanced and outshot, on balance, by Buffalo. The Sabres had their forecheck really working on the Lightning in the first 40 minutes, but when the Lightning were able to break that pressure and come out of their zone, they were able to catch Buffalo on 3-on-2's on the counter. The skill players did the rest to build the 3-0 lead. They probably didn't deserve to have that big of a margin, but considering how snake bitten they've been offensively, I'm not going to complain about it. They were definitely guilty of playing down to their opponent and even more guilty of taking their foot off the gas once they got up 3-0. But, to their credit, they really tightened up defensively in the Third Period to quell the Buffalo uprising and deliver the W.
With the win, the Lightning have 6 points through 6 games of this 10 game segment of the season. A win against Minnesota would be tremendous if they can get it next time out.
Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 2 hits and 2 blocked shots in 15:40. The stat line looks OK, but I think the tape will reveal Nesterov didn't cloak himself in glory tonight. He looked like the physically overmatched young blueliner that struggled in his rookie pro season of North American hockey tonight, taking some big hits and getting overwhelmed physically, rather than the offensive juggernaut he was in his sophomore pro campaign. Not his finest hour.
Lightning falling squarely behind the 8-ball.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 29 shots for the loss. Typically I'd defend a guy who only allowed 2 goals and didn't get the benefit of goal support, but Detroit's first goal was semi-soft and the game winner was all-the-way-soft. Fact of the matter is, if those keep happening, Vasilevskiy's going to start taking more than his fair share of starts.
2:02 DET Sheahan (2), (Tatar, Kindl)
15:58 TB Kucherov (4), (Johnson, Stamkos)(PP)
5:54 DET Larkin (4), (Abdelkader, DeKeyser)
Nikita Kucherov was the game's third star, and frankly he was the best player on the ice for either team by a considerable margin. He went to a new, more beastly level tonight.
It's a tale of three games. I thought the Lightning played a fairly good road period in the First Period, preventing any early surge by the home side and holding the balance of possession, although the resulting chances were few. The Second Period could've been an outright disaster, because the Lightning were getting slaughtered at the 10 feet around each blueline. They lost 80-90% of 50/50 pucks on zone exits and zone entries in the Second Period, and you can imagine the possession pressure that resulted. They're really fortunate Detroit didn't get more chances and goals from that pressure and even more fortunate they lucked into a 5-on-3 goal to equalize heading into the Third Period. The Third Period was actually the Lightning's strongest period, hitting 2 crossbars and a goal post and generating a lot of quality opportunities. That was cancelled by good goaltending by Howard and a Dairy Queen special served up by Bishop on a bad angle shot in tight coming off a 3-on-2. That's the game right there. On balance, I feel a lot better about the offense after this one, believe it or not. I was more concerned when the chances weren't flowing. Even when scoring 4 goals against Carolina, the chances were coming off of unforced or gently forced Hurricanes errors rather than pure Lightning assertiveness. The spigot is starting to open again now, though, so I'd say it's a matter of time. Looking ahead on the schedule, I know Minnesota's been in some track meets this season and Buffalo is a generous young team. I wouldn't be shocked if one of them is the recipients of a flood gates situation that looks like the opening of the Panama Canal locks.
The really big issue right now is that heading into the backside of this 10-game segment of the season the Lightning are really behind schedule in the standings to stay on track for the playoffs. They'll need 8 of the possible 10 points over the next 5 games to stay on pace. You do not want to be trying to make those points up in March and April when the sledding is the hardest. My biggest early season fear was a Stanley Cup Final hangover in the first two segments of the season, and that scenario may be playing out unless the Lightning can really put it together quickly and come out guns blazing these next 5 games.
Young Carolina defense proves the elixir for the Lightning's offensive woes.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 35 shots for the victory in his season debut with the Lightning. He wasn't as sharp as he can be, particularly with the trapper. I think he spent the bulk of the game getting up to speed with the NHL level again. But he's so big, so athletic, and so technically sound. There's just not a lot of holes there and you feel like you have a big Russian mountain in net behind the team times. It's a great luxury for the Lightning to know they probably have two of the best goaltenders in the game on their roster, and they're both still young and hungry.
15:07 CAR E. Staal (4), (Versteeg, Rask)(PP)
0:38 TB Callahan (4), (Palat)
18:54 TB Stamkos (6), (Kucherov, Stralman)(PP)
4:07 TB Brown (2), (Filppula)
9:16 TB Johnson (1), (Kucherov, Hedman)
15:25 CAR Versteeg (2), (Rask)
19:59 CAR J. Staal (1), (Rask)
Carolina's young defense is a traveling PSA for the dangers of NHL GM's rushing their blueliners to the NHL. They've got some talented young players on the depth chart at that position, but mercy are they generous with the turnovers. Noah Hanifin, holy cow, he was a dumpster fire tonight, and the generosity of that D corps as a whole showed was just what the Lightning needed to get out of their offensive funk. That, and the decision by Jon Cooper to flip Killorn and Palat from the Stamkos and Johnson lines, respectively, and the dividends that payed in the form of a couple of even strength goals. The lines are going to be up in the air so long as Paquette and Drouin remain injured, so whatever shuffling needs to happen in the near term to manufacture goals, I'm all for it. Tampa Bay eventually built a three goal lead in the Third Period and I'm not terribly concerned about the couple of garbage time goals Carolina got to try to make it look respectable.
No relief for Lightning offensive woes.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 33 shots for the loss. Can the team in front of Ben please give him a break and get him a sliver of goal support?
7:51 TB Kucherov (3), (Namestnikov, Palat)(PP)
16:53 BOS Beleskey (2), (Miller, Hayes)
5:54 BOS Connolly (4), (Marchand, Chara)(PP)
18:50 BOS Marchand (5), (unassisted)(EN)
Nikita Kucherov was the game's third star.
I don't want to overplay this by saying the Lightning played horrible, because I thought they played a pretty honest game nose to nose with a hot Boston team tonight. But, they're still not doing enough to generate the greasy goals they need to snap out of this funk they're in. They were inconsistent tonight with what they need to do, which is to start throwing pucks from all angles into dangerous areas and having as many bodies as possible crashing those dangerous areas. There's still too much of a reliance on the rush to generate chances and too much of a willingness to pass the puck around the perimeter in search of more pristine but also unscreened looks at the net. Tonight was a little bit better, but it still wasn't good enough, and I still don't see the number of goalmouth scrums I'd expect to see from a frustrated, goal hungry team. They need to be playing to the echo of the whistle right now and they also need to be unafraid to mix it up if that's what it takes to break out of this antiseptic rut that they're in. It also wouldn't hurt if the team's power play didn't choose the biggest moments of the game to play their worst hockey. It's been an annual rite of passage to watch this power play underachieve.
Bolt Prospects Alumni Brett Connolly with the winner for Boston. Off the Christmas card list. We'll fix your little red wagon.
Jonathan Marchessault was -1 with 2 hits in 7:02.
Nikita Nesterov had 4 hits in 18:00 in his first night assuming a good chunk of minutes for the scratched Matt Carle. Those expecting Carle's absence to be the panacea for all the team's woes learned tonight the scope of their problem is larger than just their third pair left defenseman, but I do think Nesterov showed he's no worse of an option than Carle in the near term.
Lightning succumb to the curse of the first game back from the road trip.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 26 shots for the loss. He was magnificent at time, including a game opening 3-on-1 robbery against Duchene. He's deserved a lot better in his past couple of starts.
15:57 COL Tanguay (1), (Iginla, MacKinnon)
13:04 COL MacKinnon (4), (Iginla, Tanguay)
15:46 TB Killorn (2), (Hedman, Filppula)(PP)
The Lightning were disappointingly flat in the First Period and nearly got away with it before surrendering the greasy goal to Tanguay toward the end of the period. When you don't play a full 60 minutes of hockey and that combines with running up against a goaltender who has a hot night, you'll lose. You can't always effect a hot goaltender, but you can always effect your effort level and it just wasn't a consistent, even effort tonight. Frankly, I think this team needed someone to take a run at somebody or start a scrum or something to get some emotion flowing in the First Period, but it was just antiseptic hockey. The team really misses what Cedric Paquette brings to the rink in the heart and grit department when he's out of the lineup, and that filters down throughout the team. It took into well into the Second Period for the Lightning to start to play a more north-south game and try to get traffic in front of Varlamov, which eventually netted Killorn's goal. But, unfortunately, they decided to foresake that formula with the game on the line with a power play late in the Third Period, and it was all downhill from there. It's disturbing. These first 20 games are the danger zone for the Lightning trying to fend off a Stanley Cup Final hangover. They managed to navigate the first 10 games, barely, but this is a bad start to the second batch of 10 games. They can't afford to dig a big hole right now, because they might not get out of it.
Jonathan Marchessault had 1 shot and 1 hit in 7:50 of ice time. I'm just not quite sure Marchessault has the speed, at his size, to be a legit NHLer. He's got plenty of smarts and skill, but he struggles to find space because he hasn't really shown the extra gear and he's so slight.
Lightning lose against the run of play, and the iron, and the refs...
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 23 shots for the hard luck loss. I thought his rebound control got a little shaky for a little stretch in the Second Period, but overall he looked a lot sharper with rest.
15:59 STL Gomez (1), (Parayko, Brouwer)
19:19 STL Brouwer (3), (Pietrangelo)(EN)
Bishop was the game's third star.
This is a tough one to swallow. The Lightning can play better, especially in the way of manufacturing some greasy goals in the dirty areas, but this isn't like the Chicago game. They dominated possession and the run of play against St. Louis and they really probably deserved better than a loss. It was a pretty good road performance against a good squad and ultimately nothing for the team to hang their head about to close this road trip.
Of course, the outcome would've been different were it not for the horrific officiating the Lightning had to overcome tonight, especially in the Third Period as they pushed for the equalizer. J.T. Brown gets body slammed in the Second Period. No call. Ondrej Palat gets tripped along the wall in the Second Period. No call. Nesterov gets tripped in the offensive zone in the Third Period. No call. Condra gets tripped in the neutral zone in the Third Period. No call. The Lightning technically went 0-for-1 on the PP thanks to a generous 20 seconds of PP time awarded after an even-up call where the refs whistled Tampa Bay for too many men... on a play where St. Louis also had six skaters on the ice. When one team has a possession edge the way the Lightning did tonight and as well as their forecheck functioned at times, it seems a wee bit suspicious that the other team gets 3 times the PP time. Indeed, as the Third Period wore on, it became clear nothing less than first degree homicide was going to be called on St. Louis in this game. Tell me how depriving one of the most offensively talented teams in the league, Tampa Bay, of any real power plays while on national TV on NBCSN helps the NHL sell its product? I know, I know. Toronto says, "Shut up Lightning fans. It's a privilege for the team just to be allowed to play in the league." It's a total joke.
Nikita Nesterov had 2 penalty minutes, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 15:51. He also had one of the more heinous turnovers in front of Bishop you'll ever see and the penalty he took was at a key time of the game when the Lightning were trying to get an equalizer. It was the very definition of a game where a young guy did the opposite of what he needs to do to make a case for himself to get steady ice time.