Tampa Bay Lightning
Let loose the kittens!
Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped all 30 shots he faced for the shutout victory. He didn't have much work early, and was kicking some long rebounds out in the First and Second Period, but he got progressively stronger as the game wore on. He positively stood on his head in the Third Period to secure the 2 points for his team. He was much, much better positionally compared to his previous 2-3 outings.
4:38 TB Stamkos (21), (Stralman, Filppula)(PP)
Vasilevskiy and Steven Stamkos were the game's first and third stars.
The first 15 minutes of this game were an absolutely clinic by the Lightning as they outshot Toronto 16-1 and outscored them 1-0. They could've easily run the Leafs out of the barn from the word jump were it not for a really strong effort by Jonathan Bernier. Things degraded from there for the Lightning, who were less assertive shooting the puck in the Second Period and started looking timid and started short-arming passes in the Third Period because of the physical style Toronto was playing. They allowed Toronto to intimidate them a bit and they were back on their heels a lot of the final frame. Fortunately, Vasilevskiy only needed the one goal.
The Lightning have gotten 16 of a possible 18 points so far in this 10-game segment of the season with 1 more game left to go. A win will put the Lightning at even for the year in the old "12 in 10" model, which prescribes earning 12 points every 10 games to make the playoffs comfortably. Considering 9 games ago the Lightning looked like a longshot to make the postseason, it's a great spot to be in heading into the All-Star Break. The team just needs to hope that any momentum they've gained doesn't dissipate with the time off.
Jonathan Marchessault had 1 shot in 13:35.
Nikita Nesterov had 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 15:09.
Lightning winning streak snapped in front of "full house" in Sunrise.
8:50 FLA Huberdeau (8), (Barkov, Ekblad)
12:36 FLA Bjugstad (9), (Huberdeau)(PP)
15:56 FLA Smith (15), (unassisted)
17:33 FLA Trocheck (13), (Shaw, Jokinen)
5:39 TB Hedman (4), (Johnson, Kucherov)(PP)
15:52 FLA Campbell (4), (Bjugstad, Jagr)(EN)
18:31 TB Brown (4), (Boyle)
The Lightning were probably due for a little stock correction, and unfortunately it came tonight in a pretty big divisional game. Obviously, things came off the rails in the Second Period, compounded by some good puck luck for the Panthers that ultimately doomed the whole endeavor. Burn the tape, I say. The big thing is to not allow your loss after a long winning streak to balloon into a losing streak the way Chicago did when they went down to Sunrise last night. Get the focus and jump back and move on.
So with that said, rather than lambaste the team, I'll take this opportunity to have a little fun with the Florida Panthers organization. You see, the Panthers announced a sell out tonight... but anyone with two eyeballs saw a half empty arena. Yes, with a Saturday night contest with the Panthers in first place facing off against the team in second in the Atlantic Division and a playoff atmosphere on the ice, Panther Nation, stayed home. Mind you, Panther Nation is a lot like the Lock Ness monster and the sasquatch, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised they were difficult to see through the forest of empty red seats. I remain amazed that market still has a franchise given that it's even more deserving of a relocation dirt nap than Atlanta was, at this stage, but I digress. The really amazing thing to me is that the Panthers broadcast team of "Goldie" and "Peanut Butter" Potvin decided to crow at length about the Panthers winning in front of this amazing "full house" in Sunrise. Baghdad Bob would've been proud.
Gentlemen, if I may...
When Kenny Rogers, as Brady Hawkes in The Gambler Part III: The Legend Continues, had 3 aces and 2 kings, THAT was a full house.
When President Obama gave his State of the Union address before the entire Legislative Branch of the United States government and numerous other invited dignitaries and guests, THAT was a full House.
When Bob Saget, Dave Coulier, and John Stamos raised three adorable young girls (two out of the three, anyway) in a house in San Francisco that there's no way in hell they could plausibly afford, THAT was a TV show called Full House.
STOP LYING and self-aggrandizing about how you had a sell out and played your game in front of a bristling, bustling "full house." We all know better. That's just SO Panthers. You win back-to-back home games against last year's Cup finalists, which should be your crowning moment of glory (supplanting your near annual trip to the front row of tables at the June draft) and what do you do? Put on the clown shoes... again. I suppose at least this time you didn't reach for the opaque plexiglass. Silver linings.
Nikita Nesterov was -2 with 2 shots and 3 hits in 15:10. It seemed like Cooper was trying to get him out with the Filppula line in front of him as a security blanket defensively, but that line got run roughshod over them tonight and therefore Nesterov was spending too much of the night on the run in his own zone. He doesn't excel with a guy on his back in his own end. He did, at least, draw a penalty with a good individual effort of his own on a rush in the First Period, so there's that.
They're baaaaaaaaack, NHL!
Ben Bishop allowed just 1 goal on 18 shots for the victory. You could probably count the number of good chances CHI had in this game on one hand. It was a defensive masterpiece and Bishop got the benefit of having to face a surprisingly low amount of work tonight.
0:43 CHI Anisimov (17), (Kane)
7:14 TB Stralman (6), (Hedman, Filppula)
16:39 TB Kucherov (20), (Hedman, Killorn)(PP)
In the battle of the unstoppable force (Chicago's 12-game winning streak) and the immovable object (Tampa Bay's fledgling 6-game winning streak) the unstoppable force found itself thrashed to pieces on the rocks of a complete 60 minute gem by the Lightning. The final score was 2-1, but without the heroics of Cory Crawford (third star) the Lightning could've won this game by about a 4-1 or 5-1 margin pretty easily. They outshot Chicago 33-18 on the night, denying the Blackhawks anything resembling possession and hounding them for every inch of open ice. The league is on notice now: after floundering for the first half of the year the defending Eastern Conference Champions are back, baby, and they might even be better this year. As mentioned in earlier game blogs, if you're an optimist you'll see the silver lining of the first half is that the Lightning have learned to play a far more defensively responsible game out of necessity that, when fused with their offensive firepower of a year ago, could be nearly unstoppable. Heck, the Lightning power play even looked dangerous on 3 of their 4 opportunities tonight and netted the eventual game winning goal. It's like the stars are aligning.
It's all very impressive, but 7 is a fluke and 8 is a streak.
If you're referring back to the 10-game segment mathematics, the win tonight means the Lightning will cut their season-long points pace deficit to not less than 4 points, and they have 3 more games left in this 10-game segment to cut that down even more or eliminate it altogether. And, guess what? The Lightning have cut the Florida Panthers' division lead to 1 point with a head-to-head matchup coming up on Saturday. Delicious. Pending the outcome of tomorrow's game between the Panthers and Blackhawks, the Lightning could have the opportunity to take over the top spot in the Atlantic in their next game and do so at the hands of their downstate little cousins. We sat through ~42 games of lukewarmness... give us this one, please, Lightning.
Jonathan Marchessault had 1 shot in 8:29. He had one really good chance from the slot he nearly got five-hole on Crawford in the First Period. But, in a 1 goal game against the defending Stanley Cup champs, rookies aren't getting a ton of ice time.
Nikita Nesterov played 14:53. He didn't look all that great under physical duress against the Blackhawks forecheck, but he hung in there. And, offensively, he wasn't going for it as much tonight, in my opinion, understanding the situation of the game.
Lightning win 80's throwback night at Amalie.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 26 shots for the victory. Two short side goals and a whole lot of rebounds handed out. This was a rough outing for Vasilevskiy, and the silver lining is the team managed to find a way to pull it out for him anyway. That hasn't happened much for Lightning goaltenders this season, so the role reversal was a nice change of pace.
3:57 TB Nesterov (3), (Killorn, Sustr)
5:25 EDM Kassian (1), (Pakarinen)
16:57 TB Kucherov (19), (Johnson, Killorn)
19:26 EDM Letestu (7), (Nurse)(SH)
6:09 TB Palat (4), (Namestnikov, Stamkos)
17:12 TB Namestnikov (10), (Palat, Stamkos)
2:10 EDM Draisaitl (11), (Hall, Kassian)
4:29 EDM Pakarinen (4), (unassisted)
7:42 TB Boyle (9), (Coburn, Brown)(SH)
19:33 TB Killorn (8), (Kucherov)(EN)
So, now that they've re-found their goal scoring groove, the Lightning got away with a night of pond hockey against Edmonton. That won't please Jon Cooper. Too many turnovers. Too many odd man rushes. Too many plays that weren't situationally smart, especially early in the Third Period. And, it was all compounded by some subpar goaltending. Maybe it's fitting that Edmonton was the opponent in a game that took a definite 1980's feel in the style department. I'm not inclined to freak out about it, because the Lightning haven't played many games this wide open all year, but they do need to get back to a responsible mindset with a beast like Chicago coming to town... because 6 is a fluke, 7 is a streak.
The good news: the Palat/Namestnikov/Stamkos line is the truth, and Kucherov is starting to pull Johnson and Killorn along with him to build a second, potent scoring line. The Lightning never had a second scoring line last season despite leading the league in goals. If they can piece two together down the stretch and into a presumptive playoff run, they'll be that much more dangerous in the postseason. And, if they ever find anything approaching consistency on the power play, well, that's the stuff of dreams and legends, isn't it?
Advancing to 6-0-0 in this 10-game segment of the season, the Lightning now have 4 games to pay down/off their 6 point season deficit and get on firm pace to make the playoffs. There's still a lot of work to do, but even going .500 the next 4 games would put the Lightning in considerably better shape than they were after the stinker they laid in Calgary just a couple of weeks ago. Also, with the win, the Lightning have pulled to within 3 points of idle Florida for the top spot in the Atlantic Division with another head-to-head matchup between the two clubs coming up in 4 days.
"But Pete, don't you tell us to ignore the standings and keep an eye on the segment goals?" Yes, yes I do. But, I'm willing to forego that discipline on this one occasion because I really hate the Panthers with the intense burning heat of about 1,000 exploding suns and it would bring me infinite joy to pass them like a road cone on the way to the playoffs while they're still in the haze of the false euphoria of their precious little turn-of-the-year winning streak.
Bring forth the Governor's Cup and I shall use it as a chalice to hold the bitter tears of Panther fan(s), to be garnished by their broken dreams (and a lime)!
Nikita Nesterov had a goal and was +1 with 1 shot and 1 hit in 17:08. Nesterov certainly looked like he was in his element playing in a game this wide open. He really appeared to savor it.
5 is a fluke. 6 is a streak.
Ben Bishop sparkled down the stretch of the game, and ended up allowing just 1 goal on 27 shots for the victory in the duel with Luongo.
4:21 TB Kucherov (17), (Nesterov, Stralman)
18:30 TB Sustr (2), (Garrison, Filppula)
8:06 FLA Bjugstad (8), (Jokinen)
18:36 TB Kucherov (18), (Hedman)(EN)
The Lightning controlled the bulk of this game, and the Panthers were very fortunate just to have a chance to pull the game out late. Tyler Johnson had the kill shot on his stick 2-3 times and just couldn't get it to go, including a rebound chance he chunked off the post that nearly ricocheted in anyway. Ultimately, though, the Lightning probably sealed the game on a marathon PK that saw the Lightning weather nearly the full 2 minutes in their own end and still maintain their positional discipline. It was majestic.
The Lightning advance to 5-0-0 in this 10-game segment of the season, and now have set themselves up with a chance to get on really solid footing for the playoff chase. In fact, with the Florida Panthers coming up on the schedule again in about a week, the team has a really unique opportunity to interject themselves fully into the division title hunt, as nobody in the Atlantic Division has really been all that consistent thus far this year. Edmonton is next on Tuesday, with the opportunity to hit the 12 point mark for this 10-game segment in a perfect 6 games.
Jonathan Marchessault had 2 shots and 1 hit in 8:45. In limited ice time, he looked dangerous offensively.
Nikita Nesterov had a helper and was +1 with 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 15:28. He's terrifying to watch if teams get their forecheck on him in deep, but he's been excellent otherwise and he's been collecting pluses at a big clip lately.
4 is a fluke. 5 is a streak.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 40 shots for the OT victory. It was a mixed bag for Vasilevskiy, mostly on the positive side. He showed off his athleticism and ability to read the play on several occasions, with several timely saves. On the other hand, he had one or two short side goals he probably regrets a little. Still, he was a factor in a night where the Lightning were outshot 40-25, for sure.
1:51 TB Namestnikov (7), (Stamkos, Nesterov)
10:37 PIT Letang (6), (Crosby, Hornqvist)
8:12 TB Filppula (6), (Johnson, Stamkos)(PP)
10:47 TB Namestnikov (8), (Hedman, Filppula)(PP)
14:23 PIT Hornqvist (10), (Malkin, Letang)(PP)
10:13 PIT Daley (2), (Malkin, Kessel)
13:48 PIT Kunitz (7), (Maatta, Hornqvist)
15:21 TB Stralman (5), (Filppula, Paquette)
2:11 TB Namestnikov (9), (Kucherov)
Vladislav Namestnikov and Valtteri Filppula were the game's first and second stars. Namestnikov's selection was obvious, as he had his first NHL hat trick. Filppula had a 3 point night as he continues to try to revive his season after looking comatose most of the first half of the season.
Interesting game. Entertaining for the casual fan. Less so for the serious fan who cares about limiting chances and goals against. The Lightning did a really good job of fending off the curse of coming out flat the first night off a road trip. They jumped all over Pittsburgh and got the early 1-0 goal. They unfortunately couldn't press it to 2-0 and ultimately lost that early momentum when they got in the box and eventually the Penguins equalized. The Lightning built a 3-1 lead in the Second Period on a string of undisciplined penalties by the Pens, but failed to get the knockout punch to go up 3 goals, which they very nearly paid the price for. The Pens owned most of the rest of the game, eventually storming back to take a 4-3 lead before Anton Stralman bailed the team out with a strong individual play on a spinorama backhand goal to equalize and get the game to Overtime. In an evenly played overtime, the Lightning got some puck luck with a Namestnikov whack on a Kucherov rebound going in off Hornqvist's stick. I'll take it, even though there will be about a million defensive coaching points for Cooper to drive home in video sessions after this one.
For the first time this year, the Lightning finally got one of these games it'd be really nice to have with a view toward having a big 10-game segment of the year to make up ground. They've been decent at getting points early in the 10-game sets, but always seem to struggle a bit to get that next win or two quickly and set themselves up to have a good 14-16 point segment. With 8 points already and 6 games left to play, they're in excellent shape to have one of those big segments and make a serious dent in their 6 point season deficit and get on a more comfortable pace to make the playoffs. Getting a 5th straight win would be another one it'd be really nice to have. And, with two games against division-leading Florida coming up in the next 8 days, the Lightning have a chance to not only get on more solid footing, but they could also interject themselves in the division title race all of a sudden.
Nikita Nesterov had a helper and 2 penalty minutes with 1 hit in 9:09. Like you would expect from Nesterov, he got in trouble when the Pens made him play more in his own zone. When his 5-man unit has the possession advantage, he's a huge asset. When the rink tilts, be afraid.
Lightning get right against defensively terrible Avs.
Ben Bishop stopped all 21 shots he faced for the shutout and the issuance of some good old U of Maine Justice. He had very little work to do, but when the need came to make 2-3 10 bell saves, he made them, and therefore made the Lightning's work very easy tonight.
10:29 TB Palat (3), (Hedman, Killorn)
1:39 TB Stamkos (19), (Namestnikov, Palat)
5:16 TB Stamkos (20), (Palat, Namestnikov)
11:55 TB Johnson (5), (Hedman, Kucherov)
After a clunker in Calgary to start this road trip, the Lightning successfully manufactured a couple of wins in Edmonton and Vancouver, and tonight they were finally able to put together a full 60 minute effort that looked like an elite level team ready to go on a run. I don't want to overstate it because I think Colorado is dreadful at 5-on-5 and their PP is the only thing of much value, but the Lightning made the Avs look like a glorified Junior A team tonight. They outshot the Avs 38-21, outchanced them by an even wider margin, and just generally never looked all that threatened. That was ruthlessly efficient and what just about every coach dreams about: build a 3-0 lead at the Second Intermission and cruise to the shutout victory with a detail-minded Third Period. It was impressive, and if you're an optimist, tonight would point to the logical fusion of the offensive firepower the team had last season and the more defensively responsible style they've had to learn so far this season just to stay afloat. Put together, it could be a terrifying brew.
Headlining the win was a pair of goals for Stamkos set up by Palat and Namestnikov as that line has started to gel. It's a good group, because Palat and Namestnikov have the skill to threaten a team on their own, which allows Stamkos to lay in the weeds and find open pockets of ice to snipe from. When you add in Palat's strength and puck retrieval ability, it's a good mix. It was also good to see Johnson get a goal, as he's the next one who needs to get on track if the Lightning are truly going to go on a run the second half of the year.
Through 3 games of Segment Five of the season, the Lightning have collected 6 points. They're playing themselves into a good position to dig themselves out of the hole they're in for the season. I still implore you to avoid getting too happy about the Lightning rising up the Wild Card standings because there's still a ton of work to do. But, after these past 3 games, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Nikita Nesterov was +2 with 2 shots and 1 hit in 14:39.
Lightning pull another one out on this western swing.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 23 shots for the OT victory. He didn't have a ton of work but made a small handful of timely saves. I'm also willing to bet part of the reason Vancouver missed the net on a few of their chances is that Vasilevskiy's size and positioning make a shooter cut it a little too fine at times.
3:41 TB Killorn (7), (Kucherov, Namestnikov)
15:24 VAN Baertschi (7), (Horvat, Weber)(PP)
12:20 TB Filppula (5), (Stralman, Callahan)
17:10 VAN Horvat (6), (Hutton, Biega)
3:51 TB Kucherov (16), (Namestnikov, Stralman)
Thankfully, the ending of this game had some flair to it, because the bulk of this game was as boring as the previous two games on this road trip. The Lightning came out with a lot more energy in this contest and deserved the early 1-0 lead, but got in the box and eventually forfeited momentum and the lead before heading to First Intermission. The game really devolved into a defensive struggle in the Second Period with the Lightning squandering several PP opportunities in the middle frame before finally breaking through just after a PP in the Third Period when a Filppula centering feed banked in off of Edler's skate. It's another lucky goal, true. But, considering the Lightning did outshoot Vancouver 17-5 in that Third Period, it's the kind of puck luck you get when you're waylaying a team in possession. So, I won't poo poo that goal. Unfortunately, Bo Horvat had pretty perfect placement on a shot/pass off the rush late in the game to equalize, and this one ended up in Overtime.
The Lightning have been good in Overtime this year and with Vasilevskiy in net, I even like their chances in the Shootout, so I was optimistic heading out of regulation. Ironically, though, I think tonight was the Lightning's lousiest 3-on-3 session in a couple of months, and they were really lucky to get out of it with the second point. Vancouver missed the net on several glorious opportunities with a frequency that would make Victor Hedman blush, and that gave the Lightning the chance to end it on a Kucherov breakaway sprung by a good stretch pass by Vladislav Namestnikov.
You're going to see a lot of deceptively positive stuff about the Lightning climbing back into the second Wild Card spot with the win tonight. I really hope the team doesn't actually think they've made it all the way back, though, because they're still in a Grand Canyon sized hole and they still have no margin for error. Let's put it this way: to be on target at 60 points in our 12-in-10 model by the end of this 5th 10-game segment of the season, the Lightning would have to win 7 of their next 8. So please, let's pump the brakes on any celebrations because there's still a ton of work to be done and this team still is not playing anywhere close to their best hockey. You can be happy, though, that winning a couple in a row probably forestalls any thoughts of an early sell off by the Lightning. Mind you, I doubt Yzerman would act that rashly even with the pressure of the Stamkos and Drouin situations upon him.
Nikita Nesterov had 2 hits in 15:18.
Lucky breaks delay season obituary for at least one night.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 26 shots for the win. I'm going to attribute the lucky breaks the Lightning got in the Third Period to the Hockey Gods delivering some justice on behalf of Ben for all the wins he got shafted out of earlier this season for lack of goal support.
15:20 EDM Schultz (2), (Eberle)
3:38 EDM Pouliot (9), (Nugent-Hopkins, Sekera)(PP)
3:01 TB Kucherov (15), (Hedman, Johnson)
14:50 TB Hedman (3), (unassisted)
15:51 TB Stamkos (18), (Hedman, Namestnikov)
Victor Hedman and Ben Bishop were the game's first and third stars.
I'm kind of at a loss. I wish I could tell you how exciting this come from behind win was and how this is the turning point of the season. But, honestly, the Lightning played a subpar game tonight and got lucky drawing and inside straight of three lucky goals in the Third Period to pull it out. It's not that they played awful, mind you. They had the bulk of possession in the First Period and the Third Period, and when you have possession you increase your odds of getting some of that good old "puck luck." But, honestly, they simply weren't generating much in the way of chances. It was an antiseptic, robotic, emotion-free effort like we saw in Calgary occasionally interrupted by the Lightning struggling with Edmonton's speed on odd man counters the other way. Really, it was mostly boring, joyless hockey if you want to be brutally honest about it.
They crawled back into the game off a faceoff win that led to a shot into a maze of players that was credited to Kucherov. Then you had a 2-on-1 where a Hedman centering feed was tipped into the Edmonton goal by Taylor Hall on the backcheck. Finally, the hat trick of good fortune was polished off by a Stamkos centering feed/shot from the bad angle on the goal line that banked in off of Nurse's skate for the game winning goal. Yay.
We'll see if the Lightning can parlay this into any kind of run. I'm skeptical, but I'd be happy to be wrong.
Nikita Nesterov was a +2 with 2 penaty minutes, 1 shot, 4 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 16:02. He got his chances tonight. Thankfully, I think he's still got his "shoot-first" preset in his mind, but there was a time or two in this game, like in Calgary, where I think he was a little hesitant to try to get it through with a potential shot blocker in front of him.
The hole gets deeper.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 23 shots for the loss. Can't fault him for the goals (a 2-on-1 and a tip by an unmarked man in front). Can't fault him for the lack of goal support, either.
3:56 CGY Stajan (4), (Giordano, Brodie)
15:30 CGY Jones (8), (Giordano)
18:21 TB Stamkos (17), (Stralman, Filppula)
19:02 CGY Bouma (1), (Wideman, Russell)(EN)
They might as well have not gotten off the bus. They came out flat as a pancake, which they compounded with some pretty bad turnovers in the First Period. Calgary gets the early goal on the odd man rush, and from that point on the game never felt within reach. Calgary was too good defensively, and although the Lightning outshot the Flames 31-24, you could probably count the number of real scoring chances they had on one hand. The Lightning had nothing on the rush. Nothing off counters. No odd man rushes. And they were incapable of threading anything threatening through Calgary's defensive zone coverage inside the Flames zone. It was a clinic.
The Lightning finish Segment Four of the season with just 11 points in 10 games. Their overall season deficit climbs 1 point to 6 points overall at approximately the halfway point of the season. It's going to take a Herculean effort by the team in the second half just to make the postseason, and frankly they don't look like they have it in them. To reach 96 points, the Lightning have to play .643 hockey the rest of the way (with the extra 2 games at the end of the year factored in). That's pretty difficult stuff. What that means for the future of Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Drouin, and a few others in the organization? Nothing good, I would venture to guess. The frustrating thing is the Lightning probably left 5 points on the ice in this segment between the collapse in Washington, the power play futility against Vancouver, and the poor shift after taking the lead in Toronto. The deficit could be a very manageable 2 points right now. Instead, it's gone up to 6, and the fat lady is already starting to warm up on January 5th.
Jonathan Marchessault had 1 shot and 1 hit in 9:29. He's become sort of a power play specialist for the Lightning in the past couple of weeks, and when you get no power plays, the specialist's effectiveness tends to slide.
Nikita Nesterov had 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 19:45. He also had 4 other shot attempts he couldn't get on net. Calgary's defense climbed into his head with their shot blocking, and he ultimately froze on a great chance late in the game from the slot when he should've shot immediately. Not good.