Tampa Bay Lightning
So ends Evgeny Nabokov's NHL career?
Evgeny Nabokov allowed 4 goals on 13 shots for the loss before giving way to Ben Bishop, who allowed 3 on 12 shots the rest of the way. The fact Cooper didn't put Nabokov back in for the Third Period seems a bit telling, like perhaps this is the end of the road. Nabokov appeared to earn the start after playing reasonably well in his last outing, but he once again proved the Lightning just can't rely on him for even a mediocre start in back-to-back situations. Were it me, I'd highly consider calling up Kristers Gudlevskis to assume day-to-day practice duties as a waiver-exempt placeholder and then swap him with Andrei Vasilevskiy for planned starts, such as in upcoming back-to-backs. It could be a sad ending for Nabokov, who is probably one of the 4 or 5 best Russian goaltenders ever. The bottom dropped out quickly for him, though, a la Dwayne Roloson several years back.
6:12 PHI VandeVelde (3), (Schenn, Giroux)
10:26 TB Stamkos (23), (Johnson, Stralman)(PP)
16:15 PHI Umberger (7), (Read, Coburn)
1:45 PHI Voracek (17), (Streit, Giroux)(PP)
2:36 PHI Bellemare (4), (VandeVelde, Del Zotto)
7:02 PHI Streit (5), (Schenn, Simmonds)(PP)
8:37 PHI Schenn (10), (Streit, Voracek)(PP)
15:01 PHI Raffl (11), (Laughton, Simmonds)
15:23 TB Boyle (8), (Paquette, Stralman)
1:20 TB Callahan (13), (Drouin, Filppula)(PP)
Adding injury to insult, Victor Hedman and Tyler Johnson left the game with lower body injuries, the former of which meant that Brian Boyle ended up having to take shifts on defense. Johnson's injury, which looked like a potential twisted knee, is particularly troubling. So, in addition to whatever happens (if anything) with the goaltending situation, you could see Vladislav Namestnikov called up to fill for Johnson and on defense, I'll guess Luke Witkowski would get the call and the coaching staff might try to slide one of their lefties playing the right side over to the left side.
This was a case where the Lightning got caught peeking ahead to Boston, didn't come out with their best effort, saw some soft goaltending, and allowed it to snowball out of control. Now they'll go into a place they seemingly never win with a depleted lineup after Bishop had to nearly play 2 periods of hockey in the back-to-back situation. So, a minor lapse of mental focus may snowball beyond a single hockey game, which is a lesson Cooper should stress to his team.
Cedric Paquette had a helper with 2 shots, 4 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 17:32, as he got to fill some of Johnson's minutes. He was also 40% on draws. To his credit, he was still throwing checks and playing hard in garbage time on the Third Period, which isn't unexpected given his well-respected effort level.
Jonathan Drouin had a helper and was -1 with 1 hit in 15:56. Zero shot attempts. None. The kid sneezes out assists, which is amazing for a guy who rarely even attempts to shoot the puck, and tells you how big a point producer he could be if he actually did.
Lightning blow out Sabres 2-1.
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 21 shots for the victory. His stop on Grigorenko on a 2-on-1 in the Second Period allowed the Lightning to turn the momentum after the Sabres' lone goal into a tidal wave that eventually overcame Neuvirth's exceptional effort at the other end of the rink.
3:51 TB Filppula (8), (Callahan, Paquette)
0:50 BUF McCormick (1), (Kaleta)(SH)
14:42 TB Stamkos (22), (Drouin, Killorn)
The Lightning outshot the Sabres 47-21 in the contest, and the final 39 minutes of this game were about as lopsided a game as you'll ever see in your life. The Lightning lived in the Sabres zone, throwing wave after wave of chances at the Buffalo net in a scene reminiscent of the old Lightning/Panthers games you used to see in the early '00's. Eventually, though, Neuvirth's nine lives ran out and the Lightning got the "W" that they richly deserved.
And remember, folks, Bobby "The Chief" Taylor says, "Ice is like great whiskey, it has to be aged and cured." Stick that in your flask.
Cedric Paquette had a helper and was +1 with 2 shots, 2 hits, and 2 blocked shots in 14:25. He started Filppula's goal with some good board work and had a rugged night where he gave and took with the Sabres throughout the night. His most high-profile moment, though, was a SH breakaway in the Third Period with the game tied 1-1 that Neuvirth got a piece of and steered off the outside of the goalpost and out.
Jonathan Drouin had 1 assist, 1 shot, and 1 blocked shot in 15:06. I though his line was a revelation tonight, and it's fitting Killorn/Stamkos/Drouin got the game winner. They could've had a half dozen goals tonight if Neuvirth had been the slightest bit human. It will be interesting to see if the momentum that group gained tonight carries forward against better opposition.
Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 2 penalty minutes and 4 shots in 14:34. My goodness he had such a good game helping the Lightning press the attack... right up until that clunker of a shift with the game tied 1-1 in the Third Period where he made a blind turnover that led to zone time for Buffalo and Nesterov eventually taking the tripping call. He should thank Bishop and the PK'ers for picking him up there. That little oops aside, though, if Nesterov's night translates against better opposition, the Lightning may have found a significant silver lining in Radko Gudas' knee injury.
Tasty, tasty revenge.
Ben Bishop again smacked Carey Price around, allowing just 2 goals on 22 shots for the victory. Funny how Montreal can't buy a win against Tampa Bay unless Anders (stinking) Lindback is between the pipes.
15:07 MTL Weise (5), (Plekanec, Gonchar)
3:17 TB Brown (2), (Drouin, Boyle)
10:42 TB Johnson (16), (Kucherov, Palat)(PP)
18:16 TB Connolly (8), (Filppula, Paquette)
19:38 TB Johnson (17), (Palat, Kucherov)(PP)
5:01 MTL Pacioretty (17), (Gallagher, Gonchar)
Man, I wish the Lightning could just alternate between playing Montreal and the Rangers every game. This team, when it has extra motivation, just goes to another level. I said it when the playoff run ended last season: All Montreal did was make a very powerful enemy of the Lightning, and that my suspicion is the Lightning will spend the next 5 seasons torturing the Canadiens for how that series went. Two games into the season series this year, the Lightning are 2-0-0 and have outscored Montreal in the series 11-3. My goodness, Tampa Bay even pulled their shambolic power play out of the dumpster with a 2-for-5 performance based partly on a new strategic wrinkle -- putting Stamkos out on a unit with the triplets. It looked like money tonight. The Canadiens' broadcasters are trying to stoke this as a budding rivalry between Tampa Bay and Montreal. My early take is that Montreal looks more like speed bump to Tampa Bay than a rival, regardless of how close things are in the standings. Without Lindback spotting them 1-2 free goals a game, Montreal's at a huge disadvantage playing against the Lightning head-to-head.
Cedric Paquette had a helper and was +1 with 1 shot, 5 hits, and 2 blocked shots in 16:29. He got his assist hedmanning the puck on a 3-on-1 that Connolly converted, and otherwise was just a bowling ball on skates all night. He was trying to hit everything that moved out there.
Jonathan Drouin had a helper and 1 shot and 1 hit in 11:28. He might've had the key shift of the night hitting a crossbar on one rush and then creating a chance on the next rush that saw Brown pot his rebound for the Lightning's opening goal. Once they got one on Price, the floodgates opened in the Second Period and the rest is history.
Every win streak starts at one.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 20 shots. He was beaten by the first shot he faced, but settled down, making some underrated saves in the second period. He coasted in the third when the Lightning controlled the majority of play. He's not his pre-injury self yet, but he's getting closer.
0:32 OTT Turris (9), (MacArthur, Ceci)
3:48 TB Hedman (5), (Drouin, Carle)
7:30 OTT Stone (9), (Turris, Karlsson)
16:08 TB Johnson (14), (Kucherov, Stralman)
16:55 TB Stamkos (21), (Killorn, Hedman)
7:58 Johnson (15), (Kucherov, Palat)
Johnson and Kucherov were the game's first and second stars, respectively.
Like in Pittsburgh, the Lightning started slow again, but the game turned out more like the recent Leafs game than Pens when they controlled the second and third periods.
The Lightning were horrific on the power play to start the game, unable to get into Ottawa’s zone without looking like a pee-wee team. It wasn’t until Johnson finished off a slick cross-ice pass from Kucherov late in the second period that they finally broke through on the man advantage. They finished a paltry 1/9, though that’s better than an 0-fer. Ottawa has experienced similar futility lately on the power play; they haven’t scored with the man advantage since December 19. They were 0/3 on Sunday.
Shortly after Johnson’s goal, Stamkos scored a highlight-reel, high-effort marker to hopefully get the monkey off his back. A big difference for him tonight was the presence of Alex Killorn on his line in place of Jonathan Drouin, which opened up some additional space. If this doesn’t get Stamkos going, Jon Cooper may think about putting Callahan back on Stamkos’ line as an investment of sorts in the Lightning’s top asset.
The difference in this game was the Lightning’s pressure in the second and third periods. The Sens played Boston on Saturday and the Lightning had been sitting in Ottawa since the Penguins game on Friday night. By the end of the third period the Lightning were getting extended zone time and Ottawa wasn’t showing much desire to keep playing.
With the win, the Lightning begin their fifth 10-game segment of the season with 2 points. To review, the goal is 12 points per segment, and they already have 4 extra points in the bank from previous segments.
The key now for the Lightning is to turn a single win into a streak. There’s no better place to start than Montreal on Tuesday night in a battle for the top spot in the Atlantic. Both teams have 54 points, with the Habs having two games in hand. This is where the 2004 Lightning took off on their way to the East's No. 1 seed.
Cedric Paquette was even with 1 shot and 1 hit in 12:18. He played a lot with Callahan and Filppula and didn’t look out of place. He’s not thriving like he did when he was first called up, but he’s settling into his checking role nicely.
Jonathan Drouin had 1 assist and was +2 with 3 shots in 12:59. He created a rebound that led to Hedman’s goal and was a Lehner toe save away from scoring on his own in the third period. Though getting fourth-line duty with grinders Morrow and Boyle, Drouin is able to produce better because he’s not up against the opposition’s best shut-down lines and pairs. It’s part of the long learning process. You can't say Cooper didn't give him a chance up top.
Nikita Nesterov was even with 2 PIM, 1 shot, and 1 hit in 13:06. He took a tripping penalty in the first period, but nearly scored after exiting the box and pinching in deep. He was sheltered for a lot of the game, though he continues to show impressive poise and aggressiveness for a rookie. Slotting in over Barberio was an interesting choice by Cooper, though it could be because Nesterov has experience playing the right side and Barberio is much better on the left than right. Both are lefties. Radko Gudas is out for the road trip so I’m curious to see if Nesterov or Barberio get the nod in the important Montreal game. I can’t say enough about how big of a difference there is in Nesterov’s play and on-ice demeanor between last year at this time and now. Kudos to him and the Syracuse staff.
Box score from NHL.com.
Disengage safety. Point at foot. Pull trigger. Repeat.
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 10 shots before being pulled for Evgeny Nabokov who allowed 2 on 18 shots the rest of the way for the dreaded back door loss. If there was a silver lining out of this game, it might have been that Nabby looked like an NHL goaltender in relief tonight.
1:56 PIT Kunitz (12), (Letang, Crosby)(PP)
6:50 PIT Ebbett (1), (Malkin, Despres)
13:39 PIT Malkin (17), (Ebbett, Rust)
15:11 TB Boyle (7), (Palat, Carle)
12:48 TB Hedman (4), (Johnson, Palat)
17:07 PIT Ehrhoff (3), (Bennett, Crosby)
11:18 TB Killorn (9), (Stralman, Hedman)
11:52 PIT Downie (6), (Crosby, Spaling)
19:55 PIT Downie (7), (Letang, Crosby)(EN)
I have some complaints with some shady things that happened in this game, but ultimately the Lightning shot themselves in the foot in this game. Stralman allowed his pocket to be picked on the very first shift of the game that led to a minor penalty and a power play goal, and the team instantly fell behind the eight ball. Stamkos made a turnover at the Lightning blueline on the third goal to put the team down 3-0 in the First Period, which is a crusher you try to avoid, and then two Lightning defenders get beat behind the net on a 50/50 puck by Crosby leading to Downie's insurance goal less than a minute after Killorn drew it to 4-3.
Now, the shady stuff still needs to be mentioned. On the second Penguins goal, Malkin hits the post and the Pittsburgh arena folks decide to blow the goal horn and fire up a strobe light on Bishop's crease as Ebbett comes in to score on the ensuing chance. Later, on the Ehrhoff goal to help Pittsburgh re-establish a 2 goal lead after Hedman pulled it to 3-2, you had a situation where a Pens stick was actually stuck in Stralman's visor before the rush that led to the goal and the ref actually came over to help Stralman and didn't make a call. Lunacy. Both of those plays were minor league/bush league quality stuff, and then we later got to witness Crosby rear naked choke out Connolly on a goal mouth scrum and get away with nothing called, just to add insult to injury. None of the above incidents are why the Lightning lost, but they're troubling examples of why you feel like the Lightning have to be THAT MUCH BETTER against a league darling like the Pens to realistically have a chance to win. It's shameful, really.
The same things keep happening night after night that end up being the difference between winning and losing and I don't see them improving consistently. The brain fart turnovers by veteran players just can't continue to happen. Details matter against quality teams like Pittsburgh. The power play (0-for-3 tonight) continues to come up dry at key points of the game and the guys who are supposed to be the team's best skaters (Stamkos and Callahan) continue to struggle to find the scoresheet consistently. When you sprinkle in that the team still is trying to figure out how Drouin fits into the puzzle, it's a maddening mystery soup right now. If these things start to get corrected, it's easy to see this team becoming a juggernaut. If they don't, it's just as easy to see how this thing could start to go pear-shaped.
With the loss, the Lightning finish the 4th 10-game segment of the season with 11 points, 1 point shy of the 12 point minimum target. They entered with 5 insurance points, fortunately, so they still have 4 insurance points heading into segment 5. The team's at a bit of a crossroads right now, though, and this is why Jon Cooper gets paid the big bucks.
Cedric Paquette was -2 with 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 15:39. He was on the ice for the Stamkos turnover goal and that abomination Ehrhoff goal, so I can't be too mad. Still, I keep wondering if and when a shakeup gets made if Paquette may end up having to go down to make way for Namestnikov.
Jonathan Drouin was -1 with 1 shot, 4 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 11:54. He, also, was on the ice for the Stamkos turnover goal. I really wish the coaching staff would figure out a role for Drouin and a set of linemates and stick with it. The kid's skill level is off the charts. He makes stick handling moves with the pace and violence of a boxer's punches, and his playmaking abilities are very evident. There's just no continuity with how he's being used, though, and he's the kind of player where I think linemates need to get used to him because of what a high-level setup guy he is.