Tampa Bay Lightning
Caps power play takes Tampa Bay to school.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 37 shots for the loss. I thought he showed a little rust early in the First Period but shook it off quickly and nearly got the Lightning to the Second Intermission with a chance to steal points.
7:09 WSH Ovechkin (12), (Chimera, Kuznetsov)(PP)
18:03 WSH Chimera (6), (Kuznetsov, Niskanen)(PP)
19:18 WSH Johansson (4), (Carlson, Schmidt)
5:16 WSH Oshie (6), (Backstrom, Carlson)(PP)
10:49 TB Boyle (5), (Callahan, Brown)
12:45 TB Hedman (2), (Namestnikov)
Tonight's game should be an object lesson on what an unstoppable weapon a potent power play can be. The Lightning actually weren't that bad at even strength in this game, but Washington completely outclassed the Lightning with the man advantage, creating 4-5 minute surges every time they got a power play, and goals, that tilted the game in their favor. Were I the coaching staff, I don't know that I'd show the team the tape of this game, but I'd set aside a good half a day to dissect the Caps power play and use it to fix the Lightning's.
Unlike the Lightning, who channel everything through Steven Stamkos in a way that often seems forced and telegraphed, the Caps create multiple pressure points away from Ovechkin's spot in the left wing circle that force PK's to lose their shape and lose Ovechkin, allowing him to drift to open ice for goal scoring chances. The Caps can do this because they have a lot of other high quality forwards (which the Lightning can match, both in terms of playmakers and trigger men) and quality power play point men (which is a personnel shortfall because the Lightning's only real scoring threat on D, Hedman, is only really good on the rush and isn't nearly as potent on the PP). The Lightning should at least start trying to work 2 and 3 man games from the right wing circle down with some of the skilled puckhandlers they have like Kucherov, Drouin, Namestnikov, and Palat, sprinkled in with shooters like Johnson. I think the Lightning have tried to do that, at times, but the difference is they don't ever threaten to actually score from those positions, and end up artificially forcing passes through the seam to Stamkos, which doesn't put Steven in a good position to score. The Lightning have to train the guys on the strong side of the ice to be more assertive and look for their own opportunities to score, allowing Stamkos the ability to drift to open ice and for passing lanes to develop more organically. Having a legit power play trigger man or two to add another set of pressure points would be ideal, but right now the Lightning don't have those guys and they need to continue to develop them or find them elsewhere. Put it another way: until the other 4 guys on the Lightning PP can threaten the other team's PK, they've got no reason not to completely overload on defending Stamkos.
Further complicating issues was the mysterious injury of Tyler Johnson, who skated one shift and was done. A Caps player jumped on Johnson's back/neck in the neutral zone early in the shift before Johnson eventually nearly scored off the rush near the end of that shift. He looked fine, but I wonder if the pop to his neck re-aggravated whatever happened when Johnson got elbowed in the head by Bolland against the Panthers. Either way, to lose one of your top two centers a whopping 2 minutes into the game was a heck of a blow to the Lightning, and contributed greatly to what ultimately occurred.
Jonathan Marchessault had 3 shots and 1 hit in 14:58. He got a lot of garbage time ice time to go along with some good shifts early in the game, and I think he continues to build a case to stay with the team.
Joel Vermin was +1 with 2 hits in 9:46. His forechecking popped loose the puck that became Hedman's goal. He's not as far along as Marchessault, but he's done nothing to this point to invalidate himself as an NHL prospect.
The momentum is real.
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 37 shots for the victory. He was sparkling tonight. The only regulation goal he allowed was a seeing eye shot through three players and he did get victimized again 5-hole in the shootout, but on balance he was the difference in the game tonight. He's formed the backbone for the resurgence of the team the last 3 games.
5:57 TB Johnson (4), (Marchessault)
14:37 LA Lucic (7), (Toffoli, Carter)
TB- Marchessault, Filppula
Bishop and J.T. Brown were the game's first and third stars. Marchessault may have gotten robbed, IMO.
That's the tightest checking team in the NHL, right there. The Kings apply so much back pressure it's stifling and I think the Lightning really struggled with it because there's not another team that gets back on you that quickly in the league. It's just really tough to get anything other than a greasy goal on those guys because you're not allowed any time and space to do anything of much creativity and they don't turn the puck over much. Credit to the Lightning for manufacturing the win, and now you look at consecutive wins against the Rangers, Ducks, and Kings. Those are three teams with talent levels that scream legit Cup contenders, and tells you the Lightning are earning their way back into the high rent district of the league. They're halfway to the segment goal of 12 points just 3 of 10 games into the segment, so they've got an opportunity to carve away at that 5 point deficit from their stinky performance in the previous 10 games. The schedule doesn't lighten up any, but it's certainly not any worse than the league heavies the Lightning put away these past three contests.
Jonathan Marchessault had a helper and was +1 with 1 hit in 11:05. His coming out party continues. He created the lone regulation goal by picking off a pass at the Kings blueline and showing good awareness to move it quickly to Johnson in open space. And, in the Shootout, he abused one of the best goaltenders in the world with a laser beam top shelf. He's making a case for himself nightly now.
Luke Witkowski had 3 hits in 5:28. Not a chance he was seeing much ice time in a game this tight on the scoreboard. Not a chance for any young d-man in the #7 role coming up from Syracuse. He got in and out of his 7 shifts without much incident, and that'll keep the coach's happy enough for tonight.
Lightning getting right.
Ben Bishop stopped all 30 shots he faced tonight for the issuance of some U of Maine Justice and the shutout win. He didn't have to be as brilliant tonight, and he got help from his lucky horseshoe a couple of times, but he deserved it. After getting the short end of the stick on goal support so very often this season, he deserved to get the clean sheet in this one.
5:57 TB Kucherov (6), (Sustr, Vermin)
12:35 TB Stamkos (10), (Callahan, Killorn)
13:49 TB Stamkos (11), (Kucherov, Namestnikov)(PP)
5:29 TB Boyle (4), (Brown)
10:01 TB Marchessault (1), (Kucherov, Stamkos)(PP)
Styles make the fight, in boxing parlance, and Anaheim's style is very difficult for the Lightning to match up against. They're a big, fast, bludgeoning north-south team that really puts a ton of pressure on the Lightning's defense and smaller forwards. So, the Lightning don't get to comfortably play the possession style they're used to and have to play more of a counterattacking style against a team like this, which they did to a tee tonight. Anaheim swarmed the Lightning in waves the first 30 minutes of the game, but the Lightning were disciplined positionally and with their backcheck pressure and they ultimately got their goals on counters and the power play and blew this one wide open to make it a laugher. Anaheim played a ton of games in the past week, so by the time the Third Period came they were too out of gas to mount much resistance. Kudos to the Lightning for understanding the strategic situation and playing hard and sharp within its constraints.
Jonathan Marchessault had a power play goal, 2 penalty minutes, 3 shots, and 4 hits in 11:40. Impressive game by him against a very big Anaheim team that was targeting him a bit. What impressed me the most about his goal is he actually drew the penalty it came on by frustrating a very good skating defenseman in Cam Fowler with his speed and tenacity.
Joel Vermin had a helper, his first NHL point, and was +1 with 1 hit in 12:22. Hustles and plays fairly smart positional hockey. His work on Kucherov's goal to start the Lightning snowball headed downhill toward success was critical.
Luke Witkowski had 4 penalty minutes, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 8:17. Had a wild night that included trying to fight half the Anaheim Ducks on the ice after one faceoff and a critical misplay of a bouncing puck that led to a 2-on-1 where Getzlaf struck the iron. He's surviving, somehow, but you can't make mistakes like that too often before you eventually get fitted for the goat horns.
The turning point of the season?
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.
14:47 TB Killorn (3), (Filppula)
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.
The Tampa Bay Lightning recalled forward Joel Vermin from the Syracuse Crunch today, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced.
Vermin, 23, has skated in 12 games with the Crunch this season, posting three goals and 10 points to go along with two penalty minutes. He ranks tied for first on Syracuse for both assists (seven) and points. Vermin has recorded two goals and five points over his past two games for the Crunch.
The Bern, Switzerland, native has appeared in 93 career AHL games, all with Syracuse during the past three seasons, notching 16 goals and 44 points. Vermin set career highs last season for games played (73), goals (12), assists (21) and points (33). He’s also skated in three AHL playoff games, registering one assist.
Vermin was originally drafted by the Lightning in the seventh round, 186th overall, at the 2013 NHL Draft.
BP Commentary: Every year there seems to be one or two players in the system who make a big jump. Last year it was Nikita Nesterov and to an extent, Tanner Richard. This year in the rookie tournament in Estero, Florida, it was Joel Vermin.
Talk about good timing.
Deeply unjust hockey gods banish Lightning to deep standings hole.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 19 shots for the loss. He looked to me to be very sharp despite limited shots again. Followed the puck really well. I can't fault the kid for a lucky goal that takes a double deflection to get past him.
19:39 FLA Ekblad (4), (Huberdeau, Jagr)
Vasilevskiy was the game's third star.
Vintage early '00's Panthers hockey. Give up a zillion shots with a collapsing defense and inept offense. Hope Luongo can keep you in the game and smash and grab it at the end. And they did. Disgusting. The Lightning deserved all 4 points from the home-and-home. They ended up getting 1.
On a side note, when is the NHL going to just move that franchise down there? It's bad enough to hold game's in front of a bristling crowd of hundreds, but tonight the ice conditions were as bad as I've seen ever. It looked like the game was being played with a racqetball, to the extend that you had even the most basic puckhandling and passing exercises eluded both teams. It was borderline unwatchable at times, and the league should be embarrassed in that product. If you're not going to make the Panthers invest in the infrastructure to at least make the rink playable the way Tampa Bay has, just quit playing footsie and move them to Quebec City already.
The hole is 5 points. The Lightning got 7 out of the target minimum of 12 points in that 10 game segment of the season. They'll be spending the bulk of the rest of this season trying to climb out of that hole. How bad is it? The Lightning could play at a .700 clip from here on out and it would take them 25 games to catch up with comfortable playoff pace. It's not good. That's why the injustice of these past two games against the Panthers hurts so much. Things went straight to hell in a handbasket, standings-wise, with those two defeats.
Matt Taormina had 1 shot and 1 hit in 9:16. Made some decent plays in limited ice time.
Jonathan Marchessault had 3 shots and 2 hits in 9:11. He rung post on one of the best chances the Lightning had in the game and was fairly active in the offensive zone in his limited ice time. That might've been his best game with the Lightning to date, in fact.
Lightning just miss a breakthrough they desperately needed.
Ben Bishop allowed 4 goals on 23 shots and allowed 1 of 2 shooters to convert in the penalty shot session for the SO loss. He was not super-sharp tonight, but I was almost willing to give him a pass after making a key desperation save with his right pad late in the Third Period that nearly was enough to preserve the win. But, he allowed a deflected floater with less than a minute to play and that ultimately cost the team a second point tonight. I'm not going to lambaste a guy for allowing goals on 2 breakaways and a penalty shot. That said, it's an obvious tell when Bishop is on/off as to whether or not he's leaving his five hole open. Tonight it was open 24 hours like a 7-Eleven, and Pirri took advantage on his PS goal and the Shootout winner. The five hole is to Ben Bishop what drink is to someone in AA: it's a demon he'll be fighting with the rest of his life. Being such a tall guy, he'll never fully correct it, but he's got to focus on keeping it under control.
4:48 FLA Jokinen (4), (Trocheck, Campbell)
15:22 TB Paquette (2), (Brown)
1:02 TB Namestnikov (4), (Stamkos)
2:39 FLA Bjugstad (6), (Smith, Huberdeau)
4:47 FLA Pirri (3), (unassisted)(PS)
7:49 TB Stralman (1), (Killorn, Hedman)
9:56 TB Namestnikov (5), (Brown, Stamkos)
19:22 FLA Ekblad (3), (Smith, Bolland)(PP)
This one stings, because it had the chance to be a cathartic moment that would put the Lightning season back on track. It was not a pretty game. It was incredibly sloppy and incredibly chippy, but that emotional response by the Lightning after getting physically challenged by the downstate rival was welcome. It looked like the elixir, quite frankly, as the team battled to manufacture the 4 goals it looked like it needed to win. And then the bottom dropped out on a center point wrister than took a slight deflection off Condra and went in with under a minute to go. Deflating. Tonight's exercise was helpful because it showed them they can manufacture goals in the dirty areas off rebounds, as they did on 3 out of the 4 goals. But, they really needed to payoff of the 2 points to feel good about the night and it slipped away from them. So, the funk continues to linger a bit longer.
So, the Lightning will be at least 3 points in the hole at the end of segment 2 of the season. 2 points in the segment finale would be much appreciated, to be sure.
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.