Connolly, Brett

NHL Game Night: 10-22-11 Sabres at Lightning

Third jersey + old logo + black pants + celebration stripes = shutout win.

BUF-0
TB-3

Mathieu Garon stopped all 21 he faced for the shutout victory. That'll buy him another week or two in the first chair of Maestro Boucher's hockey orchestra.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
TB Kubina (1), (Stamkos, Purcell), 4:51

Third Period
TB St Louis (3), (Lecavalier, Connolly), 8:30
TB Hedman (2), (St Louis)(EN), 18:33

Garon, Victor Hedman, and Brett Connolly were the game's three stars.

So the Lightning get back to the .500 mark at 3-3-2 after about 3 weeks of wandering in the wilderness, and they do so against a good Buffalo team that's currently leading their division. They've left themselves a little bit of a hole in the division, now 6 points back of the still unbeaten Caps with Washington holding 1 game in hand, but at least now they look like they're heading in the right direction.

Brett Connolly had an assist and was +1 with a team high 7 shots on goal and 1 hit. He played 13:06 in the game, and I suspect he's sliding a DVD of this game under Steve Yzerman's office door some time around 11 pm tonight with a Post-It note that says "Respectfully, I deserve to stay in the NHL," on it.

Blair Jones had 2 penalty minutes and 1 shot in 11:12.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 10-20-11 Islanders at Lightning

Finally, the real Tampa Bay Lightning show up to play.

NYI-1
TB-4

Mathieu Garon allowed 1 goal on 17 shots for the victory. He didn't have a lot of work, but he made one or two key saves at key times in the game.

First Period
TB Malone (2), (Lecavalier, Bergeron)(PP), 16:32

Second Period
TB Lecavalier (3), (St. Louis), 15:14

Third Period
TB Stamkos (3), (Purcell), 5:25
NYI Grabner (2), (Streit, Rolston), 7:55
TB Clark (2), (Purcell), 16:59

Eric Brewer, Vincent Lecavalier, and Teddy Purcell were the game's three stars.

That was Lightning hockey, and the improvement started with Eric Brewer, who was questionable to even make it to the game. He's been subpar all season long, but he made better plays tonight and everything flowed from there. Some of the credit for that, I think, should go to Matt Gilroy, who played 17:15 and is starting to take some of the load that was an injured Mattias Ohlund's off of Brewer and Hedman's shoulders. He's starting to look plenty dangerous in the offensive third, too. I'm beginning to think Brewer, in particular, has a ceiling of ice time he can't go above and be effective, so it's essential other d-men like Gilroy step up until Ohlund returns.

Up front, the full energy effort from all four lines was finally there. It had been improving in each of the past couple of games, and tonight it finally came together. The forecheck was Lightning caliber, and that's how you keep a team down to a 30-17 shot disparity and you build a 3 goal lead in the final frame.

Brett Connolly was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 2 hits in 16:12. He's getting better along the wall and around the cage in every single game, and he's a viper of a playmaker with the puck on his stick. Tonight was his 7th NHL game, 2 shy of that magical 9th game when the decision on whether or not to send him back to junior needs to be made. Honestly, and folks know I'm not King Brett Connolly booster, I'm starting to lean toward keeping him in the NHL. He's doing things along the wall I didn't think he was capable or willing to do. The skill level was never the question for me. The question was whether he'd be a passenger on the forecheck, and in the past few games he's been anything but.

Blair Jones had 3 shots and 1 blocked shot in 10:31. He was inserted in the lineup to provide energy and that's just what he did. His skill level isn't terribly high and he's not pretty to look at, but he works his bag off, and that's infectious.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 10-17-11 Panthers at Lightning

Penalties and soft goals kill a good effort.

FLA-7
TB-4

Dwayne Roloson allowed 7 goals on 33 shots for the loss. The switch to Mathieu Garon may be a foregone conclusion now. My expectation is Steve Yzerman will now inquire about Evgeny Nabokov now, too.

First Period
FLA Kopecky (1), (Jovanovski, Campbell)(PP), 6:15
TB Purcell (2), (Shannon, Bergeron)(PP), 9:22
TB Hedman (1), (Hall, Thompson), 14:00
FLA Weiss (2), (Kulikov, Campbell)(PP), 17:12

Second Period
FLA Versteeg (2), (Weiss, Campbell), 2:35
FLA Bergenheim (1), (unassisted)(SH), 12:17
TB Lecavalier (2), (Bergeron, Gilroy), 16:21

Third Period
FLA Versteeg (3), (Fleischmann, Weiss)(PP), 0:25
TB Stamkos (2), (Gilroy, Bergeron), 10:53
FLA Weiss (3), (Versteeg, Jovanovski), 15:28
FLA Garrison (2), (Campbell, Versteeg)(PP), 16:47

Marc-Andre Bergeron was the game's third star.

It's tough. I though the want-to level was there tonight, but mistakes, penalties, and poor goaltending led to the team not getting the result. The key is for the effort level to stay high while the mistakes, penalties, and poor goaltending get resolved.

Brett Connolly had 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 11:56. I thought he had his best game as an NHLer thus far on the forecheck.

Mattias Ritola had 1 shot and 2 penalty minutes in 10:32. The guy looks due to get on the scoresheet, to me.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 10-15-11 Lightning at Panthers

1-2-2 on the opening road trip. Home cooking, please.

TB-2
FLA-3 (SO)

Mathieu Garon stopped 36 of 38 before allowing 1 of 3 shooters to convert in the penalty shot session for the shootout loss. He was outstanding tonight. He stood on his head for much of the first 40-50 minutes of the game while the Lightning finally figured out how to compete a bit.

First Period
FLA Jovanovski (1), (Kopecky, Booth)(PP), 11:48

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
TB Bergeron (1), (Moore), 9:43
FLA Versteeg (1), (Kulikov, Campbell), 17:05
TB Bergeron (2), (Kubina, St. Louis), 17:44

Overtime
NO SCORING

Shootout
TB- NONE
FLA- Goc

Marc-Andre Bergeron was the second star of the game and supplied one of the first real "oh hell yes" moments of the season, hulking up at the right point and banging his stick before finally receiving the setup for a game tying cannon.

The team still got outshot 38-30, but you saw signs in this game that the compete level and the pride level is coming back. Credit to Steve Downie for having the guts to fight a much bigger man in Eric Gudbranson, a fight he should've gotten killed in, and for holding his own. Credit to guys like Tom Pyatt and Mattias Ritola and Blair Jones for hustling, and digging, and taking the body. They started to show some pride tonight, and it was infectious. All of a sudden, the top line guys broke out of their stupor and started playing a bit like top line guys in the final frame. It feels like the flood gates may open in the home debut in the new blue unis.

It seems like this team lost some of its identity over the offseason with Sean Bergenheim departing and Dana Tyrell not making the team and breaking up the Hall/Thompson/Tyrell line. It's taking some time for the team to re-find its footing and its work ethic, but the first baby steps look like they might've happened tonight.

Brett Connolly had 2 shots and 4 hits in 11:10 tonight. I liked that he was around the net and he actually didn't look out of place along the wall. More games like that, even if he's not as creative and dangerous, will keep him in the league, in my opinion.

Mattias Ritola had 2 shots, 3 hits, and 1 penalty minute in 13:05. I'm really liking how Ritola looks so far this year. He was rusty in his first game, but he's been noticable in puck pursuit in every game since and he had everything right but the finish tonight on a partial breakaway.

Blair Jones had 3 hits in 6:18. The young man was absolutely crushing Panthers tonight. #49 is Guy Boucher's V8 powered snow plow out there.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 10-13-11 Lightning at Islanders

At what point are these guys going to feel embarrassed?

TB-1
NYI-5

Dwayne Roloson allowed 5 goals on 18 shots for the loss before being lifted for Mathieu Garon, who stopped all 16 he faced the rest of the way.

First Period
NYI Tavares (1), (unassisted), 0:36
TB Stamkos (1), (Bergeron), 7:10
NYI Moulson (1), (Tavares, Eaton), 9:28
NYI Tavares (2), (Moulson, Parenteau), 15:15
NYI Parenteau (1), (Tavares), 18:39

Second Period
NYI Grabner (1), (Okposo), 6:47

Third Period
NO SCORING

Let me put this in very simple terms: in the last 3 games the Lightning have allowed 14 goals, and if you take Tomas Vokoun's softies out of the equation, they've only scored 4. They should have been -10 over the past 3 games, and that's terrible no matter how you slice it.

You would think they would've shown more pride than to allow the team that they fought tooth and nail to 7 games in the Eastern Conference Finals to steamroll them in Boston. Nah. Their division nemesis who they battled in the playoffs and that has tormented them over the past 3-4 seasons? Nah. No pride displayed in either of those games. No forecheck. No focus. No attention to detail.

Having one of the best coaches in the league I wouldn't have expected that kind of effort in back-to-back games, and I damned sure wouldn't have expected it in 3 straight games. But, 36 seconds in, the Lightning started the cycle all over again, and this time they do it against a perennial bottom feeder in the Islanders. Seriously, other than Downie, Ritola, Moore, and maybe one or two others, did anyone else on the team mentally show up for the first 30 minutes?

Will they feel embarrassed now? I don't know. If I were GM, I'm not sure I'd wait for the team to decide to play focused, determined hockey. There are players like Carter Ashton and Tyler Johnson who already are playing focused, determined hockey in the minors. Why on earth they should be working for pennies on the dollar behind guys who should be -10 the past 3 games and have been stealing money from the organization. The complacency and the arrogance have to stop now.

Brett Connolly was +1 with 3 shots and 1 blocked shot in 14:41. To finish a plus in a game you get clobbered 5-1 isn't shabby.

Mattias Ritola was -2 with 2 penalty minutes, 8 shots, and 1 hit in 15:11. The +/- is ugly, but the effort he made on the forecheck and in the offensive third wasn't. I was impressed with how he played. If only a few more players on the team cared about more than their image.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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