Nesterov, Nikita

NHL Game Night: 1-15-16 Penguins at Lightning

4 is a fluke. 5 is a streak.

PIT-4
TB-5 (OT)

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.

First Period
1:51 TB Namestnikov (7), (Stamkos, Nesterov)
10:37 PIT Letang (6), (Crosby, Hornqvist)

Second Period
8:12 TB Filppula (6), (Johnson, Stamkos)(PP)
10:47 TB Namestnikov (8), (Hedman, Filppula)(PP)
14:23 PIT Hornqvist (10), (Malkin, Letang)(PP)

Third Period
10:13 PIT Daley (2), (Malkin, Kessel)
13:48 PIT Kunitz (7), (Maatta, Hornqvist)
15:21 TB Stralman (5), (Filppula, Paquette)

Overtime
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.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 1-12-16 Lightning at Avalanche

Lightning get right against defensively terrible Avs.

TB-4
COL-0

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.

First Period
10:29 TB Palat (3), (Hedman, Killorn)

Second Period
1:39 TB Stamkos (19), (Namestnikov, Palat)
5:16 TB Stamkos (20), (Palat, Namestnikov)

Third Period
11:55 TB Johnson (5), (Hedman, Kucherov)

Steven Stamkos, Ondrej Palat, and Ben Bishop were the game's three stars.

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.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 1-9-10 Lightning at Canucks

Lightning pull another one out on this western swing.

TB-3
VAN-2 (OT)

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.

First Period
3:41 TB Killorn (7), (Kucherov, Namestnikov)
15:24 VAN Baertschi (7), (Horvat, Weber)(PP)

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
12:20 TB Filppula (5), (Stralman, Callahan)
17:10 VAN Horvat (6), (Hutton, Biega)

Overtime
3:51 TB Kucherov (16), (Namestnikov, Stralman)

Nikita Kucherov and Valtteri Filppula were the game's second and third stars.

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.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 1-8-16 Lightning at Oilers

Lucky breaks delay season obituary for at least one night.

TB-3
EDM-2

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.

First Period
15:20 EDM Schultz (2), (Eberle)

Second Period
3:38 EDM Pouliot (9), (Nugent-Hopkins, Sekera)(PP)

Third Period
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.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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