Nesterov, Nikita

NHL Game Night: 12-20-15 Senators at Lightning

Lightning show no signs of a Washington hangover.

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Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 25 shots for the victory. It wasn't one of Bishop's more dominant performances, because it didn't have to be. That said, he made 1-2 key situational saves in the Third Period that allowed his club to eventually pull away at the end.

First Period
4:20 OTT Smith (8), (Lazar)(SH)
5:23 TB Nesterov (1), (Hedman, Killorn)(PP)
7:16 TB Stamkos (13), (Kucherov, Namestnikov)(PP)

Second Period
2:45 TB Angelidis (1), (Blunden, Marchessault)
14:28 OTT Karlsson (9), (Hoffman, Pageau)

Third Period
18:27 TB Killorn (6), (unassisted)(EN)
18:40 TB Stamkos (14), (Kucherov, Namestnikov)(EN)

Nikita Nesterov and Mike Angelidis were the game's first and third stars.

Tonight was a battle of a couple of injury depleted teams. With Brian Boyle leaving the game with an apparent concussion, the Lightning were depleted to 10 forwards, seemingly half of which were fresh up from Syracuse. Meanwhile, injuries and a match penalty shortened Ottawa's bench to about 11 forwards and 4 defensemen. The ensuing test of team depth was one the Lightning appeared to pass with flying colors. The Lightning power play continued to show the same signs of improvement it's teased over the past week and the Lightning had the lion's share of possession throughout the contest. More importantly, they cleared some psychological hurdles by getting through the Third Period protecting a 1 goal lead after melting down against the Capitals last time out. I thought they may have been a little guilty of playing not to lose in the first half of the final frame, but they got on their forecheck in the back half of the Third and eventually pulled away for the big victory.

With Brian Boyle, I imagine, out for the Canucks game to rest his head until after the Christmas break, I'd expect Tanner Richard to make his NHL debut on Tuesday.

With two more goals tonight, Steven Stamkos seems to be awakening from his slumber. A lot of the credit, in my opinion, goes to the less publicized play of Vladislav Namestnikov, whose heroics tonight included springing Val Filppula for a penalty shot-enducing breakaway and a clever backhand up-pass that eventually led to a Kucherov breakaway and a Stamkos chance dead in the mid slot after Kucherov missed. Even with those two near-misses, he had a couple of helpers tonight as he is starting to look like a real nice NHL scoring liner. He's been as important to the success of that line with Stamkos and Kucherov as Kucherov, in my opinion, and that's no small statement when you think about it.

The win was huge as far as the playoff pursuit goes. On a macro-level, which I caution you not to get too caught up in during the month of December, the Lightning moved to within 2 points of 3rd in the Atlantic Division and 1 point of the second Wild Card spot. On the micro-level, which the Lightning need to be more concerned with, they got to 6 points for this 10-game segment through 4 games. A win against Vancouver next time out would set them up nicely to get more than the minimum 12 points in 10 games you try to get and start to cut into the 5 point deficit they have for the season because of that terrible Segment Two of the season. You'd love to see them get 14-15 points out of this segment somehow and cut that deficit down to 2-3 points by the mid-season mark.

Angelidis had his second NHL goal and was +1 with 1 shot in 14:10. He was also 31% on 13 draws. Strong night for the Crunch line of Blunden, Angelidis, and Marchessault with Angelidis getting the payoff on the greasy goal on a play Blunden brought to the high traffic area. Blunden's been a pleasant surprise with how he's played over the past 3 games and Angelidis' game tonight was just par for the course for anyone who has seen him play for Syracuse. Just an honest, grinding forward.

Jonathan Marchessault had a helper, 2 shots, and 1 hit in 10:13.

Nesterov had a PP goal, 3 shots, and 2 hits in 13:10. His goal was extremely important after the deflating shorthanded goal against.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 12-18-15 Lightning at Capitals

Third Period meltdown tarnishes solid Lightning effort.

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Ben Bishop allowed 4 goals on 22 shots for the loss. Situational saves matter. The Oshie goal off the wing high short side cannot be allowed in that situation. It's got to be a higher caliber scoring chance that beats you there. That, among other things, opened the door to the meltdown that happened.

First Period
8:18 TB Killorn (5), (Marchessault, Coburn)

Second Period
6:54 TB Sustr (1), (Kucherov)
9:04 TB Stamkos (12), (Hedman, Stralman)
13:49 WSH Ovechkin (15), (Oshie, Carlson)(PP)

Third Period
7:54 WSH Oshie (11), (unassisted)
10:02 WSH Ovechkin (16), (Chimera, Williams)(PP)
14:16 WSH Johansson (6), (Oshie, Ovechkin)(PP)
19:35 WSH Oshie (12), (Backstrom, Ovechkin)(EN)

That's a tough one. It's not that the Lightning lost to a really good team like the Capitals, it's that they looked like they were going to post a watershed victory only to see it implode right before their eyes. Add it to the list of similar losses the Lightning have suffered this season.

Part of the Lightning's undoing tonight has to be attributed to the officials. The refs giftwrapped a pair of highly questionable phantom calls on a slash to Stamkos off a faceoff that ended up cutting the Lightning lead to 3-1 and a ticky tack interference call at the bench on Hedman that allowed Washington to tie the game. Take that phantom slash on Stamkos away, and the Lightning likely take a 3-0 game into the locker room and the outcome is pretty much in the bag. Mind you, the PK has to do better than go 1-for-4, but I'm more than a little bitter about the night the zebras had.

There's plenty of silver linings from the night, the biggest of which was Stamkos snapping out of his goal scoring slump. It's amazing how he looked like he was shot out of a cannon in the Third Period with that weight lifted from his shoulders. It wouldn't be all that surprising if he went on a tear over the coming few weeks. But, you know, that's not going to take the sour taste out of this one.

Mike Angelidis had 3 hits in 7:57. Hard working night on the fourth line.

Jonathan Marchessault had a helper and was +1 with 2 shots in 14:25. He had a strong game, including hitting a post that was nearly a key goal in the Third Period that might've allowed the Lightning to stave off the coming disaster.

Yanni Gourde had 2 hits in 7:43.

Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 1 shot and 2 hits in 14:06. I thought he played one of his better games in a while tonight.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 12-15-15 Lightning at Maple Leafs

Character building victory for the weary Lightning.

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TOR-4 (OT)

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 37 shots for the OT victory. None of his goals were brutally soft tonight, mind you, but you had goals resulting from rebound control in tight, sliding too far out of position to challenge a first shot, and another going through him under his arm. Point being: he can play better. And, for everyone who was ready to usher Ben Bishop out of town to anoint Vasilevskiy just a couple months ago: slow down.

First Period
2:59 TB Kucherov (12), (Namestnikov)
10:40 TOR Bozak (5), (van Riemsdyk, Parenteau)(PP)
18:03 TOR van Riemsdyk (9), (Bozak, Parenteau)

Second Period
11:34 TOR Rielly (4), (Komarov)
19:24 TB Stralman (3), (Kucherov)

Third Period
5:56 TB Blunden (1), (Gourde, Sustr)
6:32 TB Marchessault (4), (Killorn, Sustr)
13:28 TOR Winnik (3), (Polak, Spaling)

Overtime
2:01 TB Namestnikov (6), (unassisted)

Vladislav Namestnikov was the game's first star. Well deserved because he was excellent from start to finish. He's now got double the goals of Valtteri Filppula and has edged ahead of Filppula in points despite playing fewer minutes. Oh, and one is +7 this year and the other is -9, too. I feel like Vladislav's clearly on the cusp of stardom and Filppula is borderline stealing money, which points to some difficult moves that Yzerman really needs to make happen.

Overall the game was 39 minutes of some of the worst hockey the Lightning have played all season followed by the kind of character-building moments that could allow the Lightning to come out a much better team by the end of the year if they can keep manufacturing points. The Lightning looked dead tired and flat as a pancake for most of the first two periods after playing on the tail end of a back-to-back and their 3rd game in 4 nights while also dealing with the clown show that is the Toronto media whenever Stamkos is in town. They looked dead late in the Second Period when the Toronto defense decided to revert to the norm and the Red Sea parted for Anton Stralman to cut the lead to 3-2. Game changing moment.

From that point on, the Lightning took control of the tenor of the game with two key strikes brought by fresh legs from the Syracuse Crunch. Toronto managed to get a seeing eye goal off a faceoff to salvage a point, but it's an absolutely amazing thing to see the Lightning athletically dominating a Toronto team late even after Toronto had a week off heading into this one. Namestnikov punctuated it by scorching past the Toronto 3-man unit to create his own breakaway and the game winning goal.

Bear in mind this is a Lightning team that has absolutely stunk at coming from behind in Third Periods the past couple of years. I haven't looked it up, but it feels like the Lightning have only won 3 or 4 games (including tonight) coming from behind in the Third Period the last 2 seasons, and they hadn't done it yet this year. They're learning how to win games when the goals don't come to them. They're learning how to win games when they're hurt. They're learning how to win games when they're tired. They're learning how to win games from behind. Sure, a lot of that education also came in the playoffs last year, but I want you to imagine what this graduate course in weathering adversity could lead to once Johnson, Palat, Drouin, Paquette, and all of Santa's other reindeer come off the IR. If I were the NHL, I'd be terrified if the Lightning can weather this storm and make the playoffs.

Jonathan Marchessault had a goal, 3 shots, and 1 blocked shot in 17:13. He was really good tonight. Caught some bad luck with his stick breaking leading to the 2-on-1 that led to the Rielly goal, but he stuck to it and got the goal to go ahead 4-3 in the Third Period. Note, he now also has more goals than the previously mentioned Filppula.

Yanni Gourde had a helper and was +1 with 2 penalty minutes and 1 blocked shot in 6:55. It's Gourde's birthday and his NHL debut, and it improved greatly once he got that interference call out of the way in his first or second shift in the league.

Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 9:45. He's still not where he was a year ago, and that's a little concerning.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 12-14-15 Lightning at Blue Jackets

Lightning have multiple personality disorder in Ohio.

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Ben Bishop was outstanding, allowing just 1 goal on 26 shots for the victory. Part of me wants to see him start again tomorrow versus Toronto.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
11:11 TB Marchessault (3), (unassisted)
16:46 CBJ Dubinsky (5), (Calvert, Foligno)

Third Period
6:13 TB Boyle (8), (Killorn)(SH)

Brian Boyle and Bishop were the game's first and third stars.

It seems like Columbus is always a strange place for the Lightning when they play there, and tonight was no different. The game split pretty cleanly into three acts.

First, the Lightning were awfully sloppy in the First Period with multiple turnovers in the no-no zone within 10 feet of either blueline. Ben Bishop had to be sharp to deny the resulting A chances, but it wasn't as if Columbus was athletically dominating Tampa Bay. The Lightning were just not sharp on their breakout passing or their decision-making with the puck.

For the following 30 minutes, the Lightning absolutely dominated Columbus. The Blue Jackets had next to no puck possession as the Lightning continually pressed the attack down low in the offensive zone. Unfortunately, the Lightning could never expand to a multiple-goal lead, and the specter of Columbus stealing a smash and grab win hung thick over the game. It was only a great effort play by Alex Killorn to create a shorthanded goal that put the Lightning a goal up in the Third Period.

Then there was the final 10 minutes of the game. Awful. Columbus ran roughshod over the Lightning physically while they pressed for the equalizer. Was it fatigue due to the Lightning being down to 10 forwards (again)? Perhaps, but that doesn't explain why the Lightning defense suddenly started losing players in coverage and losing every race to loose pucks. Columbus came within a half inch of tying the game on a puck that sat on the line behind Bishop. Only by the grace of a little slush did Tampa Bay manage to get out of town with the 2 points. I have no idea what to make of the team's effort tonight, if anything. I'll take it, though. Beats suffering a smash and grab loss.

That's a dirty team Columbus has, by the way. It has to be said. Scott Hartnell did his best to break Brian Boyle's ankle with a slash at one point and there were several plays where the Blue Jackets cross checked forwards into the boards on plays that could've been borderline boarding that weren't called. Hartnell deserved to get his clock cleaned by the two straight rights he was fed by Ryan Callahan right after the horn at the conclusion of the First Period. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

Jonathan Marchessault had a goal, 2 shots, and 1 hit in 8:40. He was gifted a turnover that was a perfect centering pass and he made no mistake with it. The guy is a pure finisher. There's no doubt about that.

Joel Vermin played 1:38. He had 1 shift. Made an awful turnover at his own blueline on a cutesy one-touch pass that led to the Lightning getting hemmed in for a minute and nearly falling behind because of it. And, to add injury to insult, he got injured on the play and didn't return. Guess that means Yanni Gourde is a lock to make his NHL debut tomorrow.

Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 1 blocked shot in 10:54.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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