Nesterov, Nikita

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

Hardworking Lightning nearly pull off the comeback.

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Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 20 shots for the loss. In a night where the goaltenders with the two best GAA's in the league played each other, Holtby bested Bishop by a wide mile. I won't get too upset by a premium skill play like Kuznetsov's wraparound, but Beagle's goal short side off the back of Bishop's arm was as soft as they get. And, as soft goals often are, that goal ended up being the margin.

First Period
2:09 WSH Beagle (4), (Galiev)

Second Period
11:16 WSH Kuznetsov (9), (Carlson)

Third Period
8:05 TB Kucherov (11), (Stralman, Stamkos)(PP)

Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman were the game's second and third stars.

After getting embarrassed in their last encounter with the Capitals, the Lightning acquitted themselves far better in the rematch. They jumped all over the Caps early and they absolutely dominated the Third Period, but Braden Holtby was fantastic. The Lightning had a 36-20 shot advantage, even while playing with just 10 forwards, and it was only Holtby's confident play between the pipes and Bishop's soft goal that kept the Lightning from getting a big win.

It's a tough pill to swallow that's made extra bitter by the fact the Lightning lost Tyler Johnson for a week prior to the game and lost Ondrej Palat to what appeared to be an ankle injury early in the First Period. If it's a re-injury of the same ankle, that's two bits of really bad luck that will continue to put the Lightning in a really tough position offensively.

The Lightning finish Segment Three of the season with 12 points in 10 games. They remain 5 points behind pace for the season because of their disastrous Segment Two. A win tonight would've been a boon for the team in helping them to cut into their deficit. As it is, though, it's back to the grind for Segment Four.

Jonathan Marchessault was -1 with 4 shots and 3 hits in 15:05.

Nikita Nesterov was -1 with 1 shot, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 12:26.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 12-10-15 Senators at Lightning

The biggest win of the season.

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Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 31 shots for the victory. In my opinion, even in the absence of goal support, Bishop's play this season is approaching the brilliance of his Vezina finalist season two years ago.

First Period
19:52 TB Kucherov (9), (Stamkos, Hedman)(PP)

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
0:25 TB Filppula (3), (Brown, Callahan)
8:33 TB Kucherov (10), (unassisted)
12:06 OTT Ceci (3), (Ryan, Stone)
19:46 TB Brown (3), (Callahan)(EN)

Nikita Kucherov, Bishop, and Victor Hedman were the game's three stars.

This was a big game for a number of reasons I'll elaborate on later, and it was obvious it was going to be a big game once the Lightning failed to get points out of the Kings game to close the road trip. I warned after that game the Lightning needed to avoid falling into the trap of playing flat as a pancake to start the first game back from a road trip. Well, my worst fears were confirmed and the first 12 minutes of the game were among the worst the Lightning have played all season. Unfocused, sloppy, turnover-riddled, just bad hockey. Chances were 6-1 in favor of Ottawa after about 10 minutes and only Bishop and Ottawa's own lack of sharpness in finishing kept the Lightning from suffering an early haymaker from the Sens. The Lightning slowly climbed back in the game and then Ottawa gave Tampa Bay a fortuitous two-man advantage where Nikita Kucherov, thank goodness, actually shot the puck and put the Lightning up 1-0. The rest of the game was a tale of Bishop's sharp play and the Lightning capitalizing on enough of their own chances along the way to build a 3 goal lead in the Third Period to seize a more leisurely feeling win for a change. Beautiful.

The standings impact cannot be understated. On a head-to-head basis, the win pulls the Lightning to within 4 points of Ottawa for 3rd in the division. Falling 8 points behind third place in the division would've been crushing. From a micro standpoint, the victory clinched a successful third 10-game segment for the season. As we've hammered home for the past 2+ seasons, you need to get at least 12 points every 10 game segment of the year to comfortably make the playoffs. The Lightning got 12 points in Segment One of the year but crashed and burned with just 7 points in Segment Two to dig a big 5 point hole for the season. One of the first rules for getting yourself out of a hole when you find yourself in one: stop digging. The Lightning did that by getting the big win tonight. You didn't want to see the Lightning going into a game against Metropolitan Division leading Washington needing 2 points just to avoid digging themselves into a deeper hole for the year. On a macro-level, that could've led to full-on disaster. Now the Lightning get a chance, if they can manage points against the Capitals, to cut into the deficit they created for the season to as little as 3 points. Ultimately, that's how the Lightning get out of the hole they've built for themselves. It's not reasonable to expect them to just go on some gigantic 8-9 game winning streak to get back into prime playoff position. They've got to keep putting together segments where they get 13, 14, 15 or so points and pay down that deficit over the span of a handful of 10-game segments.

That task should get easier as the Lightning continue to get healthier. With Ondrej Palat's return tonight, the team is now only missing Cedric Paquette from its regular lineup. Once he gets back, hopefully Jon Cooper can keep some steady line combinations in place and the Lightning can get their full 5-on-5 scoring swagger back while they continue to try and fix that thing they call a power play. If that scenario plays out, we may find the silver lining of this early season was that this Lightning team learned to be more mindful of the defensive side of the puck when they found themselves in their extended goal scoring slump. Knowing how to win games against multiple styles of opponents and being able to win games a variety of ways is the hallmark of a championship caliber club.

Jonathan Marchessault was -1 with 2 penalty minutes in 8:56. He wasn't much of a factor tonight, and now we'll see the challenge that Marchessault has to overcome to stick in the NHL. With guys like Johnson and Palat returning, it's pushing Marchessault down to lower lines with less talented linemates in more of a checking role. How he adapts to that role and his ability or inability to make contributions in it will tell the tale.

Nikita Nesterov had 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 13:32. On balance, I don't think he'll be asking Nigel Kirwan for the Blueray edition of his game film from tonight.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 12-5-15 Lightning at Sharks

Lightning survive bizarre Third Period to go 2-0 on California roadie.

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Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 26 shots for the win, but left the game in the Third Period after a (uncalled!) high stick by Hertl went into his mask. Reports are that Bishop has some redness but thankfully no cut, no damage to the eye, and no damage to the bone around the eye. Thank goodness, because he's playing at a really high level right now. Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 8 shots in relief to get the Lightning across the finish line.

First Period
2:19 TB Kucherov (7), (Hedman)
11:20 TB Condra (3), (Sustr, Brown)

Second Period
13:35 SJ Tennyson (1), (Braun, Hertl)(PP)
16:44 TB Kucherov (8), (Stamkos)(PP)

Third Period
3:01 TB Boyle (6), (Brown)
8:26 SJ Ward (10), (Burns, Pavelski)(PP)
14:32 SJ Burns (10), (unassisted)(PP)

Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman were the game's first and third stars.

This was the tale of a really good, opportunistic, smart road game played by the Tampa Bay Lightning up until the 8:13 mark of the Third Period when all hell broke loose. The Lightning came out on the First Period and really caught San Jose flat, and turned possession into a slick goal by Kucherov and then a greasy goal off Condra's skate to develop the 2-0 lead. San Jose came back in the Second Period but the Lightning used a 5-on-3 goal by Kucherov to maintain the 2 goal margin. Early in the Third Period, Boyle potted a rebound goal set up by the scoring speed of J.T. Brown and this thing looked like it was going to be elementary. Then a post whistle scrum mysteriously led to Hedman alone getting called for cross checking and San Jose quickly got a cheap PP goal to pull within 4-2. Then Bishop leaves the game after scrambling from his crease holding his eye. Then Killorn takes a boarding call leading to the Lightning margin being cut to 4-3. Then the Sharks nearly score at the buzzer thanks in part to uncalled interference on Joe Thornton. So, what should've been an easy win after building a 3-goal margin turned into a big ball of anxiety.

I liked using Stamkos on the PK. A lot.

The victory gives the Lightning 10 points in this 10-game segment of the season with 3 games left to go. The California trip is already a success, and if they can manufacture a win tomorrow night against the Kings, or any points, they'll be set up well to pay down their debt and get back closer to playoff position. So, securing the 2 points tonight what tremendously important.

Jonathan Marchessault was +1 with 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 6:03. With all the penalty killing and the size the Sharks have, this wasn't a game that Jonathan ended up being used in a lot.

Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 8:48. Honestly, he's been quiet since coming back from Syracuse, and that's been a good thing. He's being efficient in his time that he does get on the ice.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 12-2-15 Lightning at Ducks

Like bullseyeing womp rats on their T-16 back home, the Lightning defeat Anaheim on Star Wars Night.

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Ben Bishop (and on a couple of occasions his horseshoe) was the difference tonight. He allowed 1 goal on 33 shots for the victory, and generally outplayed Gibson to get the 2 points.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
2:35 TB Drouin (2), (Namestnikov, Garrison)
4:15 ANA Perry (9), (Getzlaf, Rakell)
16:22 TB Marchessault (2), (Drouin, Filppula)(PP)

Third Period
NO SCORING

Bishop was the game's first star. Kudos to the homers at Honda Center for denying Drouin a richly deserved star.

Styles make the fight and stylistically the Lightning still aren't built to handle Anaheim's style, but they have some sort of voodoo power over the Ducks that allows them to pull out victories even when they get outplayed. Tonight's margin came on the strength of superior goaltending by Bishop and a couple of goals manufactured by the slick hands of Jonathans Drouin and Marchessault. I'll take it. The Lightning clearly need at least 4 points out of this California trip, so a loss tonight would've cut the margin of error to zippo. Now they just need to manufacture one more win on the trip to call it a success, and if they can get 3 or 4 points out of the remaining 2 games, all the better. It seems iffy for Tyler Johnson to come back on this roadie, but it seems like Paquette's return is imminent and Palat might not be super far off either, so if the Lightning can at least weather this 10 game segment there's reason for hope. If they actually can get 13-14 points out of it, there's reason to be ecstatic.

For the record, on the two goals the Lightning had waved off: I thought the call on the Kucherov goal was appropriate and the goaltender interference call against Callahan on Killorn's waved off goal was pure baloney. It's not Callahan's fault Lindholm decided to be a clumsy oaf and bowl over his own goaltender. Fortunately it became a moot point with Marchessault scoring the eventual GWG just a few moments later, so despite their best attempts the refs didn't actually influence the score. It ended up being right at 2-1 where it rightfully should have been.

Jonathan Marchessault had a power play goal and 2 shots in 8:56. He clearly lost IT to Drouin's return, but he showed off his sniper's touch to get the GWG. He can shoot. That much has never been in doubt. With players coming back in the next couple of weeks and the Lightning possibly getting to their full deck of cards, it'll be interesting to see what they do with Marchessault. In my opinion, he's played well enough to stick on this recall, but the roster math is daunting for him. If the Lightning didn't play so much better with 7 d-men in the lineup, I might suggest sending one down to make more permanent room for Marchessault, but I doubt that's in the cards.

Nikita Nesterov played 7:18. Considering where his game was when he was sent down to Syracuse, a quiet night at the rink is an improvement.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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