Positive results are huge for a young team.
Ben Bishop was tremendous, stopping 37 of 39 shots before blanking 3 of 3 shooters (and what shooters they are when you play Chicago) in the shootout for the win. There's your number one goaltender, folks.
0:59 CHI Kane (2), (Bickell, Hjalmarsson)
9:14 CHI Saad (2), (Leddy, Crawford)(PP)
10:08 TB St Louis (1), (Stamkos, Carle)
11:51 TB Purcell (1), (St Louis, Stamkos)(PP)
Martin St. Louis and Ben Bishop were the game's first and third stars. Bishop would've been my first, second, and third stars of the game. Recall what I wrote after the Boston game: you need your goaltender to be a reason you steal games against superior opponents on the road in a spot like this. That's what Bishop did tonight. He was strong, poised, and confident, giving the Lightning time and the opportunity to come back and get the 2 points.
It took 5 periods of hockey, but the Lightning offense finally started to play with some energy in the Third Period. You could see it incrementally coming over the course of those 5 periods, but I think now in Buffalo in the next game out you'll see the early season fog is over. It may have been a product of guys thinking a bit and being tentative because they're settling into Cooper's defensive system, but I think the confidence they'll get from knocking off the Stanley Cup champs will go a long way to getting it going from here on out. You cannot overestimate the value of tonight's win. Looking at the schedule, I felt if the Lightning could steal 2 points out of Boston or Chicago, it'd be a huge bit of positive reinforcement of their work in camp, and there it is.
Much will be said about Chicago outshooting Tampa Bay 39-16 and out-chancing the Lightning by about a 3-1 margin, but I encourage you to compare how the Lightning did defensively with the tape of how Washington looked against the Blackhawks in their opener. Like in Boston, there was way more structure and poise defensively, and if they can get more offensive puck possession from here on out they'll be in excellent shape. Take that goofy bounce off the glass away, and the Lightning would've held Chicago to 1 goal tonight. Yeah, Bishop had to play really well to make that happen, but still. That's not too shabby for a team that has stunk to high heavens defensively the past 2 seasons.
Kudos and cookies tonight for Matt Carle and the 4th line, by the way. Carle was +1 in 24:38 tonight with a helper and was just as solid as you could want as a veteran d-man. And, for much of the night, the 4th line with Labrie, Crombeen, and Thompson was about the only line Tampa Bay had that was getting any forecheck. Thompson and Crombeen were also damned good on the PK, as well.
Radko Gudas was +1 with 1 shot, 4 hits, and 2 blocked shots in 22:45. He was a little tighter defensively than in the Boston game and continues to improve.
Tyler Johnson was 70% on draws in 15:03. The kid line was a little better than in Boston. They're still settling in, but they got more noticeable as a group in the Third Period. They need to be a little more poised when they try to pass the puck around, but they're getting there.
Alex Killorn was -1 with 2 penalty minutes and 3 shots in 17:22. I'm not sure he's a great fit for a line with Filppula and Purcell, because they're not exactly north-south guys and they don't share the puck easily. But, even with that impediment, Killorn was about the only guy getting pucks to the net through the first couple of periods.
Ondrej Palat had 1 blocked shot in 12:49. In the defensive third, he's been in good position and competent. From the Third Period in Boston through tonight, though, he's been too skittish in the other two zones. He needs to relax, because the past 4+ periods of hockey have been some of his worst with the puck that I've seen in the last 1-1/2 periods.
Andrej Sustr had 1 shot in 18:38. I'm happy to see him under 20 minutes with Salo back, and I'm enthralled to see him pass a pretty significant test by playing that many minutes against quality like Chicago can bring onto the ice.
Richard Panik played 10:53. Ho hum, right? Not exactly. He had a couple of key backchecks and actually created some chances that unfortunately got defused by blocked shots, but I thought he was significantly better than he was in Boston tonight.
Pierre-Cedric Labrie had 8 big hits in 8:46. You would have thought his skating would have been a bigger liability against Chicago than it was against Boston, but it wasn't. He and Thompson were the straws that stirred the drink on that 4th line.
Mixed bag in the opener.
Anders Lindback allowed 3 goals on 25 shots for the loss after earning the surprise start from Jon Cooper. Um, yeah, about that... when coach gives you a surprise nod, reward him. It's not that Lindback was overtly terrible and certainly you can't get too upset when the team in front of you gives up penalty shots. But, Lindback didn't step up and make the key saves you need in a tough game on the road, and his rebound control wasn't there tonight. In retrospect, you kind of wish Bishop was in there.
11:39 BOS Kelly (1), (unassisted)(SH)(PS)
10:32 TB Filppula (1), (Brewer, Killorn)
19:00 BOS Lucic (1), (Krejci)
04:02 BOS Bergeron (1), (unassisted)(SH)
It's never fun to open up a season with a loss, and I think this was a frustrating game overall. There were good signs and there were bad signs, and I think as long as the team builds up from this they're probably going to be ok. The good news is that, up until late in the Third Period when they came a little unglued, they had way more structure and poise defensively than at just about any point over the past 2 years. That put them in a position to steal points in a really bad road draw in a place the Lightning never win despite getting ordinary goaltending, losing a top pair defenseman to injury before the game (Salo), and throwing a whole lot of young players out against a veteran Boston club. Shorthanded breakdowns should be correctable, and this would have been a 1-1 tie without them if you look at silver linings. Holding Boston to 25 shots in their barn is a huge improvement and they kept scoring chances down pretty well, too.
The bad sign was that the Lightning's first line did next to nothing tonight. Only a couple of sporadic scoring chances and nothing sustained, and the golden 2-on-1 that Stamkos and St. Louis had and flubbed in the Second Period turned out, in retrospect, to be a turning point of the game. Point blank, they've got to be better. The second line isn't going to be as good this season no matter how many zeros are on Filppula's paycheck. Stamkos and St. Louis have to create scoring chances consistently and bring the bacon home. Have to. And, in general, there were only a couple of players on the Lightning I can say honestly played up to their full potential: Sustr and Labrie. That's about it. Everyone else can play a little better than they did tonight, which is a negative but also should tell them that there's considerable room to grow and get better, too.
This opening road trip is awful for the Lightning. The schedule makers could not have drawn up a worse script for the team. So, I wasn't expecting miracles right out of the gate. The key thing is to improve game to game, steal some wins here and there to get the positive reinforcement, and hang in there until December-January when I expect everything will really start to click.
Radko Gudas was -1 with 7 penalty minutes and 5 hits in 17:27. He got himself caught in no-man's land a couple of times coverage-wise in the Third Period, but the ill-advised pinches weren't there tonight like they were last season and the physical game you love was. So, modest improvement, but needs to be better still.
Mark Barberio was +1 with 1 shot in 16:26. The young man was a skating dumpster fire in the first half of the game. Made a terrible play that led to the shorthanded penalty shot and got absolutely undressed on a play where a quick referees whistle saved a goal that probably would've counted otherwise. The second half of the game he was less noticeable, which was an improvement, but when you make me long for Keith Aulie, we have problems.
Tyler Johnson was -2 with 3 shots, 1 blocked shot, and he was 61% on draws in 15:46. His line had small spurts throughout the game, but not the sustained level of play experienced in the preseason. I think they need to simplify and play more north-south next time out. Less curly-ques, please.
Alex Killorn had a helper and was +1 with 1 shot, 1 hit, and 2 blocked shots in 15:10. He can play a lot better. His line needs to earn puck possession more so he can have the chance to play his north-south game. He just didn't have the puck very much.
Ondrej Palat was -1 with 1 shot, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 13:11. I thought he played his usual poised game until the Third Period when I saw him throw a puck away rather than calmly carry it to open ice, which is so unlike Palat it's jaw-dropping.
Andrej Sustr was -1 with 3 shots and 1 blocked shot in 20:03. I thought he played above his experience level. There were moments he was a little deer-legged skating-wise and got himself caught out of position, but he filled in well with Salo out. No way in hell do I want him playing 20 minutes a night at his age, and he's very likely to get hurt and worn out with a steady diet of that right now. But, for just tonight, fairly impressive outing.
Richard Panik was -2 with 3 hits and 1 blocked shot in 15:10. Of all the kids, other than maybe Barberio, I found his night the most disappointing. He botched the play that led to the second shorthanded goal against and, in general, he just seemed a step slow to the puck, soft when he got there, and that contributed to zero shots and no real scoring chances. Brother, if you want to be in the AHL real quick, keep that up. Brett Connolly is a phone call away.
Pierre-Cedric Labrie had 5 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 8:36. I thought he played his role fairly well tonight. He fought when he needed to and created a couple of chances with his size around the opposing net. He still can't skate a lick, so he's a defensive liability if he gets caught out on the ice so Cooper needs to be very conscious about that. But, in general, I thought he played his role and to his potential tonight, which is more than I can say for most of the team.
Ten questions for this year's Lightning prospect season...
The kids remain alright.
Ben Bishop stopped 26 of 28 shots for the victory.
Tampa Bay had goals from Tyler Johnson (power play), Richard Panik (shorthanded), and got the game winner from Nikita Kucherov (power play). Assists were contributed by Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, and Martin St. Louis in the victory.
Not to point out the obvious, but it would seem foolish not to keep the Palat/Johnson/Panik line up at this point.
The Lightning's final preseason game is Saturday.
Game recap from Tampabaylightning.com.
The most impressive win of the preseason.
7:31 TB Sergeev, (Filppula )(PP)
15:25 STL Steen, (Backes)
14:10 TB Connolly, (Filppula, Killorn)
15:12 STL Shattock, (unassisted)
15:59 TB Palat, (Johnson, Panik)
05:39 TB Labrie, (Filppula , Brewer)
07:28 STL Oshie, (Bouwmeester)
You don't want to overblow the importance of this game. It was, after all, a preseason game. But, in fairness, St. Louis pretty much iced their NHL side and the Lightning iced their third and fourth lines and a whole lot of prospect defensemen. To pull off the victory is an impressive case of a team fighting above its weight class, and at 3-0-0 so far in the preseason we're seeing, perhaps, that a different culture is rising up.
If you follow the ice time tonight, it was Mark Barberio's big showcase, garnering 22:22 in the match to lead all Lightning defensemen. Barberio was even on the night against, pretty much, the top weapons of a pretty good playoff team, so that's not a bad showing on paper for the young d-man. It's probably the minimum he needed to make sure he kept the upper hand in the fight for one of the last 2 defenseman spots on the roster. Artem Sergeev, surprisingly, also topped the 20 minute mark at 20:24, besting both of his Eastern European Soul Machine bandmates, Dmitry Korobov and the soulful Andrej Sustr.
Up front, the Lightning again got production and solid play from Brett Connolly, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Richard Panik. These four, honestly, may be giving the Lightning the luxury of being able to take their time with young Jonathan Drouin. And, certainly, the Lightning have to be pleased with their $5M per investment, Filppula, getting helpers in triplicate against what really amounts to the Blues' opening night d-corps and goaltender.
Box score from Tampabaylightning.com.