Disengage safety. Point at foot. Pull trigger. Repeat.
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 10 shots before being pulled for Evgeny Nabokov who allowed 2 on 18 shots the rest of the way for the dreaded back door loss. If there was a silver lining out of this game, it might have been that Nabby looked like an NHL goaltender in relief tonight.
1:56 PIT Kunitz (12), (Letang, Crosby)(PP)
6:50 PIT Ebbett (1), (Malkin, Despres)
13:39 PIT Malkin (17), (Ebbett, Rust)
15:11 TB Boyle (7), (Palat, Carle)
12:48 TB Hedman (4), (Johnson, Palat)
17:07 PIT Ehrhoff (3), (Bennett, Crosby)
11:18 TB Killorn (9), (Stralman, Hedman)
11:52 PIT Downie (6), (Crosby, Spaling)
19:55 PIT Downie (7), (Letang, Crosby)(EN)
I have some complaints with some shady things that happened in this game, but ultimately the Lightning shot themselves in the foot in this game. Stralman allowed his pocket to be picked on the very first shift of the game that led to a minor penalty and a power play goal, and the team instantly fell behind the eight ball. Stamkos made a turnover at the Lightning blueline on the third goal to put the team down 3-0 in the First Period, which is a crusher you try to avoid, and then two Lightning defenders get beat behind the net on a 50/50 puck by Crosby leading to Downie's insurance goal less than a minute after Killorn drew it to 4-3.
Now, the shady stuff still needs to be mentioned. On the second Penguins goal, Malkin hits the post and the Pittsburgh arena folks decide to blow the goal horn and fire up a strobe light on Bishop's crease as Ebbett comes in to score on the ensuing chance. Later, on the Ehrhoff goal to help Pittsburgh re-establish a 2 goal lead after Hedman pulled it to 3-2, you had a situation where a Pens stick was actually stuck in Stralman's visor before the rush that led to the goal and the ref actually came over to help Stralman and didn't make a call. Lunacy. Both of those plays were minor league/bush league quality stuff, and then we later got to witness Crosby rear naked choke out Connolly on a goal mouth scrum and get away with nothing called, just to add insult to injury. None of the above incidents are why the Lightning lost, but they're troubling examples of why you feel like the Lightning have to be THAT MUCH BETTER against a league darling like the Pens to realistically have a chance to win. It's shameful, really.
The same things keep happening night after night that end up being the difference between winning and losing and I don't see them improving consistently. The brain fart turnovers by veteran players just can't continue to happen. Details matter against quality teams like Pittsburgh. The power play (0-for-3 tonight) continues to come up dry at key points of the game and the guys who are supposed to be the team's best skaters (Stamkos and Callahan) continue to struggle to find the scoresheet consistently. When you sprinkle in that the team still is trying to figure out how Drouin fits into the puzzle, it's a maddening mystery soup right now. If these things start to get corrected, it's easy to see this team becoming a juggernaut. If they don't, it's just as easy to see how this thing could start to go pear-shaped.
With the loss, the Lightning finish the 4th 10-game segment of the season with 11 points, 1 point shy of the 12 point minimum target. They entered with 5 insurance points, fortunately, so they still have 4 insurance points heading into segment 5. The team's at a bit of a crossroads right now, though, and this is why Jon Cooper gets paid the big bucks.
Cedric Paquette was -2 with 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 15:39. He was on the ice for the Stamkos turnover goal and that abomination Ehrhoff goal, so I can't be too mad. Still, I keep wondering if and when a shakeup gets made if Paquette may end up having to go down to make way for Namestnikov.
Jonathan Drouin was -1 with 1 shot, 4 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 11:54. He, also, was on the ice for the Stamkos turnover goal. I really wish the coaching staff would figure out a role for Drouin and a set of linemates and stick with it. The kid's skill level is off the charts. He makes stick handling moves with the pace and violence of a boxer's punches, and his playmaking abilities are very evident. There's just no continuity with how he's being used, though, and he's the kind of player where I think linemates need to get used to him because of what a high-level setup guy he is.
Lightning open a Third Period can of beat down.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 11 shots (not a typo) for the victory. He made a handful of key saves while the game was tight and the only goal he did allow was a point shot that deflected off of Hedman's stick and took a crazy bounce in on net.
7:48 TB Carle (4), (Palat)
12:33 BUF Ennis (9), (Zadorov, Moulson)(PP)
19:02 TB Palat (9), (Johnson, Kucherov)(PP)
5:20 TB Connolly (7), (Stralman, Palat)
8:40 TB Kucherov (16), (Johnson, Stralman)
18:05 TB Kucherov (17), (Palat, Johnson)
The Lightning, for about 30 minutes, didn't look like they wanted to be in Buffalo (well, yeah). In the Third Period, they outshot Buffalo 14-1 and absolutely dismantled the young Sabres. It was a clinic put on by the triplets line to put 2014 to bed the right way.
Now, here's the interesting part: the Lightning now have 11 points in this 10-game segment of the season with 1 more game to play. Despite all their struggles this month, they may still hit 12 points over this 10-game stretch, and at a minimum, they'll have 4 insurance points heading into the second half of the campaign. Nice.
Jonathan Drouin had 1 shot in 14:08.
Nikita Nesterov was +1 in 15:02 in his NHL debut. He made a key play breaking up a 2-on-1 that nearly resulted in a goal at the other end when Stamkos hit a crossbar. In all, he wasn't noticeable, but that's a positive for a rookie d-man.
Ben Bishop allowed goals on the first 2 shots of the game. He stopped all 21 shots he faced thereafter for the victory.
4:28 TOR Santorelli (8), (Kadri, Phaneuf)
7:47 TOR Lupul (9), (Bozak, Kessel)
6:37 TB Callahan (12), (Stamkos, Hedman)(PP)
9:46 TB Filppula (7), (Hedman, Callahan)
11:05 TB Stamkos (20), (Carle)
Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan, and Victor Hedman were the game's three stars. Isn't it funny how when the Lightning's biggest stars get their games going, it takes the Lightning from a mediocre team to a team that can dominate like they did tonight (shot totals 41-23 for the Lightning)? This game was important in that it allowed the Lightning to get those star players on track, allowed them to exorcize some power play demons, and allowed them to make an example of an Atlantic Division foe they'll be fighting with for position for the next couple of months.
Cedric Paquette was -1 with 4 shots, 3 hits, and 3 blocked shots in 13:39. I thought he played an excellent game on the PK, even springing Hedman for a First Period breakaway, and he was on the ice for the last shift of the game with the team protecting the one goal lead.
Jonathan Drouin was +1 with 1 shot in 11:43. Stats tend not to show what he brings to the table in games. He drew a minor penalty in the First Period with a dazzling stickhandling display after falling down and then at the end of the Second Period nearly set up a goal after a world class keep-away exhibition in the offensive zone and a sharp snap pass to the side of the Leafs cage. He is slicker than an oil spill when he's got the puck.
As dominant a 2-1 win as you can get.
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 26 shots for the victory in his return from injury. He didn't have to make many key saves, but when they came he got them.
8:50 TB Kucherov (15), (Palat)
4:53 TB Killorn (8), (Callahan, Filppula)
14:04 CAR Sekera (2), (E. Staal, Gerbe)
Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, and Ryan Callahan were the game's three stars. I'll throw a shout out to Mark Barberio in there, who played his best all-around game since he was AHL Defenseman of the Year for the Norfolk Admirals.
If the Lightning had capitalized on their PP opportunities (0-for-6) the game wouldn't have been close. As it was, the chances were there but they were snake bitten. So, that's at least a sign things are progressing in the right direction.
Cedric Paquette had 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 12:42. He was also 20% on draws. He kept up reasonably well playing with Stamkos and Connolly.
Christmas done Triplets style.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 29 shots for the victory. Tonight was light work until Third Period garbage time, which was a welcome relief after the volume of shots/chances he faced on Long Island.
6:54 TB Johnson (11), (Kucherov, Palat)
19:56 TB Johnson (12), (Palat, Hedman)
0:52 TB Kucherov (14), (Carle, Filppula)
2:37 TB Johnson (13), (Kucherov, Palat)
10:15 PIT Hornqvist (13), (Klinkhammer)
9:55 PIT Kunitz (10), (Malkin)
18:29 PIT Letang (8), (Hornqvist, Malkin)
This was a very important win for a number of reasons. One, it showed the thing that happened on Long Island was an aberration. Two, it allows the team to feel good headed into the Winter Break and they can start after the break with a pretty fresh slate. Third, it helped them bury the long losing streak they've had against Pittsburgh, which is a team they'll likely see over the next few years as a playoff adversary. True, the Pens were depleted. True the Pens were tired. I'm not under any delusions that the Lightning bested the Penguins' most fearsome lineup tonight. But, it's something positive to build on, and they did have Crosby, Malkin, and (for a little while) Fleury on the rink.
When the Lightning come back from break, the first 5 things they need to work on are: power play, power play, power play, power play, and power play. It's bad right now. Absolutely terrible. Time for the coaching staff to take some egg nog down into Cooper's laboratory and white board something fresh, because what they're doing right now is an atrocity masquerading as a travesty.
With 4 games to go in this 10-game segment, the Lightning sit 7 points shy of the 12 they would want per segment, but just 2 points shy of the spot they need to be at the end of the 4th segment (48 points) thanks to the insurance points they've squirreled away. 7 out of 8 possible points is tough, but you'd like to see the Lightning get at least 5 or 6 out the 8 possible points so they don't burn off too much of what they have in the bank in case another rainy day pops up.
Cedric Paquette had 1 shot and 2 hits in 13:29. I thought he played his role really well tonight.
Jonathan Drouin was -2 with 1 shot and 1 hit in 13:04. I'm not a huge fan of the Drouin/Stamkos/Connolly combination that was put together by Cooper tonight, because I'm not sure I see a lot of puck retrieval on that line unless Stammer does it.
Sluggish Lightning nearly bailed out by Vasilevskiy.
Andrei Vasilevskiy was brilliant. He stopped 45 shots tonight, only allowing a goal to an uncovered Tavares in the slot (no shame) and a tipped point shot by Lee (again, no shame). The Lightning would've lost this game 8-1, easily, without Vasilevskiy.
9:16 TB Connolly (6), (Johnson, Barberio)
16:51 NYI Tavares (13), (Okposo, Bailey)
17:03 NYI Lee (7), (Hamonic, Nelson)
18:49 NYI Kulemin (6), (Clutterbuck)(EN)
Vasilevskiy was the game's third star.
Anyone in a Lightning jersey not named Vasilevskiy or Boyle probably didn't deserve to be wearing it the way they played tonight. I certainly hope there's a more innocuous explanation for what we witnessed tonight. Maybe the flu is running through this team, which was aggravated by Garrison leaving in the Second Period. I can't explain it, otherwise. The team looked slow. They made wave after wave of really idiotic turnovers. They looked physically and mentally fatigued to the extent that they didn't even seem to want to be there. Gudas and Carle looked like corpses out there, for crying out loud. Getting outshot 48-21 by anyone is just not acceptable, and in the absence of extenuating circumstances there needs to be a closed door meeting followed by a bag skate, because this just cannot happen.
Cedric Paquette was -1 with 2 penalty minutes 2 hits and 1 blocked shot in 15:11. If Yzerman looks to make a shake up move, I wouldn't be shocked to see Paquette and Namestnikov trade places soon. Paquette took a bad offensive zone boarding call and he's seen his offensive contributions vanish while taking about 1 minor penalty a night. That means, sadly for him, he might have to be the one who gets shook in the shake up.
Jonathan Drouin had 1 hit in 13:19. He ended up getting himself pulled off the Stamkos line because they were generating nothing. Zero shots on goal and only one even attempted isn't good enough.
Lightning manage to wrestle 1 point out of the quicksand.
Evgeny Nabokov allowed 2 goals on 18 shots before allowing 1 of 3 to convert in the penalty shot session for the SO loss. I'll give him full marks for battling tonight, but that was hard to watch. The first goal was a fluky goal that he put into his own cage. Okay. But, the second goal cannot be allowed at any level of hockey and he got the benefit of 5 or 6 posts tonight on top of that. The Lightning have a real issue there, and the solution may be figuring out some way to shuttle one of the two good goaltenders they have in Syracuse up in back-to-back situations from here on out, which is a roster challenge, but may be necessary. You could've timed that second goal from shot to net with a sun dial it fluttered so slowly.
3:01 NJ Henrique (9), (Greene, Gomez)(PP)
15:17 NJ Elias (4), (Havlat, Henrique)
14:55 TB Stamkos (19), (Callahan, Drouin)
19:19 TB Kucherov (13), (Callahan, Garrison)
Nikita Kucherov was the game's first star.
Glass half full: they managed to squeeze a point out of a game where they trailed New Jersey in the Third Period. That's no small feat, and part of climbing out of the big hole that they were in was one of the better passing displays we've seen in the last 3-4 weeks, especially in the Second Period. I also thought Radko Gudas, coming off a stomach bug, might've played his best game of the season tonight at both ends of the rink.
Glass half empty: the goaltending was bad. The power play might've actually been worse, though. 0-for-5 on the power play tonight and one was a key double minor in the Third Period while they were pushing to tie the game where they got nothing going. Nothing. At some point as the season progresses, Yzerman seriously needs to find a righty PP QB to acquire via trade. Nothing they're doing to try to free up Stamkos with lefties at center point is working, and it's becoming counterproductive trying to force set pieces his way or asking him to force passes back through the seam to Filppula, who can't do anything with them because he's not a shooter.
Cedric Paquette had 2 hits and 1 blocked shot in 12:39 and he also was 44% on draws.
Jonathan Drouin had a helper and was +1 with 2 shots and 1 hit in 21:15. Circle that ice time number. Playing with Stamkos for the full game, this was the first time Cooper really let Drouin out of the stable, and I think Stamkos in particular responded well with 10 shot attempts tonight. My big thing with Drouin now, though, is that team's are playing him as a pass first guy. He needs to shoot it more. 2 shots is more than he's been getting, but he only had 3 shot attempts total. I want to see him at a minimum of 4 shot attempts a game from here on out. Stamkos won't mind, Jonathan. 91 likes rebound goals, too.
Vasilevskiy plays the role of the slump slayer.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 24 shots for the victory in his first NHL start.
19:19 PHI Simmonds (14), (Streit, Giroux)(PP)
1:50 TB Stamkos (18), (Drouin, Callahan)
6:34 TB Johnson (10), (Callahan, Kucherov)
19:18 TB Filppula (6), (Paquette, Johnson)(EN)
Ryan Callahan and Vasilevskiy were the game's first and third stars. The night offered Lightning fans a brief slice of the future, with Vasilevskiy in net and Jonathan Drouin playing on the top line with Stamkos. Both had important hands in the outcome of the game, with a cameo appearance by young Cedric Paquette on the EN goal to seal the game.
Paquette had a helper and was +1 with 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot. He was also 67% on draws.
Drouin had a helper and was +1 with 2 penalty minutes and 1 blocked shot in 17:28. If I have a critique of Drouin, it's that I'd like to see him look to shoot a little more and generate some offense that way, too. I hope he stays on that line with Stamkos from here on out.
Bad news in Pittsburgh.
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 5 shots before leaving the game after the First Intermission with what was deemed a "lower body injury". Evgeny Nabokov allowed 3 goals on 21 shots the rest of the way for the loss.
19:09 PIT Sutter (7), (Scuderi)(SH)
19:33 TB Drouin (2), (Johnson, Kucherov)(PP)
2:55 PIT Rust (1), (Ebbett)
19:26 PIT Downie (5), (Hornqvist, Malkin)(PP)
7:47 PIT Dumoulin (1), (Downie, Spaling)
16:56 TB Kucherov (12), (Filppula)
The Lightning came out flying in the First Period, and were betrayed by a mixture of bad luck and great goaltending by Fleury. The one goal Bishop allowed was a shot that was going wide that took a goofy bounce off the knob of his stick and bounded into his net. It was so goofy and unlucky, I wouldn't be surprised if Bishop hurt himself kicking something in the locker room about his buzzard's luck. It was that kind of night. You then had Nabby handing Pittsburgh a free goal on a puckhandling gaffe and then a fourth goal coming off a deflection off Hedman. Meanwhile, the Lightning couldn't buy another goal on Fleury until a breakaway goal from Kucherov late in garbage time. Just nothing is going right now, and you hope that Bishop being held out for precautionary reasons turns out to be over something minor like a stubbed toe rather than something being broken or torn.
Cedric Paquette had 1 shot and 4 hits and was 60% on draws in 14:10.
Jonathan Drouin had a goal and 2 shots and 1 blocked shot in 14:50. He was probably one of the three best players on the rink for the Lightning tonight, and that was reflected in his promotion to the Stamkos line in the Third Period. He could've easily had a 3 point night tonight if the Lightning were so cursed right at the moment.
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 27 shots for the loss.
10:33 WSH Backstrom (6), (Wilson, Schmidt)
18:40 WSH Backstrom (7), (Ovechkin, Wilson)
2:17 WSH Backstrom (8), (Ovechkin)
15:36 TB Johnson (9), (Carle, Kucherov)
17:29 TB Carle (3), (Stamkos, Garrison)
19:21 WSH Fehr (6), (unassisted)(EN)
Frustrating. This was a game filled with self-inflicted wounds. I'm not going to dwell on the disallowed Stamkos goal in the First Period, because ultimately that's not what undid the Lightning in this game. They had a 5-on-3 for a full 2 minutes and only got a slow dribbler chance by Callahan that Holtby held out. Then Paquette loses a faceoff and loses his man. Little thing. Down 1-0. They have plenty of guys back in transition and they completely blow the coverage and Backstrom gets a rebound goal. Little thing. Down 2-0. They have a neutral zone turnover and the defense parts to let Backstrom get a prime chance in the slot. Little thing. Down 3-0. They even have 2 players collide at center with the extra attacker so Fehr can get the EN goal. Little things, and they surrender the 4th goal. It's not like the Caps have dominated these two games, but the Lightning have done everything in their power to make them look like world beaters. Other than the PK there was very little of value to take out of tonight, other than what little morale building you can get out of climbing to withing 1 goal late in a game where you were down 3-0 in the Third Period.
Moving back to basics: Cooper's got to get these guys to get 35 shots on goal a night. The shot totals have been anemic lately, and when shot totals are low you don't get a good diet of greasy goals. They need that, and they need a healthy Palat back. A functional PP would be a nice change of pace, too. Every season has a spot like this where the offense will just struggle to get goals. It seems like, more often than not, the Lightning's struggle seems to come in December. It happened in '03. It's happening now.
Cedric Paquette was -1 with 4 penalty minutes, 3 hits, and he was 33% on draws. The first goal was on him. He lost the draw and then lost Backstrom, which allowed Backstrom to easily collect the blocked shot and roll to the slot to get the backhander. Not good.
Jonathan Drouin was -2 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 1 hit in 10:55. He was on the ice for Paquette's faux-pas and the Fehr empty-netter, so the +/- is deceiving. He got more comfortable and looked more dangerous as the game rolled on.