Ritola, Mattias

Prospect of the Week (9.25.11)

(Week ending September 25)

This season Bolt Prospects will be introducing our Prospect of the Week award. The award is (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their on-ice contributions. There are no trophies or plaques or women jumping out of a cake involved (unfortunately), but we’re fairly certain this will carry heavy weight among players in the global hockey community and with agents negotiating contracts (were this Twitter, we’d use #sarcasm here).

Quite simply, we wanted to highlight prospects throughout the year to help fans get better acquainted with the next round of Lightning stars while recognizing the prospect’s achievement on the ice.

NHL Preseason Game Night: 9-23-11 Panthers at Lightning

God even hates Panthers fans in preseason.

FLA-2
TB-5

Dwayne Roloson stopped 31 of 33 for the win. Hide the children and the silverware, old man Roli is back in town.

First Period
08:06 TB Ritola, (Kubina, Connolly)(PP)

Second Period
06:31 TB Shannon, (Kubina, Bergeron)(PP)
12:55 TB Shannon, (Stamkos, Clark)

Third Period
00:23 TB Ashton, (Brewer)
04:20 FLA Skille, (Robak)(PP)
16:20 FLA Repik, (Robak, Derlyuk)
18:46 TB Lecavalier, (Purcell, Hedman)

As the Lightning move a little closer to icing their opening night lineup, now reading the tea leaves gets more interesting.

Carter Ashton and Brett Connolly each got over 14 minutes of ice time, while Cory Conacher, Dana Tyrell, and Blair Jones got less, especially Jones. Connolly and Conacher remain decisive underdogs, but the battle between Ashton, Tyrell, and Jones for positioning is fascinating. Boucher knows what he has in Tyrell, and to a lesser extent Jones. For Ashton to get himself a goal and play 14+ quality minutes is a key step for him in trying to establish a comfort level with Boucher.

And, then there's the matter of Mattias Ritola, who is a different player now than when Boucher had him in the lineup the first half of last season. He got over 14 minutes and quite a bit of PK ice time. Like Ashton, for him to get a goal and play 14+ quality minutes helps establish a comfort level with the coaching staff. I'd say he was probably the big winner on the night.

Box score from NHL.com.

Ritola, Jones, and Tokarski Join Lightning Practices

Yesterday the Tampa Bay Lightning recalled forwards Mattias Ritola and Blair Jones, as well as goaltender Dustin Tokarski, from the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced. Norfolk was recently eliminated from the AHL’s Calder Cup Playoffs.

BP Note: The prospects will form what is known as the "Black Aces," a practice squad of sorts for the playoffs.

AHL Playoff Game Night: 4/23/11 Admirals at Penguins

A brave Norfolk Admirals team has nothing to be ashamed about effort-wise in this playoffs.

NOR-3
WBS-6

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Wins the Series 4-2

Dustin Tokarski allowed 4 goals on 27 shots, including an unsuccessful third period penalty shot by Joe Vitale in the third period. Considering the winning goal was essentially a 3-on-1, there's not much more Tic could've done tonight. He finishes the playoffs with 1 shutout, a 2.20 GAA, and a .924 save percentage, and he looks like a lock to be Norfolk's starter next season. In all likelihood, Cedrick Desjardins will be the backup in Tampa Bay next season, and Tokarski's play down the stretch seems to indicate he's the type of netminder who wants and needs to be the clear cut #1 in order to be at his best after struggling a bit as a tandem starter with Desjardins. He's regained the title of the Lightning's "Goaltender of the Future" and the priority for next season, his third pro season, will be for Tokarski to prove he can be that consistent #1 goalie before potentially moving up to the NHL in the 4th season of his pro career. At least, that seems to be what the plan is for Tic.

First Period
WBS Wagner, (1) (Walker, Craig), 2:13 (PP)
WBS Wagner, (2) (Potter, Walker), 3:58 (PP)
WBS Wagner, (3) (Wallace, Potter), 18:36

Second Period
NOR Pouliot, (4) (Ritola, Vernace), 14:18
NOR Jones, (1) (Ritola, Milam), 16:03 (PP)

Third Period
WBS Vitale, (2) (Wallace, Collins), 7:23
NOR Wright, (1) (Fornataro, Pouliot), 10:35 (PP)
WBS Wallace, (1) (Vitale, Potter), 18:57 (EN)
WBS Sill, (1) (Strait, Thiessen), 19:21 (EN)

Marc-Antoine Pouliot was the game's third star.

When you consider the Penguins came into this series the best team in the Eastern Conference, and the Admirals had to win their last game just to avoid having to cross over into the Atlantic Division, the Admirals have nothing to feel ashamed of in playing this series so tightly. The hard work and character of this Admirals team is worthy of mention, and the team and organization have come such a long way in 4 seasons since the Lightning started their affiliation with Norfolk.

Coincidentally, the East's crossover team, Binghamton, just knocked off Manchester in Game 7 to advance to the Atlantic Division final against Portland. One wonders what shape a Norfolk/Manchester series might have taken if Norfolk hadn't beaten Connecticut to close the regular season.

The big question now is what this Norfolk Admirals team will look like next season, with several of their older players facing contract decisions and several of the Lightning's best young prospects ticketed for Virginia next season.

Will veterans like Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Chris Durno, Mike Vernace, Mathieu Roy, and Troy Milam be back with the team next year? What about long-time pros like Blair Jones, Mike Angelidis, Mattias Ritola, and Vladimir Mihalik? Mihalik and Ritola just finished their 4th years of pro hockey and Jones and Angelidis finished their 5th. Many of these players will surely have opportunities to play in European leagues next season. We know Johan Harju will, for instance, and the question is whether Johan will stay in North America after a disappointing second half. And will Kevin Quick's time in the Lightning organization be over as well?

Conversely, the Admirals will need to free up spots for several of the Lightning's top prospects. Carter Ashton and Charles Landry have already made appearances for the club this season in the playoffs. Richard Panik and Tyler Johnson seem like locks to be in Norfolk next season, too.

Next season could be a big change for the Admirals organization, as the last vestiges of previous regimes pass on. Change is inevitable for a minor league club, but the Admirals seem destined for even more change than is the norm. The good news is that they seem to have good goaltending locked down and even better coaching after a successful inaugural campaign by Head Coach Jon Cooper and assistant Mike Flanagan along with player development consultant Steve Thomas. This group seems to have taken a decent foundation laid by earlier teams and made it even stronger this year, and that foundation can help the new Admirals grow to be even more successful than this year's edition, in time. Look at how well guys like Mark Barberio and Radko Gudas took to the league this season. It portends good things.

Box score from TheAHL.com.

NHL Playoff Game Night: 4/20/11 Penguins at Lightning

Until Roloson stops allowing soft goals, the Lightning will not win.

PIT-3
TB-2 (2OT)

Pittsburgh Leads the Series 3-1

Dwayne Roloson allowed 3 goals on 53 shots for the loss. Yes, 50 saves in a big number. Yes, Roloson made several key saves to keep the game close. But, the first goal was a soft goal through Roloson on the short side, the second goal was off a bad rebound kicked straight up the slot, and the third goal was a soft goal short side high from a poor angle off the wall. If you're keeping score at home, that's 3 soft goals and 2 bad rebound goals in the last 2 games. It's a prerequisite in the playoffs for your goaltender to be one of your best players, and you cannot have your goaltender surrendering soft goals early in the game as Roloson has done in Game 3 and Game 4. Nothing sucks the life out of a team and poisons morale quicker, and so much of the playoffs is about willpower. It's frustrating. Roloson was magnificent in Game 1 and Game 2 in Pittsburgh, and if he had maintained that level of play I suspect the Lightning would be winning this series 3-1 instead of being down 3-1. Is he the only reason the Lightning lost the last 2 games? Absolutely not. However, it's a prerequisite for success in the playoffs that a goaltender not surrender bad goals. It cannot happen, and it's happened at least 3 times in the past 2 games.

First Period
08:14 PIT Kennedy (2), Michalek (1), Letestu (1)(PP)

Second Period
02:39 PIT Asham (3), Lovejoy (2)
17:14 TB St Louis (4), Lecavalier (2), Purcell (1)

Third Period
16:43 TB Bergenheim (1), St Louis (2), Kubina (1)

First Overtime
NO SCORING

Second Overtime
03:38 PIT Neal (1), Staal (2), Martin (2)

Martin St. Louis was the game's second star. The telepathy between he and Vincent Lecavalier, who laid out a pretty little aerial pass on the rush to spring St. Louis on his goal, was the stuff of legends.

Mattias Ritola played 2:23 in the match. I suspect there will be some outrage from Southeast Virginia when they see that stat line, and that Blair Jones was a scratch.

All the Lightning can do now is try to win Game 5. They've dug an incredibly deep hole for themselves and they can't leap out with one effort. It's going to take some climbing one hand over the other toward the light, and it starts with putting together a redeeming effort in Game Five. It's going to be a damned bitter offseason if they don't.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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