Day-After Digest: Game 6 (Lightning 5, Panthers 2)
Part game recap, analysis and scouting report, the Day-After Digest appears after every Lightning game.
By defeating the Panthers, the Lightning extended their divisional lead to three points as Winnipeg fell in regulation to Montreal. After taking a 2-1 lead into the first period, Tampa Bay put together its best middle frame of the season, outscoring Florida 2-0 in the process, before closing out the visiting state rivals. The Panthers were visibly frustrated for much of the final twenty minutes of action and took three misconduct penalties, including a ten minute infraction on Tomas Kopecky.
Steven Stamkos opened the scoring with a power play marker shortly after the first period midpoint and Cory Conacher followed with a tally of the highlight reel variety. Tom Pyatt, Dana Tyrell and Vincent Lecavalier also scored for the Lightning. Lecavalier finished a beautiful passing sequence set up initially by Victor Hedman, who carried the puck into the Panthers end, banked a pass off the end boards to Cory Conacher who sent a drop-pass to a trailer, Benoit Pouliot, who wasted no time firing a cross-ice feed through a soft spot in Florida's defensive coverage to the opposite hash and directly into the Lightning captain's wheelhouse.
Despite the lopsided result and with the Lightning much more sound and consistent defensively, the Lightning were still far from flawless. The Panthers managed several breakaways, one of which they scored on, and other quality scoring chances as a result of no-look passes, poor reads and, in one instance, an Anders Lindback turnover after stopping a dump-in, holding the puck too long and attempting a last-second clear. The puck sailed right into hard-charging Peter Mueller, leaving Lindback vulnerable behind his own net and caused him to scramble back into position. The miscue ended costing Tampa Bay its early lead just fifteen seconds after earning it at the other end of the ice as Mueller was able to jam in his own rebound after trying to bank the puck in the net off of Lindback.
In his postgame remarks, Boucher wouldn't admit to being concerned about Lindback's tendency so far this season to allow a weak goal or two, stressing instead the need to "have patience" with the goalies, especially a young netminder like Lindback who is still developing.
"He's got to feel he's allowed to make mistakes," Boucher added. "We have his back because he has the players' backs very often."
Bailing out the skaters in front of him Lindback did do, delivering some key saves in the match, including a stop on a shorthanded breakaway attempt by Scottie Upshall early in the first period. On the play, Upshall went to his backhand and, with the entire bottom portion of the net taken away by a tremendously extended left leg, tried unsuccessfully to lift the puck over the Lindback's glove.
One of the other promising developments to date this season has been the return of scoring depth as it is not only the top lines but also the bottom lines that are producing. Through six games, the Lightning have nine forwards who have found the net.
Last night it was speedy wingers Tyrell and Pyatt chipping in and, while they were on the ice together, looking like a dynamic duo as they worked feverishly and threw their bodies around at both ends while leading rapid, north-south counter-rushes and continually driving the net.
Benoit Pouliot, too, was also a force as he matched a physical presence that led to several punishing checks with consistent back-checking and efficient (and sometimes flashy) puck movement be it by skating or passing it. Even accounting for an egregious turnover at mid-ice while on a power play that resulted in a shorthanded goal against, Pouliot had what was, so far, probably easily his best showing as a Bolt.
"That third line gets on and they're very difficult to stop because of their speed," Boucher said in praise of the unit. "They play deep, 200-feet hockey. They tire the other team out."
G A +/- SOG PIM ES-TOI/G SH-TOI/G PP-TOI/G TOT-TOI/G 0 0 +1 0 0 12:24 0:00 0:00 12:24
GP G A +/- SOG PIM ES-TOI/G SH-TOI/G PP-TOI/G TOT-TOI/G 6 1 1 +0 6 18 12:05 0:30 0:03 12:38
This is the last time Aulie will appear in this section as he graduated from prospect status after playing in last night's match. He's earned regular ice time with reliable play in all zones in what has amounted to an impressive start to his 2012-2013 season and he delivered another solid performance last night. His positioning may not always be flawless but he's fairly mobile for his size which serves him well in his own end. Last night he again showed significant poise when pressed on retrievals, distributing the puck smartly with short and safe outlet passes. He also stayed patient the few times he had possession in Florida's end, in one instance waiting for a lane to open up as he spied Tyrell camped in front of Theodore and fired a shot which was deflected on net. He again showed he's not pinch-happy but decisive about moving up when there's a good chance to hem in the opponent. He didn't stand out and, given the role he's assumed, that, again, is a good thing. Meat and potatoes efficiency from a hulking and young blueliner.
G A +/- SOG PIM ES-TOI/G SH-TOI/G PP-TOI/G TOT-TOI/G 1 1 +1 3 2 9:59 0:15 2:51 13:05
GP G A +/- SOG PIM ES-TOI/G SH-TOI/G PP-TOI/G TOT-TOI/G 6 3 6 +5 10 6 10:56 0:20 3:06 14:23
After the game, Boucher called Conacher's third goal of the season "a scorer's goal" in a appreciation of the effort and skill it took to finish the play. It came after Conacher took a Hedman pass, sent from inside the Lightning end, in stride at the Panthers blue line.
"It was an outstanding play Hedman to find me in the middle there," Conacher, in recollection, was eager to point out.
The young forward split both defenders as he steamed into zone for a breakaway. Mike Weaver recovered enough to make contact from behind but Conacher, in ever humble fashion, said he was "lucky" to have that much energy towards what was the tail end of a shift, shook him off enough to, while falling forward, tuck the puck off the inside of the left post.
"That's tough what he did," Boucher said of the goal. "He wasn't just throwing the puck at the net. He actually aimed."
Conacher looked to have his fourth goal of the season later in the match but was whistled for holding on the play.
"It's almost one of those [the ref] has to call, even if I didn't touch him," he mused afterwards. "I might have kept his stick on my chest as long as I could to get around him and, unfortunately, the ref caught on. Luckily it didn't matter in the game."
By the Numbers
A boiled-down look at two critical areas of improvement that have helped fuel the Tampa Bay's hot start:
- The Lightning have played very strong five-on-five hockey so far. On average, the Bolts are bottom-five in even-strength minutes played per game and yet currently lead the league in goals for while five-on-five. At even-strength, they have a +11 goal differential and, at .943, a top-ten save percentage. For comparison, the Lightning had a -19 goal differential and were dead last in the league with an .899 save percentage in 2011-2012. With the bulk of games played at even-strength, there's a big piece of the puzzle to this club's early season success.
- The other key ingredient is the Lightning's power play, which is the league's sixth-best in goals for per sixty minutes. Last season, Tampa Bay struggled to stay at the top of the bottom-third of the league.
Best of Boucher
"I never have guys who just sit on the bench. I can't coach like that. I never have. If you want to get team chemistry and you want to get people caring about each other, everybody's got to have a role and an important one...that's the only way you can do great things: if everybody feels great about themselves."
The Lightning (5-1-0, 10 PTS) take on the Jets (3-2-1, 7 PTS) in the fourth game of its home stand Friday night.