NHL Game Day: 4-11-10 Lightning at Panthers
At just barely 20 years old, Steven Stamkos has won a share of the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's best goal scorer. Atta boy, young man.
Mike Smith allowed 1 goal on 31 shots for the victory. Smitty got his save percentage up to an even .900 with the performance. That's something positive to build on, I suppose.
FLA 2:06, Olesz 14 (Dvorak, Matthias)
TB 8:01, Tanguay 10 (Bochenski, Lundin)
TB 10:20, Lecavalier 24 (Tanguay, Malone)
TB 19:47, Stamkos 51 (Lecavalier)(EN)
Congratulations to young Steven Stamkos, whose empty net goal put him for 51 for the season, tying him with Sidney Crosby for the league's best mark and a share of the Rocket Richard Trophy. Stammer will be the Lightning's second Richard Trophy winner, after Vincent Lecavalier won it with 52 goals in 2006-2007. When one considers that Stamkos just turned 20 in February, it has to be considered nothing less than a remarkable achievement for the young man. Steven Stamkos may be the answer to the question of what a guy like Ilya Kovalchuk, with his finishing ability, could have been without the cancerous selfishness. I said it when he entered the league: Stammer had the best shot of any 18 year old I'd seen enter the league since Kovalchuk. The difference is that Stamkos has dedicated himself to becoming a complete hockey player from his off ice conditioning and preparation to his willingness to backcheck and play the game the right way in all three zones. Mark my words: Steven Stamkos will win a championship in Tampa Bay; probably two or three when all is said and done. He's just scratching the surface of his talent. As time goes on, he's going to become as big a threat at even strength as he is on the power play, and his playmaking skills will catch up with his goal scoring ability. He's too hard of a worker not to continue to elevate his game.
That probably terrifies the NHL league establishment. Stamkos is the inconvenient truth of the NHL. After spending the past few seasons hyping Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin as the second coming of Gretzky and Lemieux, the idea of Stamkos in small market Tampa Bay becoming a better scorer than those two has to be terrifying the league offices. Too bad, Toronto.
And, for anyone trying to put an asterisk on Stamkos' achievement because he had three empty net goals, including the Trophy clincher, or because he played more games than Crosby or Ovechkin, or because he was fresher for not playing in the Olympics, or whatever: (how do I put this delicately?) you're an idiot. Seriously. Anyone who tries to argue Stamkos' achievement is somehow less impressive than what Crosby did is a moron, and should probably leave broadcasting or journalism right now. Hand in your microphone or laptop. Give back your press pass.
Did he have a league leading 24 power play goals (which, last I checked, still count on the scoreboard)? Sure. Did every team in the league that played the Lightning know Stamkos was the number one option? Yep. Could they stop him anyway? Nope. No one ever griped seriously about Kareem Abdul-Jabar's skyhook in the NBA. No one can gripe seriously about Stamkos' power play goals from the high slot or left wing circle. The fact is, Steven and the Lightning have found something that is undefendable unless you're willing to give up a 2-on-1 down low or a 105 mph bomb from the center point. And only Steven has the kind of finishing ability to make that play so incredibly effective.
Did he have 3 empty net goals while Crosby only had 1? Sure. But, how many 19-20 year olds do you know who a coach trusts to put on the ice in the last minute of a 1 goal game? Seriously? And, the reason he had 3 empty net goals is because Stamkos has blazing speed that eclipses even Crosby and possibly even Ovechkin. Stamkos' acceleration is the stuff of legend. If Crosby had it, I dare say he'd have more empty net goals too, but he doesn't. Give Stammer credit for the fact he does.
Did he play more games than Crosby and Ovechkin? Sure. But he also went through a grueling offseason program with Gary Roberts to make sure he was fit enough to avoid injuries. And when the scrapes did come, Stammer played through the pain. He also wasn't running around acting the fool like Ovechkin to get himself suspended, either. So, again, you're going to tell me that Stammer doesn't deserve credit for preparing properly, playing through pain when needed, and staying out of Colin Campbell's doghouse? Please. That's dumb.
Finally, there's the not-so-small matter of the fact that Stamkos plays on the 6th worst team on the league. Not the best team in the East (Ovechkin). Not the defending Stanley Cup Champions (Crosby). Mind you, Stammer doesn't play with awful teammates. Lecavalier, St. Louis, Downie, and Foster are good players, but are the Lightning's best players better than the Pens and Caps? Are they better than Malkin or Semin or Backstrom? Are the Lightning as deep as the Pens or Caps? Obviously not. Put it another way: if you put Stamkos on the Caps or Pens, how many goals would he have scored? Put me down for 60.
Also, congratulation to Zenon Konopka for winning the NHL's penalty minute crown with 265 penalty minutes. I will admit, I was opposed to carrying Konopka on the roster at first. He's become my guilty pleasure when watching a Lightning game, though, and I believe the Lightning should work hard to re-sign him this offseason. Amazingly, despite the large number of PIMs he had, I'm hard pressed to think of a time Konopka did something stupid and undisciplined to hurt the team. He scrapped at the appropriate times and unlike the preseason when he was getting his brains beat in pretty regularly, he held his own in all but one or two of the fights he was in. The fact he was also 62% on draws for the year and is great in the room makes him a valuable weapon for the Lightning that they need to lock up.
The Lightning will finish with the 6th worst record in the NHL. That means the Lightning will pick 2nd, 6th, or 7th this June. The 6th pick is by far the most statistically probable. If things go according to speculation, Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, in some order, will go 1st and 2nd. If the Panthers and Isles were to stay in the 3rd and 5th positions, I would expect them to draft d-men like Cam Fowler, Brandon Gormley, or Erik Gudbrandson. Columbus may be more of a wild card at 4th. That'll put the Lightning in an interesting spot. If the big righty shot d-man Gudranson is there, he might make a lot of sense for the club, but they could be tempted by some of the intriguing wingers available like Brett Connolly, Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, or Vladimir Tarasenko. The team will be in a good spot to continue to build on the impressive core it has with the likes of Stamkos, Downie, and Hedman.
We'll let this season digest a little for the next couple of days before I write more. I will say this, though: sign Mike Lundin. Do it.
Scott Jackson had 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 13:44 in his NHL debut. Congratulations to him. The promotion was well deserved. I kind of expected Dana Tyrell to get a reward recall instead, but Jackson is every bit as deserving. In a way, I could see him evolving into a little bigger version of ex-Lightning d-man Nolan Pratt.