The Random 17 (November 3, 2017)

This is the second edition of The Random 17, so if you didn’t see it before …

According to a non-scientific Google search, 17 is the most random number. It’s also my old hockey number so I’m going to title this weekly blog entry “The Random 17.” There’s also a nickname for 17 in British bingo, but that’s Dancing Queen. Never been much of an Abba fan, so forget that.

I’ve always been a big fan of Elliot Friedman’s “30 Things,” and imitation is the highest form of flattery, so here we go – 17 random thoughts on the Lightning and sports in general. Think of it as a podcast in text form.

This edition comes at you after two straight Lightning losses and a World Series win for the Houston Astros.

1. What exactly is a slump, and are the Lightning in one? Well, they lost to the Ducks in regulation and the Rangers in overtime within three games. No need to panic, but what happened last year was losses started multiplying, and this was a year removed from never having a 3-game losing streak. Last year the (legitimate) excuse was lack of leadership in the room with Stamkos and Callahan rehabbing. In the offseason, Yzerman brought in more vets like Dan Girardi and Chris Kunitz. I expect they’re doing a lot of talking between the Rags loss and TB’s next game. I’m not worried.

2. The most impressive thing about the Lightning’s start, in my opinion, was their consistent effort game-to-game and even shift-to-shift. Everyone looked on the same page in terms of what exactly was expected. I imagine this is Yzerman’s dream: Everyone is playing with heart and character and paying attention to the details in their own zone. He’s drafted players like this and signed/acquired players like this. That’s why it was a little troubling to see a step back from TB against Anaheim and especially against the NYR, where the team was loose in its own zone and allowed enough Grade-A scoring chances in the first two periods to fill a 24-pack carton.

3. You can thank Vasilevskiy for the point against the Rangers. He stood on his head for the first two periods and it took a fantastic second-shot in overtime for the Rangers to win. The folks complaining about Vasy’s stats in October obviously don’t watch the games, because anyone actually watching the timing of the saves wasn’t saying a peep.

4. You can thank the Ducks for the blueprint of how the Rangers handled the Lightning. We’re back to two years ago when the opposition tries to clog the neutral zone to take TB’s speed away entering the o-zone. Anaheim did it well, paying close attention (as almost always) to the details. The Rangers played an inspired road game against arguably the league’s best team so far. Yes, the Lightning have a big fat target on their backs already. Please prepare game efforts accordingly – they can’t coast at any time and expect to get two points.

5. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the league took a point away from the Lightning with a disallowed goal. I only say “yeah, yeah, yeah,” because you’ve probably been thinking it while reading about the Rangers loss here. It’s legit and kudos for Cooper for saying publically it was a bad call. It was. And it wasn’t even Carey Price in the cage. Lundqvist is a highly respected goalie, however, and the Rags are an original six team… so… I’m not saying, I’m just saying. Get it right, NHL.

6. Alex Killorn was fined a few Grrr for his water bottle incident. Seriously? And Sergachev is getting a right-handed shot to the mandible without warning and that slides? What exactly are you protecting, NHL? Health or reputation? You should probably decide on that soon. Stick-taps to elbows are penalized the same as boarding, yet shots after the whistle are regarded as just part of the game. Clean up that stuff.

7. Early in the season I always look for signs of sustainable success for the year and not so much as the scores. I think teams like Edmonton will be just fine in the end. I also think this is a motivated Lightning team (aside from this week’s efforts) and is in good position to contend for the President’s Trophy all year. All the signs are right so far, and the depth is solid.

8. Don’t look at Syracuse’s record and think that is a sign of bad depth; it’s not. That’s a sign of a very green team figuring out how to play together. It’s an AHL thing. Happens a lot. Think of the AHL like college football. You’ve got a handful of returning players, but a lot of newbies you’re excited about that have to get their feet wet. Look for them to get things together by Christmas and then Joseph, Cirelli, Yan, Cernak, Stephens, etc will have strong second halves. Happens almost every year with pro rookies.

9. Speaking of rookies, TB made the correct (and easy) decision to keep Mikhail Sergachev in the NHL this year. He plays like he’s 35 for most of the game, but occasionally his 19 is showing. I have never doubted Sergachev being a prized prospect. I voted him No. 1 in our rankings without hesitation. I didn’t like the timing of the trade because it would take him a couple years to get to an impact point that TB would need from that second-pair spot, and TB was close enough now where they needed impact more than potential. Plus, they were trading away one of the most exciting prospects to come through Amalie Arena. Sergachev’s maturity is making me look foolish – and I have no problem with that. None whatsoever. Seriously. This has turned into a trade that truly benefited both teams. Drouin is turning into the No. 1 center Montreal has craved for years, and early returns state he’s on pace to shatter last year’s production. And he has more to give. On the Tampa side, the Lightning have a rookie who’s playing like a veteran and is giving them the offensive genesis they’ve needed from the second pair they’ve craved for years. Win-win? Time will tell, but I like what both are doing so far. A lot.

10. Boris Katchouk scored his third overtime winner this season when he beat Sudbury the other night. He had two goals and five points in that game to give him 16 goals in 16 games (24 points) this season. He’s a strong candidate to be on Team Canada this year with Cal Foote (who’s starting to come around again), Brett Howden, and returnee Taylor Raddysh. That’s going to be fun to watch. Katchouk, like Joseph and Stephens and Raddysh, has grit to his game and can put up points. Steve Yzerman hearts this.

11. Can someone tell me how long the Panthers are going to stay in South Florida? How many more years of empty seats there before the team is moved to Quebec City or Kansas City or Tri-City or Sioux City or Ponca City? You know the players are feeling pretty City when they see the empty seats every night. Just end it. Enough already. I’m looking at you, too, Carolina. Step it back up.

12. Steven Stamkos said recently that he may never be 100% again after last year’s injury. So he was October’s first star and led the league in scoring while not playing up to his best. That’s scary. Really scary. There should be some kind of fright night in October – maybe at the end – to commemorate that.

13. All that and Stamkos probably isn’t the Lightning’s best player. Kucherov is. Or is it Hedman? I maintain Hedman is still the most valuable just because Lightning fans above anyone know how hard it is to find a stud No. 1 defenseman. But Kucherov… wow. He can do what he wants and do it successfully and he’s still not satisfied. I still go back to his missed shootout attempt at World Juniors the day after he won a shootout for Russia. He didn’t convert and he gave the glass a bruise it likely still hasn’t recovered from. But what’s Kucherov’s best quality? His shot? Possible. His hockey IQ? Maybe. His passing and vision – especially his 1-touch passes where he seems to think the game at a speed never achieved by a human on skates? Could be. Or is it his desire to be better and win at all costs? What’s the answer? It doesn’t matter. He plays for Tampa Bay. Just enjoy it (and don’t think about his next paycheck – you don’t have to pay it, but you do have to wonder how it fits under the cap).

14. I commented at the beginning of the year that the Lightning may be content being a 2-1 team unless they can find secondary scoring. Hello, Brayden Point. And Ondrej Palat before his Christmas boom. And Yannislav Gourdevskiy. I think this line is strong enough – mostly at center – to last all year. Another area I was wrong in, and I have no problem with this one either. I love stories like Gourde’s. Guy toils in minors, takes advantages of his opportunities, earns more opportunities, and refuses to say “this is as far as I can go.” I’ll never get tired of stories like that. Never let that dream die.

15. I wasn’t really a big fan of the line blending in the bottom six for the Rangers game, and the Lightning didn’t get a whole lot of energy out of it, but coming off the Ducks loss for the Panthers I see the logic behind it. I think the Ducks just shut the Lightning’s speed down and they couldn’t adjust. I wouldn’t mind seeing them go back to the lines that gave them the great month of October. Secondary scoring for one and all.

16. Congrats to the Houston Astros, your 2017 World Series champions. I’ve been to a game in Minute Maid Park, so I was using that as why I was on the bandwagon. Baseball, to me, is something I watch when I’m bored in the summer because it’s a sport and it’s on tv. But post-season baseball when the players care so deeply about each pitch and each game’s outcome is outstanding. It’s like it turns into hockey for a few weeks.

17. This week I handed off my junior hockey updates to Jeremy. I just can’t keep up with it as well as all the responsibilities of having a young family. I loved clicking on results and seeing which TB prospect had a monster night and then getting to pass the info along. Jeremy has done great with it so far, but it’s a little sad. I almost shed a tear before I fall asleep knowing I don’t have to stay up until the WHL games end. We’re lucky to have Jeremy. I hope you’re reading his Syracuse game recaps. He does a fantastic job.

That’s all for this week. Have a good one, everybody.