This Week in TampaCuse
The Lightning ended the week on a high note, defeating the Red Wings, 4-2. The Bolts went 1-2 last week, dropping a close decision in Minnesota, 2-1, and at home to the Maple Leafs, 4-1. They enter the Olympic Break one point up on Toronto and Montreal for second in the Atlantic Division, seven points behind Boston.
The Baby Bolts of Syracuse went 1-1-1, beating Rochester, 4-1, and losing in regulation and overtime to the first place Springfield Falcons – a former affiliate of the Lightning.
Random thoughts on the week in and surrounding TampaCuse:
1. The big news this week was Marty St. Louis being revealed as Stamkos’ replacement for Canada’s Olympic team. I found this picture, taken in 2011, and captioned it, “It’s you!” I didn’t think anything of it, but it received more activity on Twitter than almost any other post of ours. Ever. Congrats to Marty for the honor. After the first practice today, the media reported he was not part of the top-12 forwards, but was getting some power play time. We’ll see how he fits in.
2. I feel for Stamkos not being healthy enough to go. Yes, he’s just 24 years old and he has a shot at 2-3 more Olympics, but you just never know. We all thought it was a given he’d be there this year before he hit the post in Boston. Stamkos is so strong mentally that he’ll be just fine. I would have loved to see him on the global stage in Sochi, possibly even stealing some of Crosby’s spotlight. I don’t want to wait four more years to see him there.
3. As I mentioned on Twitter, during the Olympic break Ben Bishop will have random strangers push him over on the sidewalk to simulate game situations. It’s really quite absurd the amount of hits he’s been taking. Yes, you want to get in a hot goalie’s head, but not literally. He’s being treated like a tackling dummy (aside from the friendly fire he’s taken to the head). As fellow BP staffer Pete (@jollymeangiant) said during the Wings game, it’s in the NHL’s best interest to start treating goaltenders like the NFL does quarterbacks. After all, it’s what’s best for the NHL brand. Bettman has never cared about the brand before, though, so don’t expect any changes. Maybe that’s his way to increase scoring – have teams dress their third goalies because the first two are injured for taking too many hits to the face, breast, chest, neck, and head. (That’s a play on an old Jerky Boys quote for those who remember them… and cassette tapes.)
4. Congrats to Vlad Namestnikov for making his NHL debut. He didn’t have a lot to show for it, but the Wizards of Ov line with Kucherov and Brown(ov) had scoring chances on each of their first three shifts. Look for that line to be together again in 2014-2015 or 2015-16. Vladdy should make a run at the roster next season. Where, I don’t know; there is so much traffic in front of him. It was weird to see tweets talking about “Vladislav” Namestnikov. That’s like referring to Marty St. Louis constantly as “Martin” or Vinny Lecavalier as “Vincent.” At least most got his name spelled right. Most.
5. Vladdy wore No. 65 in the game, which was his preseason number. I’ve beat that horse to death on Twitter, then beat the glue bottle made from the dead horse. Why, you ask? Because I grew up watching hockey in the 80’s and early 90’s when there were unwritten rules about jersey numbers. Only Montreal had untraditional numbers because of all their retired numbers. It was never a black and white rule, but it was something that purists liked and appreciated. It’s really not that big of a deal. I like having fun with it now. Erik Karlsson has made 65 a “real” number now, I guess. Slater Koekkoek chose to wear it when he moved to Windsor last winter. He was 29 with the Petes. I guess this is here to stay, eh? By the way, get off my lawn.
6. Don’t look now, but Tanner Richard is starting to heat up for Syracuse. If you will recall, it took Vladdy until about now in his rookie pro year for everything to click. It’s a big jump from juniors to the pros, and Richard has been focusing on the defensive side of this game thus far. As Jon Cooper always says, if you pay attention to your defense, the offense will come. In Syracuse’s loss Saturday night to Springfield, Richard had three assists, which was always a typical stat line for him in Guelph. He’s an assist man who can put up penalty minutes – a rare player type. His behind-the-back-between-the-legs pass was a beautiful. Just beautiful.
7. Speaking of beautiful goals, there were two big ones this week. I hope you’ve seen Henri Ikonen’s shorthanded penalty shot goal. “The Forsberg” is becoming a relatively common move, and Kucherov pulled it off earlier this year for Tampa Bay. I’ve never seen it done with a shot elevated like Ikonen did. And don’t forget, Ikonen is a lefty so he roofed the puck using the reverse/backhand curve of his stick… with just his right hand. That’s a move you try to pull off in a low-key skills competition or maaaaaybe a shootout, but not a shorthanded penalty shot in the second period of a 2-goal game. Wow. The kid’s got stones and will be bringing them to Syracuse as soon as his season is over (if Syracuse is still playing).
Mike Angelidis had a highlight-reel goal for Syracuse on Saturday night where he dove in the crease and wrapped the puck around Mike McKenna while he was swimming. Another beauty.
Finally, he didn't score, but JT Brown had a filthy move on Lashoff of the Wings on Saturday. Brown had posted a Vine of him getting played by Nate MacKinnon in an earlier game. We suggested Brown post the Vine of him making a move to even things up. Brown tweeted us after the game and said "now if I could only score." It'll come. Brown got to the NHL by being a hard working scorer. He'll make it.
8. Do you remember where you were when Forsberg scored the postage stamp shootout goal in 1994? I was in a hotel room in Nashville. I woke up early to watch the Gold Medal Game. Poor Paul Kariya (he got his Gold in 2002 though). The shootout was new to most North Americans as a big game decider then. Canada followed that loss up with the 1998 shootout loss to Dominik Hasek and the Czechs – the first year NHLers were in the Olympics. A couple years later I was a finalist for a job writing play-by-play/color scripts for the Vancouver-based EA Sports NHL franchise. I mentioned the Nagano shootout in my test scripts and that’s probably why I didn’t get the job. #regrets
9. The Crunch got JP Cote back this week, which was a welcomed re-addition to the club. He’ll help solidify a top-4 that includes Taormina, Witkowski, and Sustr. Saturday’s 6-5 loss – Cote’s first game back – wasn’t indicative of the defensive effort. There were far fewer scoring chances and fewer Grade-A scoring chances allowed than have been prevalent over the past couple months. Three of the Falcons goals were scored by Prout from the point through a hoard of traffic. At least two appeared to hit Crunch players before beating ECHL loaner Allen York. Another goal was on the power play on a quick one-timer from the weak side. You always look for signs of sustainability and I don’t see Syracuse’s opponents scoring on long point shots like that three times a game from hereon out. Did I mention the three goals were Prout’s first of the season? It’s not like he’s Karlsson.
10. If you were watching the Lightning-Wings game on SunSports, did you catch in the charity golf report that Teddy Purcell had a dislocated shoulder? Purcell has always favored the pass over his God-given shot (except his contract year), but it’s almost like he’s been adamantly against shooting lately from anywhere outside the blue ice. Put two and two together and there’s your reason. He had six shots against the Wings, but I don’t recall any of them being from outside the general crease area. I just shake my head when (a healthy) Purcell doesn’t use his shot. Not to be a creep, but that’s like Brooklyn Decker wearing a gray, loose-fitting Walmart sweatsuit. Maximize your strengths.
11. Earlier today I saw a tweet that used “’Ning” as a nickname for the Lightning. I know the unwritten rule here (again with the unwritten rules, I know), but I asked the Twitter machine anyway, “Is it ever acceptable to use ‘Ning as a nickname for the Lightning?” Not even close to being close. Not only did people say “No,” it was usually “Hell no,” “No, no, no, no,” “NEVER,” or “only if you want to be thrown in front of a speeding Zamboni.” It should be in the Lightning fan handbook. Bolts is acceptable; ‘Ning is not. Also, you should know how to spell Khabibulin by heart and know where Dave Andreychuk was when the final buzzer went in Game 7 of the 2004 Finals.
12. According to icethetics.com, there may be a new third jersey for the BOLTS next season, possibly black. I wouldn’t mind a retro look, like the one Andreychuk wore in 2004 while he was in the penalty box at the buzzer.
13. I wish the OHL kept track of ice time. By all accounts, Slater Koekkoek doesn’t come off the ice. He’s likely over 30 minutes a game, and excelling at it. Koekkoek is certainly making up for lost playing time due to injuries the past two seasons. In my opinion, he’s leading the “ones to watch” list next year at Lightning camp. He could force his way on to Tampa Bay’s roster. Again, it’s okay to get excited about him.
14. Kristers Gudlevskis is the Lightning Olympian with the most to gain from the world’s most high profile hockey tournament. Think about it. Latvia isn’t supposed to do much, if anything. If Gudlevskis can win one game that Latvia isn’t supposed to win, he becomes a story. If he pushes for a second, he goes from a “Who?” prospect to the North American media to a guy who’s clearly on everyone’s radar. His World Championship performance got him noticed; now he can take it a few more steps. He’s capable of stealing one. Palat and Gudas can both further their reputations; Palat for good, Gudas for evil (especially if he knocks out a North American).
15. As far as roles go for the Olympics, Palat and Gudas are young complimentary guys who will likely see PK time, St. Louis was a late addition so he may not fit in right away, Salo is a veteran presence who will probably be on the third pair, Panik will fight to get ice time, and soon-to-be-Bolt Reto Suri is one of a group of forwards capable of making noise. I can’t wait for this tournament to get started.
16. Fantasy hockey is on an Olympic break, too, obviously, but there are a few targets out there worth keeping an eye on. The first is the aforementioned Palat. Odd are overwhelmingly in Palat’s favor to play the left wing with Stamkos and St. Louis when 91 is cleared. Palat should rate high in most categories. Even if Killorn takes that spot, Palat only drops down a line. Look for Brown and Kucherov to remain wingers on the third line. Another player to watch is Sam Gagner if he moves to Los Angeles, and John Carlson’s assist numbers have to rise some time. He’s got 10 goals from the backline.
17. This week’s must-follows on Twitter are @LAKings and @BlueJacketsNHL. I could care less about the teams (well, the Kings are fun to watch if you can’t sleep and I like Ryan Johansen from his Winterhawk days), but they have a lot of fun with the accounts talking to fans and other teams. I knew about the Kings, who will even poke fun at themselves at times, but the Jackets were recommended to me as a definite follow. Note that this in no way is a slight against the Lightning’s feed, which you’re probably already following anyway.