I was pretty apathetic to the Carolina Hurricanes prior to tonight. Just like any Southeast Division opposition the Lightning have faced over the past two seasons, they were the weakling kid the Lightning would beat up and steal the lunch money from. No threat, so no animosity. Tonight though? I hate the Carolina Hurricanes. I hate their arrogant, homer, idiotic announcers. I hate their fairweather fans (all three of them). And I hate the fact the Tampa Bay Lightning have allowed themselves to fall seven points behind the Carolina Hurricanes in the division.
Sean Burke allowed 6 goals on 30 shots faced, although only one of those (Staal's second) I would qualify as a soft goal. The Lightning skaters brought enough passion to the rink to win this game, but they apparently left their brains in the hotel rooms. Carolina capitalized on mistakes like the turnover at the Canes blueline that led to Cole's 2-on-1 goal, and they gave Carolina 9 opportunities on the power play in a game where they were constantly battling uphill to try to get that next goal. Being caught in the box also contributed to another low shot total night as the Lightning only got 24 through on Martin Gerber. The team continues to try too hard to find the perfect shot from the perimeter that they find blocked more often than not and too timid to pay the price to get the puck to the front of the net to produce those multiple shot dirty chances that should be the staple of any successful hockey team.
The one line that [i]was[/i] creating those dirty chances was the line that had Ryan Craig
and Evgeny Artyukhin
on it. Both rookies played very well tonight and Craig had his second goal in as many NHL games going to the net and getting a garbage tally on a scrum caused by Artyukhin. Craig's lack of speed definitely inhibits what he can do off the rush, but he is proving that if you can get him the puck down low he will play strong on the puck and generate forecheck and scoring chances at this level just like he did in the AHL.
Tonight Craig receieved a sizable 18:42 of ice time, was even, and had two shots on goal. Artyukhin had 11 minutes even, two shots on goal, and three hits, but he got in the box at the end of the game which hurt the Lightning's comeback bid. Paul Ranger
played a rather pedestrian 14:11 of even hockey. He certainly isn't hurting the team right now, but he isn't showing the upside he showed earlier this season either. Darren Reid
played a sparing 5:38 with one hit, but he did draw a penalty early in the game. Much like Tarnasky in his callup earlier this season, Reid's working hard but he doesn't look quite steady enough yet to stick at this level.
As a whole, tonight should've been the Tampa Bay Lightning's wake up call. They now have the Rangers and Sabres and then a rematch with Carolina on Monday. All three are, for December hockey, must win hockey games. The Lightning have coasted to this point at about 85% of their capability. As the Christmas break looms, now is the time for the Lightning to start paying the price. Reputation alone can no longer carry this team. It's go time.
Game sheet from [url=http://www.nhl.com/scores/htmlreports/20052006/GS020491.HTM]NHL.com.[/url] Lets kill these bastards on Monday.