Positive results are huge for a young team.
Ben Bishop was tremendous, stopping 37 of 39 shots before blanking 3 of 3 shooters (and what shooters they are when you play Chicago) in the shootout for the win. There's your number one goaltender, folks.
0:59 CHI Kane (2), (Bickell, Hjalmarsson)
9:14 CHI Saad (2), (Leddy, Crawford)(PP)
10:08 TB St Louis (1), (Stamkos, Carle)
11:51 TB Purcell (1), (St Louis, Stamkos)(PP)
Martin St. Louis and Ben Bishop were the game's first and third stars. Bishop would've been my first, second, and third stars of the game. Recall what I wrote after the Boston game: you need your goaltender to be a reason you steal games against superior opponents on the road in a spot like this. That's what Bishop did tonight. He was strong, poised, and confident, giving the Lightning time and the opportunity to come back and get the 2 points.
It took 5 periods of hockey, but the Lightning offense finally started to play with some energy in the Third Period. You could see it incrementally coming over the course of those 5 periods, but I think now in Buffalo in the next game out you'll see the early season fog is over. It may have been a product of guys thinking a bit and being tentative because they're settling into Cooper's defensive system, but I think the confidence they'll get from knocking off the Stanley Cup champs will go a long way to getting it going from here on out. You cannot overestimate the value of tonight's win. Looking at the schedule, I felt if the Lightning could steal 2 points out of Boston or Chicago, it'd be a huge bit of positive reinforcement of their work in camp, and there it is.
Much will be said about Chicago outshooting Tampa Bay 39-16 and out-chancing the Lightning by about a 3-1 margin, but I encourage you to compare how the Lightning did defensively with the tape of how Washington looked against the Blackhawks in their opener. Like in Boston, there was way more structure and poise defensively, and if they can get more offensive puck possession from here on out they'll be in excellent shape. Take that goofy bounce off the glass away, and the Lightning would've held Chicago to 1 goal tonight. Yeah, Bishop had to play really well to make that happen, but still. That's not too shabby for a team that has stunk to high heavens defensively the past 2 seasons.
Kudos and cookies tonight for Matt Carle and the 4th line, by the way. Carle was +1 in 24:38 tonight with a helper and was just as solid as you could want as a veteran d-man. And, for much of the night, the 4th line with Labrie, Crombeen, and Thompson was about the only line Tampa Bay had that was getting any forecheck. Thompson and Crombeen were also damned good on the PK, as well.
Radko Gudas was +1 with 1 shot, 4 hits, and 2 blocked shots in 22:45. He was a little tighter defensively than in the Boston game and continues to improve.
Tyler Johnson was 70% on draws in 15:03. The kid line was a little better than in Boston. They're still settling in, but they got more noticeable as a group in the Third Period. They need to be a little more poised when they try to pass the puck around, but they're getting there.
Alex Killorn was -1 with 2 penalty minutes and 3 shots in 17:22. I'm not sure he's a great fit for a line with Filppula and Purcell, because they're not exactly north-south guys and they don't share the puck easily. But, even with that impediment, Killorn was about the only guy getting pucks to the net through the first couple of periods.
Ondrej Palat had 1 blocked shot in 12:49. In the defensive third, he's been in good position and competent. From the Third Period in Boston through tonight, though, he's been too skittish in the other two zones. He needs to relax, because the past 4+ periods of hockey have been some of his worst with the puck that I've seen in the last 1-1/2 periods.
Andrej Sustr had 1 shot in 18:38. I'm happy to see him under 20 minutes with Salo back, and I'm enthralled to see him pass a pretty significant test by playing that many minutes against quality like Chicago can bring onto the ice.
Richard Panik played 10:53. Ho hum, right? Not exactly. He had a couple of key backchecks and actually created some chances that unfortunately got defused by blocked shots, but I thought he was significantly better than he was in Boston tonight.
Pierre-Cedric Labrie had 8 big hits in 8:46. You would have thought his skating would have been a bigger liability against Chicago than it was against Boston, but it wasn't. He and Thompson were the straws that stirred the drink on that 4th line.
Mixed bag in the opener.
Anders Lindback allowed 3 goals on 25 shots for the loss after earning the surprise start from Jon Cooper. Um, yeah, about that... when coach gives you a surprise nod, reward him. It's not that Lindback was overtly terrible and certainly you can't get too upset when the team in front of you gives up penalty shots. But, Lindback didn't step up and make the key saves you need in a tough game on the road, and his rebound control wasn't there tonight. In retrospect, you kind of wish Bishop was in there.
11:39 BOS Kelly (1), (unassisted)(SH)(PS)
10:32 TB Filppula (1), (Brewer, Killorn)
19:00 BOS Lucic (1), (Krejci)
04:02 BOS Bergeron (1), (unassisted)(SH)
It's never fun to open up a season with a loss, and I think this was a frustrating game overall. There were good signs and there were bad signs, and I think as long as the team builds up from this they're probably going to be ok. The good news is that, up until late in the Third Period when they came a little unglued, they had way more structure and poise defensively than at just about any point over the past 2 years. That put them in a position to steal points in a really bad road draw in a place the Lightning never win despite getting ordinary goaltending, losing a top pair defenseman to injury before the game (Salo), and throwing a whole lot of young players out against a veteran Boston club. Shorthanded breakdowns should be correctable, and this would have been a 1-1 tie without them if you look at silver linings. Holding Boston to 25 shots in their barn is a huge improvement and they kept scoring chances down pretty well, too.
The bad sign was that the Lightning's first line did next to nothing tonight. Only a couple of sporadic scoring chances and nothing sustained, and the golden 2-on-1 that Stamkos and St. Louis had and flubbed in the Second Period turned out, in retrospect, to be a turning point of the game. Point blank, they've got to be better. The second line isn't going to be as good this season no matter how many zeros are on Filppula's paycheck. Stamkos and St. Louis have to create scoring chances consistently and bring the bacon home. Have to. And, in general, there were only a couple of players on the Lightning I can say honestly played up to their full potential: Sustr and Labrie. That's about it. Everyone else can play a little better than they did tonight, which is a negative but also should tell them that there's considerable room to grow and get better, too.
This opening road trip is awful for the Lightning. The schedule makers could not have drawn up a worse script for the team. So, I wasn't expecting miracles right out of the gate. The key thing is to improve game to game, steal some wins here and there to get the positive reinforcement, and hang in there until December-January when I expect everything will really start to click.
Radko Gudas was -1 with 7 penalty minutes and 5 hits in 17:27. He got himself caught in no-man's land a couple of times coverage-wise in the Third Period, but the ill-advised pinches weren't there tonight like they were last season and the physical game you love was. So, modest improvement, but needs to be better still.
Mark Barberio was +1 with 1 shot in 16:26. The young man was a skating dumpster fire in the first half of the game. Made a terrible play that led to the shorthanded penalty shot and got absolutely undressed on a play where a quick referees whistle saved a goal that probably would've counted otherwise. The second half of the game he was less noticeable, which was an improvement, but when you make me long for Keith Aulie, we have problems.
Tyler Johnson was -2 with 3 shots, 1 blocked shot, and he was 61% on draws in 15:46. His line had small spurts throughout the game, but not the sustained level of play experienced in the preseason. I think they need to simplify and play more north-south next time out. Less curly-ques, please.
Alex Killorn had a helper and was +1 with 1 shot, 1 hit, and 2 blocked shots in 15:10. He can play a lot better. His line needs to earn puck possession more so he can have the chance to play his north-south game. He just didn't have the puck very much.
Ondrej Palat was -1 with 1 shot, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 13:11. I thought he played his usual poised game until the Third Period when I saw him throw a puck away rather than calmly carry it to open ice, which is so unlike Palat it's jaw-dropping.
Andrej Sustr was -1 with 3 shots and 1 blocked shot in 20:03. I thought he played above his experience level. There were moments he was a little deer-legged skating-wise and got himself caught out of position, but he filled in well with Salo out. No way in hell do I want him playing 20 minutes a night at his age, and he's very likely to get hurt and worn out with a steady diet of that right now. But, for just tonight, fairly impressive outing.
Richard Panik was -2 with 3 hits and 1 blocked shot in 15:10. Of all the kids, other than maybe Barberio, I found his night the most disappointing. He botched the play that led to the second shorthanded goal against and, in general, he just seemed a step slow to the puck, soft when he got there, and that contributed to zero shots and no real scoring chances. Brother, if you want to be in the AHL real quick, keep that up. Brett Connolly is a phone call away.
Pierre-Cedric Labrie had 5 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 8:36. I thought he played his role fairly well tonight. He fought when he needed to and created a couple of chances with his size around the opposing net. He still can't skate a lick, so he's a defensive liability if he gets caught out on the ice so Cooper needs to be very conscious about that. But, in general, I thought he played his role and to his potential tonight, which is more than I can say for most of the team.
Ten questions for this year's Lightning prospect season...
Palat on the spot.
Syracuse Wins the Best-of-Five Series 3-0
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 3 goals on just 18 shots for the victory. Once again, he allowed another wraparound goal that was on the soft side and once again the team bailed him out. Mind you, he made some incredible saves in Overtime to make up for it, but as the competition level rises in the next round Desjardins has got to get better.
POR Miele, (1) (Bolduc, Brown), 15:57 (PP)
SYR Gudas, (1) (Taormina, Sexton), 6:57 (PP)
POR Bolduc, (1) (Miele, Lessio), 0:19
POR Johnson, (2) (Stone, Conner), 10:47 (PP)
SYR Angelidis, (1) (Wyman, Barberio), 13:59
SYR Palat, (2) (Connolly, Sustr), 18:48
SYR Palat, (3) (Taormina, Johnson), 19:43
Ondrej Palat was the game's first star. Oddly enough, I thought his first two games of the series were better than tonight, but he was in the right places at the right times for the two biggest goals of the series.
Let me tell you a little something about Brett Connolly, who turned 21 today and celebrated by knifing Portland in the heart late in regulation. Hopping on the ice as the sixth attacker to try to tie the game late in the Third Period, the puck came to Connolly who circled through the neutral zone and cut down the left wing boards into the offensive zone. For the life of me, I thought Portland's defenseman had the angle on Connolly at the blueline and would squeeze him off, or at least get enough of him to separate the puck. Nope. Connolly has deceptive speed a la Alex Killorn and he squirted by without being touched, went to circle behind the net, and just before he went behind dished a beautiful little backhand pass to Palat for the stuff. Tie game. What an individual play by Connolly. Truly cold blooded.
Let me also tell you a little something about faceoffs. Gudas' power play goal came directly from a bang-bang play off a faceoff win by Dan Sexton. And then, with just 17 seconds left in Overtime, Palat's second goal came off a faceoff win by Tyler Johnson that led to a Taormina shot that gave Palat the rebound he needed to send the Crunch to the first round pay window. Those quick plays off clean faceoff wins in the offensive zone are instant scoring chances, and almost as valuable as forcing turnovers out of your opponent.
It's not all good news, though. Although Syracuse outshot Portland 45-18, I suspect the scoring chances don't reflect the disparity. There was a distinct lack of GMT in this game for the Crunch. GMT = goal mouth thrills. Syracuse got a lot of traffic and a lot of greasy chances in the first two games of the series and they were absent tonight, with the exception of a few shifts by the Angelidis line. As the level of competition goes up in the next round, more GMT is required. If you don't muck it up in the high traffic areas, you invite a night like tonight where Portland's goaltender gobbled up a lot of clean, unscreened, undeflected shots.
Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference tonight, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton finished off their own sweep of Binghamton and Manchester won their first game of their series. Springfield still holds a 2-1 edge, but the series continues on. Top seed Providence is down 2-0 to Hershey. If either Providence or Springfield get upset (and Providence going down looks distinctly possible right now) Syracuse will get home ice for a second round series against the Penguins. Tough opponent. It'll be a great series.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Stop winnin' for MacKinnon.
Anders Lindback allowed 4 goals on 31 shots for the loss.
5:00 TB Carle (5), (St. Louis)
13:14 TB Malone (6), (Lecavalier, Hedman)
16:54 FLA Bjugstad (1), (Strachan, Brennan)
00:54 FLA Fleischmann (11), (Huberdeau, Shore)
05:47 TB St. Louis (17), (Purcell, Stamkos)
05:30 FLA Upshall (4), (Selleck)
13:53 FLA Fleischmann (12), (Huberdeau, Kuba)
19:11 FLA Goc (9), (Huberdeau)
Martin St. Louis was the game's first star.
Man, was that Third Period ever a tank job General Patton would've been proud of? The team got Marty his multi-points to likely lock up the scoring race, and then strategery ensued. The Lightning locked up the third most ping pong balls and await the outcome of Colorado's game to see if they get more.
Alex Killorn was -1 with 1 shot, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 15:33. Killorn finishes just a scant few games shy of graduation from prospect status in the lockout shortened year.
Mathieu Roy was -1 in 14:07, enjoying the NHL paycheck.
Pierre-Cedric Labrie had 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 10:37.
Down to one more to go.
Anders Lindback allowed 2 goals on 24 shots for the loss.
04:22 BOS Seidenberg (3), (Marchand, Seguin)
13:31 BOS Paille (10), (Campbell, Thornton)
Again, I'm looking for effort and competitiveness in garbage time of the season. The Lightning outshot a very good Boston team 30-24 in the Bruins' barn. They knew they were in a game tonight, and the silver lining of the loss is the Lightning remain in 3rd most ping pong ball position.
Alex Killorn] had 4 shots and 1 hit in 14:30.
Richard Panik had 2 shots and 3 hits in 14:11.
Radko Gudas had 2 shots, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 18:40.
Pierre-Cedric Labrie played 11:20.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 28 shots for the victory.
17:03 TOR Kessel (17), (Bozak)
05:54 TB Stamkos (29), (Thompson, Carle)
15:48 TB St. Louis (14), (Thompson)
19:36 TOR Lupul (11), (MacArthur, Franson)
03:13 TB Gudas (2), (Purcell, Stamkos)
13:08 TB St. Louis (15), (Aulie, Tyrell)
17:11 TB St. Louis (16), (Lecavalier)(EN)
Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, and Nate Thompson were the game's three stars. What a treat for the Lightning fans who stuck it out and went to the game to get to witness one of the franchise's greats posting a hatter, and how appropriate he polishes it off from an assist from #4. Hold onto nights like these, Lightning fans.
Luckily, the Lightning are still in third-most-ping-pong-balls position by 1 point, and you love to see W's. Strategically speaking, though, they'll be potentially shooting themselves in the foot if they win either of their last two games. Now, I'm not saying they should lay down, but I do think they need to consider giving a close-up inspection of the ice surface.
Alex Killorn was -2 with 2 shots and 1 blocked shot in 16:33.
Richard Panik was -2 with 1 shot and 1 blocked shot in 14:14. He will be on the way to Syracuse for the playoffs.
Radko Gudas was +2 and blew smoke past Reimer on the slap shot for his goal. 1 shot, 4 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 15:35. He will be headed to Syracuse too.
Pierre-Cedric Labrie was +1 with 2 shots and 3 hits in 13:01.
The AHL has announced the schedule for the opening round, best-of-five series in the AHL playoffs. Syracuse, as the 3 seed, will be squaring off with the Portland Pirates, which are the 6 seed. The series will begin Saturday night in Syracuse and proceed under a 2-2-1 format as follows:
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals – Series “C” (best-of-5)
3-Syracuse Crunch vs. 6-Portland Pirates
Game 1 – Sat., Apr. 27 – Portland at Syracuse, 7:30
Game 2 – Sun., Apr. 28 – Portland at Syracuse, 7:30
Game 3 – Thurs., May 2 – Syracuse at Portland, 7:00
*Game 4 – Fri., May 3 – Syracuse at Portland, 7:00
*Game 5 – Sun., May 5 – Portland at Syracuse, 7:30
Syracuse will be required to submit their playoff roster to the AHL by 3 pm on Monday. Several players currently with the Tampa Bay Lightning may be on that roster including Alex Killorn, Richard Panik, Radko Gudas, Dana Tyrell, Keith Aulie, and/or Pierre-Cedric Labrie. The Lightning's final regular season game is on Saturday night against the Florida Panthers.
Competitive? Check. Strategic? Check.
Anders Lindback allowed 3 goals on 28 shots for the loss in his return from a high ankle sprain. I'm going to chalk up his first period performance to rust and compliment him on shutting the door the rest of the way. That's what good goaltenders do after they stub their toes in the opening frame.
00:16 CAR Semin (12), (E. Staal)
10:45 CAR Tlusty (20), (Semin, Corvo)
18:46 CAR Tlusty (21), (E. Staal, Semin)
10:07 TB Stamkos (28), (Salo, St. Louis)(PP)
02:16 TB St. Louis (13), (Lecavalier)
Martin St. Louis was the game's second star.
Again, the big thing for me in garbage time of the season is seeing effort and competitiveness. This string of 1-goal losses may not be the greatest for morale, but they show a team that is still trying and, whether we like to admit it or not, they're helping the Lightning strategically by improving potential draft position. Carolina leapfrogging Tampa Bay now puts the Lightning with the third most ping pong balls, 3 points ahead of Colorado in the standings. And, after 40 minutes, Colorado currently leads in their game 4-2. If they hold on, the Lightning move closer to having the second most ping pong balls.
Why is that important? This is a 3+1 draft, which is to say there are 3 really coveted franchise caliber prospects and 1 wild card (Nichushkin). If the Lightning are in position in the top-3, they might be able to land top defenseman Seth Jones. But, even if they can't, having the opportunity to draft one of the two coveted forwards out of the QMJHL gives the Lightning a lot of flexibility. They could trade the pick for an NHL defenseman. They could hold onto the pick, use it, and trade one of the valuable young forwards they already have for an NHL defenseman. Or, they could trade down and try to extract a king's ransom and take multiple defensemen later in the top-60 in a very deep draft. The world definitely opens up if the Lightning pick in the top-3.
Alex Killorn was -1 with 1 shot in 15:27.
Richard Panik was -1 with 2 penalty minutes and 2 shots in 13:03.
Radko Gudas was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 5 hits in 14:10.
Pierre-Cedric Labrie had 2 penalty minutes, 4 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 12:11.
Another respectable, competitive effort in garbage time of the season.
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 35 shots for the loss.
04:04 MTL Galchenyuk (9), (Gallagher, Drewiske)
15:05 MTL Gionta (13), (Plekanec, Pacioretty)
17:36 TB Panik (5), (Hedman, Killorn)(PP)
05:07 TB Lecavalier (10), (Pouliot, Hedman)
19:13 MTL Gionta (14), (Weber, Ryder)
At this stage of the season, I'm looking for effort and competitiveness more so than wins. Baby steps.
With 4 goals and 19 points now in 40 games, we can start to take a peek at what Victor Hedman might be at in an 82 game season. It comes out to a very respectable 8 goal, 39 point season. Bear in mind Hedman's gotten a greener light since Cooper took over behind the bench, which is why I'd expect his scoring pace to pick up.
Alex Killorn had a helper and was +1 with 2 shots, 2 hits, and 2 blocked shots in 13:08. It's been interesting to see his ice time slowly turned down. Projected over 82 games, Killorn's 7 goals and 19 points in 34 games pro-rates to 17 goals and 46 points. Pretty good rookie numbers.
Richard Panik had a goal and was -1 with 3 shots, 4 hits, and 2 blocked shots in 10:59. That scoring line on his power play goal, being assisted by Killorn and Hedman, was like a telegram from the future. It's a much smaller sample set of 22 games, but his 5 goals and 9 points projects to about 19 goals and 34 points in an 82 game season, which is pretty good given how small his average ice time numbers are. It might be hard to consider holding him off the team next season.
Radko Gudas was -1 with 1 shot, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 20:35.
Pierre-Cedric Labrie played 10:19.