Witkowski, Luke

NHL Game Night: 4-11-15 Bruins at Lightning

A brief moment of sweet schadenfreude before the bullets fly for real next week.

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BOS-2 (SO)

Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 38 shots and stopped all 3 shooters in the penalty shot session for the SO victory. He was sharp as a samurai sword tonight. That's good to see heading into the playoffs.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
5:08 TB Marchessault (1), (unassisted)
6:00 BOS Eriksson (22), (Kelly, Seidenberg)

Third Period
5:12 TB Nesterov (3), (Carle, Marchessault)
18:54 BOS Marchand (24), (Krug, Krejci)

Overtime
NO SCORING

Shootout
BOS- NONE
TB- Hedman

Jonathan Marchessault, Bishop, and Nikita Nesterov were the game's three stars.

Boston played the bulk of this game very desperate and very hungry, and the Lightning held back a lot of their injured players to rest with a view toward the playoffs starting next week. The shot deficit (38-25) and possession advantage Boston had reflects that they were the team that had more to play for (up until halfway through the Third Period when Pittsburgh put the last shovel-full of dirt on their graves). With that said, I give credit to the Lightning for matching Boston's intensity level and physicality, even though they didn't have the same urgency stalking them. They hustled. They scrapped. They got sticks and bodies in passing and shooting lanes. They manufactured a win. They'll have to do that a few times when they don't have their A-game in the playoffs coming up.

Tampa Bay gets Detroit in the First Round. I'm not scared of the matchup. If the Lightning play their game, they can beat Detroit. Handily. Time to start burying the memories of last April.

Marchessault had 1 goal and 1 assist and was +2 with 2 shots and 3 hits in 11:20. His goal was a beauty of a shot from the RW faceoff circle, and he was dangerous offensively in his TOI. He had at least one issue hanging in physically to get a puck out at his own blueline, but more good than bad. He's in a rough spot given how deep this organization is, but he's definitely knocking on the door of being an NHLer.

Luke Witkowski was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 8 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 18:14. He was one of the tone setters physically, and he darn near sawed McQuaid in half on one hit in this game. He even had a pretty fancy rush late in the game to nearly get the winner. Thought we were looking at Luke Witk-Orr for a minute. I suspect he'll head back to Syracuse now with Marchessault and bolster the Crunch's division title and playoff hopes.

Nesterov had a goal and was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 3 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 19:39. NBCSN's broadcasters gushed about Nesterov's offensive assertiveness all game, and rightfully so. He's a classic pace-pushing offensive defenseman who comes out ahead on the ledger because he helps create way more chances than he surrenders. Yes, he got beat physically out of the corner by Marchand on one play in the First Period and had to take a minor. Yes, there's a turnover here and there. But, he comes out way ahead on the ledger, overall. Garrison, Sustr, and Coburn are all slated to return at some point in the opening round against Detroit. I'm not sure Nesterov sits, though. I think he may have earned a look-see in playoff action, a la Paquette last year, and maybe a guy like Barberio or Sustr sits instead.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

P.S. Kick rocks, Jack Edwards.

NHL Game Night: 4-9-15 Devils at Lightning

Down to the wire.

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TB-4 (OT)

Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 24 shots for the OT victory. The stat line was ugly, but the Devils got some puck luck in this game, and Ben made the toe save of the game on Cammalleri late in the Third to keep the Lightning alive.

First Period
5:06 NJ Bernier (15), (Henrique, Gomez)(PP)
6:26 TB Johnson (28), (Kucherov, Palat)
9:13 TB Nesterov (2), (Johnson, Kucherov)(PP)

Second Period
10:17 NJ Elias (13), (Gionta)
17:42 TB Stamkos (43), (Palat, Hedman)(PP)
17:58 NJ Bernier (16), (Henrique, Gomez)

Third Period
NO SCORING

Overtime
1:22 TB Johnson (29), (Kucherov, Palat)(PP)

Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat were the game's first and third stars.

Honestly, I wasn't that upset with the effort, even though it took OT for the Lightning to dispose of New Jersey. The Devils got some favorable bounces on blocked shots, etc., but for the most part the Lightning controlled this game, outshooting their opponent 31-24. My only disappointment was the mental let downs after goals scored, but that's correctable. The bright side was that the power play went 3-for-8 and continues to pile up some goals over the last couple of weeks. If the Lightning can muster a power play in the playoffs, they may be unbeatable. That's a big if, mind you.

Unfortunately, Montreal beat Detroit in OT, so Montreal would have to lose in regulation in their finale against Toronto for the Lightning to have a chance to take the Atlantic Division. If they win the division, they could face Ottawa, Pittsburgh, or the Islanders in the first round. Should Tampa Bay stay in the Atlantic second seed spot, which is more likely, they'll probably get Detroit, although Ottawa could still nudge past the Wings at the tape.

The Lightning's finale is a tantalizing opportunity to give a team they've traditionally had difficulty with an early trip to the golf course. Boston lost to Florida tonight, so they cannot get into the Atlantic three seed, and any type of loss, regulation or OT, and Boston is done like dinner. My 2 cents: the Lightning should relish this opportunity to put Boston away now rather than potentially having to do it in some sort of 7 game series somewhere down the line. Put them into an early grave, I say.

Luke Witkowski was -1 with 1 shot, 3 hits, and 2 blocked shots. He looks ticketed for a return to Syracuse with Andrej Sustr on track to possibly return for the Boston tilt. I'm thinking Luke's experience from this callup will allow him to focus his offseason attention on sharpening up some aspects of his game like handling and distributing the puck that he could get even more efficient at in order to become a regular NHLer. He's not quite there yet, but he's not a glaring liability, either. That next step's got to come, and I think it comes in the form of being a little bit less of a "hot potato" guy on the puck.

Nikita Nesterov had a goal and was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 19:06. He changes the complexion of the Lightning's second PP unit with his shoot-first mentality, and the experience he's gained with the Lightning's injury issues will only benefit the squad in the form of reliable depth when other injuries happen in the playoffs. It's nice to know Nesterov can step up and play some quality minutes if necessary.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 4-4-15 Lightning at Panthers

Satisfying.

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FLA-0

Ben Bishop stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout win. That's some U of Maine Justice right there for the Panthers. I think he's been off a little mechanically the past couple of games, either due to being banged up or being fatigued, but he's a battler and he battled his way to getting the goose egg tonight.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
6:10 TB Stamkos (41), (Johnson, Nesterov)(PP)
11:19 TB Stamkos (42), (Callahan)

Third Period
1:03 TB Callahan (24), (Stamkos)
18:13 TB Johnson (27), (Drouin)

Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan, and Bishop were the game's three stars.

There's so much good wrapped in this game, it's hard to make sure you hit all the high notes. From an in-game standpoint, the Lightning had 4 regular defensemen out of the lineup going against what should've been a desperate Panthers squad, and they managed to shut them out. Kudos to the young defensemen, and kudos to Coach Zettler and the staff in Syracuse. It's been fantastic to watch the sharp progress this season by Nesterov and the steady progress of the likes of Witkowski, Koekkoek, Blujus, and Dotchin. It's a really hard act following a guy who is arguably an all-time great AHL coach like Jon Cooper, but Zettler has shown some developmental mojo with these young defensemen and it makes you excited to see what he can accomplish working with a prospect like Anthony DeAngelo.

The Lightning also got a power play goal for the fourth straight game and Steven Stamkos snapped out of his funk with a vintage PP goal and a laser beam from the right wing faceoff dot. Stamkos needs to be Stamkos if the Lightning are going to do anything in the playoffs, and if he were to find his PP mojo, that alone could win the Lightning a playoff series or two they might not otherwise deserve.

From a standings standpoint, the Lightning clinched home ice in the first round of the playoffs and tied Montreal in the standings with the Habs holding a game in hand. The Lightning have the ROW tiebreaker, so all the pressure is on Montreal right now. The Lightning get 4 days to rest and heal now while Montreal has to keep getting points if they want to maintain control of their own destiny in the division title pursuit. If they lose a game, the Lightning may be able to get Hedman, Sustr, and Killorn back on the ice for the final 2 games at home with the real prospect of earning a banner in the balance.

Oh, and the Lightning eliminate the Panthers from playoff contention. It's never a bad thing to kick dirt on their grave, is it?

Slater Koekkoek was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 1 hit in 16:19. This wasn't quite the same effort for Slater as against Ottawa, IMO, but it was still a solid performance for the rookie. If I was a Syracuse fan, I'd be very excited to see him in the playoffs because he's going to go back to the Crunch with a ton of confidence.

Luke Witkowski had 2 penalty minutes and 1 hit in 15:34. Quiet is good.

Nikita Nesterov had a helper and was +2 with 4 shots, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 21:18. There was a lot of gushing about Nesterov tonight and rightfully so. He ate big minutes and he changes the complexion of the Lightning power play with his shoot first mentality and ability to get pucks through and on net. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think he's essentially running Barberio out of town for next season. They're similar players, but Nesterov's ceiling seems so much higher and he's already shown himself to be just as good, if not better, in his own third.

Vladislav Namestnikov played 11:36. He had one memorable rush where he slithered into the Panthers zone, but it was a quiet night for Namestnikov with Tyler Johnson returning and pushing him down off the line with Palat and Kucherov. Tonight was Namestnikov's 41st game of the season, so he graduated from prospect status on the website. Congratulations, Baby Faced Killer.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 4-2-15 Lightning at Senators

Lightning nearly steal both points.

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OTT-2 (OT)

Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 34 shots for the OT loss. His rebound control wasn't all that great tonight, but he was sparkling on first shots, which was nearly good enough to complete the larceny.

First Period
5:03 OTT Stone (20), (Turris, MacArthur)
16:53 TB Drouin (4), (Stralman, Filppula)(PP)

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
NO SCORING

Overtime
4:43 OTT Wiercioch (3), (Stone, Turris)

Bishop was the game's third star.

Most of the Lightning's injured players actually participated in the morning skate today, which signals to me that if tonight's game had been a priority some of them would have gone. As it was, it was clear that getting rest and getting healthy was deemed more important than still pursuing the division title. Fair enough, under the circumstances, and it reflected in a pretty flat First Period by the team. However, as the game wore on, I think the Lightning realized there were points to be stolen on the table and their intensity improved as the game went on. They got 1 point to keep pace with Montreal tonight, but couldn't thieve the 2nd. Still, it's more than I would've expected from the body language I saw in the First Period. They trail Montreal by 1 point with the Habs holding a game in hand and the Lightning having 3 games left on the slate. They would hold the ROW tiebreaker, which looms large if they can get some help and Montreal stubs their toe a couple of times in their last 4 games.

One other point of interest, pun intended, is the Lightning got their 12th point tonight in this 10 game segment. In other words, the Lightning hit 12 points in every 10 game segment of the season but 1, and the miss was an 11 point segment. They may not be consistent game to game, but their frighteningly consistent segment to segment, which is very good compared to last season when they had about 3 misses, as I recall, along the way. Maturation.

Slater Koekkoek had 3 shots, 1 hit, and 3 blocked shots in 17:55. He was a stud tonight. He was active in all three zones and particularly in clearing out his front porch. You saw the total package of what Koekkoek can do and he nearly had an OT winner jumping into the play, to boot. Very impressive.

Luke Witkowski had 1 shot, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 18:19 to go with 2 PIMs. He didn't play a perfect game, but he played a good one. I think, in particular, when the game got chippy in the Second Period it got right into Luke's wheelhouse and he started to really come alive.

Nikita Nesterov was -2 with 4 shots, 5 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 19:38. The IT tells you the coaching staff appreciates what he's doing, but he's had some hard luck where his good two-way play hasn't paid off with pluses with the Lightning forwards struggling to pot goals.

Vladislav Namestnikov had 1 hit and was 55% on 11 draws in 9:50. IT was down tonight, and it was hard to tell if he got dinged or if it was a coach's decision. Vladdy is at 40 NHL games this season, which means his next appearance will mark his graduation from prospect status on the website.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 3-31-15 Lightning at Maple Leafs

The needle hits E in Toronto.

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TOR-3

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 28 shots for the loss. He wasn't the reason the team lost, but one or two semi-soft goals definitely made the sledding a lot more comfortable for Toronto. In a game like this, the Lightning really needed Andrei to be flawless.

First Period
8:53 TOR Kadri (17), (Lindstrom, Brennan)(PP)
12:03 TOR Booth (7), (unassisted)
18:04 TB Callahan (23), (Palat, Kucherov)(PP)

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
0:24 TOR Rielly (8), (Kadri, Gardiner)

Shots were 41-28 Lightning, so I'm not going to say the Lightning were somehow dogging it or that they had a let down in a trap game. I just think they almost emptied out the tank against Montreal, so they simply couldn't muster the same intensity level and didn't have the extra gear against Toronto. Not with all the injuries they are trying to work through, anyway. And, the Leafs got a great performance from Reimer, which compounded things.

I hate to see the Lightning's division title hopes in peril like this, on the one hand. On the other, I don't want to see this team dead dragging tired going into the opening round of the playoffs, either. It's a boon to be able to get Bishop some rest like he did tonight, and it might also be a silver lining if circumstances allow them to take their foot off the gas the last couple of games of the year and give guys like Palat and Paquette a little more time off to get right for the postseason, on top of all the guys who are already on the shelf.

Slater Koekkoek was -1 with 2 shots in 15:31. Didn't look horribly out of place, and the old Joe Reekie number looks good on him. Thought he showed as advertised. I feel like he'll challenge for a roster spot in the Fall, and his progress will be very important for the success of the team next year. You figure he'll either make the squad or be the first call up from Syracuse if he doesn't make it.

Luke Witkowski had 2 shots, 6 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 16:50. 3 giveaways is a little bit of an ugly number, but all in all he handled the extra workload reasonably well.

Nikita Nesterov was -1 with 5 shots and 2 hits in 22:11. The minutes don't lie. He's the guy the coaching staff turned to in order to fill the gap, and I suspect they're not at all displeased.

Vladislav Namestnikov had 1 shot and 1 hit in 15:12 and was 56% on draws. He's 2 games from graduation from prospect status on the site.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 3-30-15 Lightning at Canadiens

The most dangerous animal is a wounded animal.

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MTL-3

Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 28 shots for the victory. The percentage wasn't nice, but the degree of difficulty was high on many of Bishop's denials. Considering he was playing behind Anton Stralman and some road cones by the end of the night, it was a masterful performance.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
1:24 TB Namestnikov (8), (Stamkos, Bishop)
4:24 MTL Pacioretty (37), (Plekanec, Markov)(SH)
4:57 TB Drouin (3), (Stralman, Bishop)(PP)
18:07 TB Kucherov (28), (Namestnikov, Palat)

Third Period
0:23 MTL Petry (5), (Eller)
6:21 TB Namestnikov (9), (Palat)
16:10 MTL Subban (14), (Beaulieu, Desharnais)(PP)
19:03 TB Stralman (9), (Boyle)(EN)

Vladislav Namestnikov and Ondrej Palat were the game's first and second stars.

Let's recap, shall we? The Lightning entered this game down 3 regular defensemen (Coburn, Garrison, and Sustr) and an all-star centerman (Johnson). By the end of the game, they lost Victor Hedman to an undisclosed injury that led him to skate just 1 shift in the Third Period. By all rights, the Lightning could have just folded. Montreal, having not won against Tampa Bay all season and seeing an opportunity to jump out to a potential 3 point lead in the division at home with precious few games left to go, had everything to play for. Everything in the stew was against the Lightning. Right?

Wrong. The Lightning just rolled over Montreal like a conquering, unstoppable army to complete a 5-0-0 sweep against the Habs this season. They outshot them 44-28 and outplayed them so badly the Canadiens were booed off their home ice at the end of the Second Period. That wasn't a game. That was the Lightning reaching into Montreal's chest cavity, pulling their heart out, and then feeding it to them. That was a team that outworked Montreal by such a wide margin that it was irrelevant who was back on defense, because for much of the night Montreal simply could not get the puck long enough to put any pressure on the precocious children wearing white Tampa Bay jerseys for it to matter an iota. I've never seen a team that unbelievably undermanned outplay a playoff caliber team by such an unbelievably wide margin. It was majestic. I have no clue who the Lightning will have left to play defense by the time they roll into Toronto tomorrow night. They might have to pull the first kid out of the stands with a Stamkos jersey on and give him a pair of skates at this rate. It doesn't matter, though. I just want to spend the next 18 hours or so basking in the unmistakable power of what this Lightning team is capable of when it truly decides it wants to do something. The last time I felt this good was one of the Lightning's ECF wins in the 7 game series against Boston.

Also, I'd like to say Cedric Paquette is the baddest man on the planet. Dump Truck truly is made of steel. 1 shot, 7 hits, and 1 blocked shot. He had an axle bent at an unnatural angle against the goal post in Detroit and looked absolutely done for the season. And yet, there he is, taking the first shifts and the last shifts of a win in his home province against Montreal. That's a tough man. That's the living embodiment of Lightning want-to.

The Lightning closed back to within 1 point of Montreal for the division lead with both teams having 5 games left to play on the schedule. The Lightning win clinches a playoff spot (foregone conclusion) and puts them at triple-digit points for the season at 101. I have no clue if the Lightning, given how many guys are injured, can finish off this division title run and grab hold of the banner. I do know, unequivocally though, the Lightning are a better team than Montreal. The tape of these 5 games doesn't lie.

Luke Witkowski was +2 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 2 hits, and 3 blocked shots in 13:09. He did what we've come to expect of Witkowski. Move it quickly and don't put yourself in peril. Show snarl when called for. Simple. Efficient.

Nikita Nesterov was +2 with 3 shots, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 15:03. He showed a lot of hustle and jam in his own third of the rink tonight to go along with the usual acumen he has in the offensive third. This was a really good rebound game after the rust he showed against Detroit.

Namestnikov had 2 goals, 3 points, and was +3 with 2 shots and 1 hit in 13:57. He was also 64% on 11 draws. He stepped into Tyler Johnson's spot alongside Kucherov and Palat and played every bit like an all star. Close your eyes and imagine the Lightning lineup with Namestnikov and Drouin with 1 more year of seasoning at this time next season. Glorious, isn't it? Baby Faced Killer is now 3 games away from graduation from prospect status on the website.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Day: 3-28-15 Lightning at Red Wings

When things go completely pear shaped...

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DET-4

Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 22 shots for the loss. He was fairly sharp, although he seemed to let his focus waver a bit on the third goal, in which Nyquist beat out an icing call to one hand the puck on net.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
5:25 DET Andersson (2), (Quincey, Weiss)
7:19 DET Abdelkader (23), (Nyquist)
9:19 DET Nyquist (24), (Quincey)

Third Period
18:21 DET Glendening (11), (unassisted)(EN)

The game today was almost inconsequential. Jason Garrison was lost at 3:43 of the First Period after being boarded by Justin Abdelkader. At best, it appeared that Garrison might have a sprained shoulder. At worst, you might have some more severe damage to that shoulder or to the collar bone, etc. Looked like weeks to me. Compounding the issue, Cedric Paquette severely hurt his left leg bounding into the post to break up an EN attempt by Abdelkader at the close of the game. That looked like end of season, to me. It's really a shame, too, because I though Dump Truck was one of the few bright spots in today's contest. As it is, best case scenario, the Lightning are going to limp through the final games of the regular season and hope that they get Coburn and Garrison back for the postseason. Worst case, neither will be ready. And Paquette? Let's just say it's a very good think Namestnikov has come on the way he has, because I'm not sure the Lightning will be getting Ceddy back until the Fall.

The Lightning's division title hopes may have taken a mortal hit with the day's injuries, and their viability as a club that can have staying power in the playoffs has also potentially taken a nasty hit. Namestnikov will no doubt just slide into Paquette's roster spot, but there will likely need to be an emergency recall for Garrison while that situation sorts itself out. Garrison's a left sider, so while Luke Witkowski has gotten a look earlier this season, I'm left to wonder if perhaps Slater Koekkoek will get his first taste of the NHL now.

As for the game, it was one of those contests where the circumstances that unfolded seemed to just suck the life right out of the Lightning. It didn't help that the officiating was awful. Abdelkader probably should've gotten 5 and the gate for the hit on Garrison, and there were several other boarding calls on Detroit that went completely uncalled in the First Period. The Lightning survived that, but never found their legs and eventually saw the game snowball against them in the Second Period as the Wings managed to get a couple of goals off delflections and that one-hander that aren't normal goals. I wouldn't call them fluky, but they're just not things you see often, and that has a way of knocking the wind out of your sails, too.

Nikita Nesterov was -2 with 2 shots in 15:41. It was looking like he might be earmarked for a return to Syracuse at some point. Now, it's looking like he's going to be a regular in the team's top six the rest of the way in the regular season. His turnover led to Detroit's second goal, and he showed some signs of rust today, in my opinion. He had a harder time with the pace after being out of the lineup for so long. Hopefully, he catches back up quickly.

Vladislav Namestnikov was -1 in 10:11. Like everyone in white not named "Paquette" or "Morrow", his energy was off tonight. The Lightning announced they were burning one of their last two full callups before the game to keep Vladdy on the roster the rest of the year. Wonder if they can get a "take-back" with what happened to Paquette.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 2-17-15 Lightning at Kings

Lightning PP undermines them again.

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LA-3

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 28 shots for the loss. He kept the game close and gave the Lightning a chance, particularly in the Second Period, but the team had no chance when he couldn't maintain contact by keeping out the third goal.

First Period
12:11 TB Nesterov (1), (Palat)

Second Period
7:04 LA Kopitar (12), (Lewis, McNabb)

Third Period
3:36 LA Nolan (4), (King, Shore)
13:59 LA Carter (16), (Doughty, King)
19:23 TB Johnson (21), (Kucherov, Hedman)

The Lightning power play, which has been around 12% for the past couple of months, is evidently < 3% on the backside of back-to-back games. < 3%? It's hard to imagine a professional power play that bad (sans, of course, Syracuse's). The power play is so bad right now, it actually generates momentum for the other team. It's inexcusably bad, in fact.

One night after stepping up and starting to take the bull by the horns, Steven Stamkos gets the puck taken off of him high in the offensive zone on the play that ended up transitioning into the Kings' lead goal. I don't mean to unfairly single anyone out, but he's got to be better.

Luke Witkowski was -2 with 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 10:25. One night after his best performance of his young NHL career, he got crumpled behind his net in the First Period and subsequently co-donned the goat horns by backing down too much in the face of the rush on the Kings' lead goal.

Nikita Nesterov had his first NHL goal and was +1 with 4 penalty minutes, 2 shots, and 2 hits. It was a mixed bag of good and bad. Overall, you have to praise the assertiveness and whatever mistakes he made were mistakes of commission rather than tentative mistakes.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 2-15-15 Lightning at Sharks

The biggest win of the season thus far.

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SJ-2

Ben Bishop sparkled, allowing just 2 goals on 35 shots for the victory. He chose a good night to uncork a bottle of '13-'14 Bishop: an excellent vintage, for sure.

First Period
19:44 TB Stamkos (30), (Stralman, Filppula)

Second Period
7:12 TB Killorn (12), (Callahan, Stamkos)
10:27 SJ Couture (21), (Nieto, Irwin)

Third Period
0:10 TB Palat (12), (unassisted)
11:38 SJ Burns (15), (Marleau, Thornton)(PP)
16:19 TB Paquette (12), (Filppula, Garrison)
17:40 TB Callahan (17), (unassisted)(EN)

Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos, and Ryan Callahan were the game's three stars. Remember what I wrote after the Blues game debacle? The part about the Lightning needing Hedman and Stamkos to step up and be the team's best players? Remember how I also said that when Stamkos is on his game, he makes Ryan Callahan so much better? Case it point: tonight. It wasn't the complete game from either player, but it was a good game from both Hedman and Stamkos, with Stamkos playing an integral role in manufacturing the Lightning's initial 2-0 lead and setting the tone for success. Along with Bishop playing well, you saw the triumvirate that could take the Lightning deep in the playoffs. If those three play well, the Lightning are almost impossible to beat, because it takes pressure off the d-corps and allows the ThatDisputedName/Triplets/AnotherLoveTKO line (I'm not getting into the middle of that mess) to be in a position where they just need to chip in 1 goal instead of carrying the bulk of the scoring load for the Lightning to win.

Beyond those top two lines, you also got a key insurance goal from Cedric Paquette and Jonathan Drouin looking incredibly dangerous all game long, including ringing a post that nearly put the Lightning up 3-0.

Luke Witkowski had 1 shot, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 18:52. To go through a game against the Sharks and play nearly 19 minutes and stay pretty unblemished is solid. It portends good things. Witkowski could be this Lightning team's Nolan Pratt. That's the type of guy you need if you want to win championships: a bottom pair guy who can go up and play second pair minutes when pressed into service and give you some grit, hustle, and steadiness.

Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 2 shots and 1 blocked shot in 15:28. He got stone cold robbed of his first NHL goal by Niemi in the First Period.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 2-12-15 Blues at Lightning

We need to talk...

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TB-3

Ben Bishop allowed 5 goals on 34 shots for the loss. He didn't stand on his head, and it would've taken one of those kind of nights for him to make good on the slop in front of him tonight.

First Period
1:50 STL Oshie (15), (Steen)
4:47 STL Jaskin (8), (Steen)(PP)

Second Period
8:03 TB Johnson (20), (Kucherov, Stralman)(PP)
12:15 STL Steen (19), (Backes)
14:11 STL Backes (19), (Oshie, Pietrangelo)
15:23 STL Stastny (11), (Berglund, Cole)
17:28 TB Connolly (11), (Filppula)

Third Period
6:31 TB Stamkos (29), (Killorn, Stralman)
18:55 STL Tarasenko (29), (unassisted)(EN)

Let's talk again about effort, because apparently it didn't sink in after the First Period of the Kings game. Let's talk about getting whipped 6-3 on the scoreboard and giving up 44 shots on goal in the game. Let's talk about a team, defensively, putting up about as much resistance as a straw house before the big bad wolf. What would the Lightning call that particular defensive system? The Pamplona Lock? The Turnstyle Trap? I'm not one of these guys who jumps up and down screaming that the defense needs to be a bunch of maulers and that the Lightning need 6 Scott Stevens' out their mashing the bones of their opponents into paste. But, my goodness, how about the defense TRYING win puck battles? How about forwards TRYING to pick up late men cutting into the circles and slot? The team looked allergic to competition tonight, with a complete reticence to even attempt to win 50/50 pucks. This wasn't about getting outmuscled. This was about not even being willing to make the attempt.

It's time for core players to be core players in Tampa Bay, and I'm looking at two guys right now. Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman both wore some pretty big goat horns in this game, and I expect so much better from the two guys who should be the franchise cornerstones.

Stamkos made one of the more horrific turnovers you'll see trying to carry the puck through the high slot of his own zone with the game still very much in play with his team trailing just 2-1. The captain can't make that mistake. Can't do it. And, he can't compound the mistake by allowing himself the luxury of dragging his way through the rest of the period. The effort level was uneven, and when you wear the "C" and you're supposed to be arguably the best player in the league you can't do that. And, as much as I hate to say it, uneven effort's been a theme for Stamkos this season, which is why he hasn't even been the most valuable forward in the Lightning locker room, let alone the best player in the NHL. It's time for Steven Stamkos to play like the player he is. Stow the excuses about the broken leg. If he wants to give in to excuses or drag around feeling sorry for himself or playing tentative, hand in the "C". He's better than what he's showing, and I think he misses Marty St. Louis pushing him, quite frankly. Time to be more of a self-starter and time to be the player the team can follow through the gates of hell.

Equally uneven has been the play of Victor Hedman. The other day I thought he did an amazing job setting the tone against the Ducks by setting up the opening goal. Those types of offensive efforts have been sporadic at best, though, and Hedman's play in his own end have steadily been sliding into dumpster fire territory. Tonight he played like a 6'6" marshmellow. There's no way to put lipstick on it, and the bummy effort he made on Tarasenko's EN goal was absolutely embarrassing. That's just a complete lack of pride, right there. Can't have it. You've got so many young defensemen on this team: Sustr, Barberio, Nesterov, Witkowski. I expect Andrej Sustr to struggle and have moments where he's playing tentative or lacking confidence. You accept that with a guy who has played just under 100 games. Victor Hedman's sitting on 370 games and is probably the best player, athletically, on the Tampa Bay Lightning. There's no excuse. Time to be more of a self-starter and time to be the player this defensive corps can follow through the gates of hell.

Both these guys have it in them, but they've had the luxury to this point of not having to be the alpha dogs because of the depth of talent the Lightning have on the roster. And, yes, I get that Steven Stamkos is sitting on 29 goals and both these guys have good numbers. Great. That doesn't equal championships, though. For the Lightning to reach their full potential and hang banners, they're going to have to push themselves and their teammates to do more and to apply the same level of effort every minute of every practice and every game. The standards for these two guys have to be higher. They're two of the three cornerstones along with Bishop. Efforts like tonight aren't going to cut it down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs. The apprenticeship time is over. Time to pay the cost and play like a boss.

Luke Witkowski was +1 with 1 hit and 2 blocked shots in 18:38. The coaching staff fed him some more ice time, and he showed himself to be responsible and willing to engage physically. God bless him for it, too. Someone on the defensive corps had to.

Vladislav Namestnikov had 1 shot and 1 hit in 9:51. He got called up to replace the injured Paquette and promptly got nicked up in the First Period and was ultimately a non-factor in the game.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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