Luke Witkowski showed little hesitation in getting his hands dirty.
During a stoppage in the final minute of the third period during a game in Binghamton Saturday, a squid -- apparently thrown from the stands -- ended up on the ice. The Syracuse Crunch defenseman and avid outdoorsman took off his glove to pick up the sea creature, gave it a quick whirl as he pondered what to do with it, and sent it flying back into the stands.
“I noticed the refs were skating away from it and no one was grabbing it, so I thought I’d chuck it back up to where it came from,” Witkowski said.
Witkowski is no stranger to doing the necessary dirty work on the ice, and is now focused on improving his game with by logging big minutes in the American Hockey League to make the next step to the National Hockey League.
Choke job on Channelside.
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 22 shots for the loss.
16:20 TB Killorn (4), (Stamkos, Stralman)
1:39 TB Stralman (2), (Stamkos, Filppula)
3:51 NYI Bailey (5), (Nelson, Strome)(PP)
16:51 NYI Clutterbuck (5), (unassisted)
16:24 NYI Tavares (11), (Nielsen, Leddy)(PP)
It was Black Saturday at the rink tonight, and the Isles got 2 free points just for showing up. The Lightning absolutely dominated about 45-50 minutes of this game, but went 0-for-4 on the PP (rarely looking threatening) and going 1-for-3 on the PK (and also looking rarely threatening). When you couple those with a Clutterbuck cheapie on a puck Coburn misplayed in front of his own net, you get a tragedy like tonight's outcome. The Lightning had a chance to pull into the halfway point of this segment in very good shape to rehabilitate some of the damage they caused in games 11-20. Instead, they'll have to win 3 of the next 5 just to make sure they don't dig the hole any deeper. It's not good enough. It was something to shrug off last season when the team was so good at even strength it could get by without a functional power play and still lead the league in goals. This season, it can't be shrugged off. They HAVE to figure out this power play or they're through, and it starts with the other 4 players on the ice starting to create pressure points and take shots rather than telegraphing everything to Stamkos. If I could've reached through my TV and choked out Kucherov tonight on the power play I would've for passing up two solid chances for a lesser opportunity to Stamkos. It can't happen. It's not unselfishness. It's self-destructiveness.
Jonathan Marchessault had 1 shot, 4 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 16:45. Marchessault nearly set up a go ahead goal late in the Third Period to Namestnikov with a good read an exceptional quickness.
Joel Vermin was -1 with 1 hit in 11:57.
Luke Witkowski had 1 shot and 3 hits in 7:31.
The momentum is real.
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 37 shots for the victory. He was sparkling tonight. The only regulation goal he allowed was a seeing eye shot through three players and he did get victimized again 5-hole in the shootout, but on balance he was the difference in the game tonight. He's formed the backbone for the resurgence of the team the last 3 games.
5:57 TB Johnson (4), (Marchessault)
14:37 LA Lucic (7), (Toffoli, Carter)
TB- Marchessault, Filppula
Bishop and J.T. Brown were the game's first and third stars. Marchessault may have gotten robbed, IMO.
That's the tightest checking team in the NHL, right there. The Kings apply so much back pressure it's stifling and I think the Lightning really struggled with it because there's not another team that gets back on you that quickly in the league. It's just really tough to get anything other than a greasy goal on those guys because you're not allowed any time and space to do anything of much creativity and they don't turn the puck over much. Credit to the Lightning for manufacturing the win, and now you look at consecutive wins against the Rangers, Ducks, and Kings. Those are three teams with talent levels that scream legit Cup contenders, and tells you the Lightning are earning their way back into the high rent district of the league. They're halfway to the segment goal of 12 points just 3 of 10 games into the segment, so they've got an opportunity to carve away at that 5 point deficit from their stinky performance in the previous 10 games. The schedule doesn't lighten up any, but it's certainly not any worse than the league heavies the Lightning put away these past three contests.
Jonathan Marchessault had a helper and was +1 with 1 hit in 11:05. His coming out party continues. He created the lone regulation goal by picking off a pass at the Kings blueline and showing good awareness to move it quickly to Johnson in open space. And, in the Shootout, he abused one of the best goaltenders in the world with a laser beam top shelf. He's making a case for himself nightly now.
Luke Witkowski had 3 hits in 5:28. Not a chance he was seeing much ice time in a game this tight on the scoreboard. Not a chance for any young d-man in the #7 role coming up from Syracuse. He got in and out of his 7 shifts without much incident, and that'll keep the coach's happy enough for tonight.
Lightning getting right.
Ben Bishop stopped all 30 shots he faced tonight for the issuance of some U of Maine Justice and the shutout win. He didn't have to be as brilliant tonight, and he got help from his lucky horseshoe a couple of times, but he deserved it. After getting the short end of the stick on goal support so very often this season, he deserved to get the clean sheet in this one.
5:57 TB Kucherov (6), (Sustr, Vermin)
12:35 TB Stamkos (10), (Callahan, Killorn)
13:49 TB Stamkos (11), (Kucherov, Namestnikov)(PP)
5:29 TB Boyle (4), (Brown)
10:01 TB Marchessault (1), (Kucherov, Stamkos)(PP)
Styles make the fight, in boxing parlance, and Anaheim's style is very difficult for the Lightning to match up against. They're a big, fast, bludgeoning north-south team that really puts a ton of pressure on the Lightning's defense and smaller forwards. So, the Lightning don't get to comfortably play the possession style they're used to and have to play more of a counterattacking style against a team like this, which they did to a tee tonight. Anaheim swarmed the Lightning in waves the first 30 minutes of the game, but the Lightning were disciplined positionally and with their backcheck pressure and they ultimately got their goals on counters and the power play and blew this one wide open to make it a laugher. Anaheim played a ton of games in the past week, so by the time the Third Period came they were too out of gas to mount much resistance. Kudos to the Lightning for understanding the strategic situation and playing hard and sharp within its constraints.
Jonathan Marchessault had a power play goal, 2 penalty minutes, 3 shots, and 4 hits in 11:40. Impressive game by him against a very big Anaheim team that was targeting him a bit. What impressed me the most about his goal is he actually drew the penalty it came on by frustrating a very good skating defenseman in Cam Fowler with his speed and tenacity.
Joel Vermin had a helper, his first NHL point, and was +1 with 1 hit in 12:22. Hustles and plays fairly smart positional hockey. His work on Kucherov's goal to start the Lightning snowball headed downhill toward success was critical.
Luke Witkowski had 4 penalty minutes, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 8:17. Had a wild night that included trying to fight half the Anaheim Ducks on the ice after one faceoff and a critical misplay of a bouncing puck that led to a 2-on-1 where Getzlaf struck the iron. He's surviving, somehow, but you can't make mistakes like that too often before you eventually get fitted for the goat horns.
The turning point of the season?
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 21 shots for the win. He was sparkling. Sharp as a razor, including stopping a penalty shot by Kreider. He really did well to correct the 5-hole issues he had against Pirri in the last game in denying Kreider tonight.
14:47 TB Killorn (3), (Filppula)
13:43 NYR Moore (2), (unassisted)
18:55 TB Filppula (2), (Brown)(SH)
Bishop and Valtteri Filppula were the game's first and second stars.
The Lightning have been getting better in terms of their effort and energy level in recent games, but they've been getting zero payoff to this point with the ultimate indignity coming on the late goal in their 1-0 loss at Florida in the last game out. That futility coupled with the sudden rash of injuries that left 5 forwards out with injury for tonight's game and the fact the Rangers were going for their 10th consecutive win provided the recipe for a potential blood bath. And then something happened...
Tonight the Lightning played their most honest game of the season. Not their flashiest. Not their best. Their most honest. They hustled to loose pucks. They threw their bodies in front of shots. They took hits to make plays. The Rangers worked really hard, and this is no slight on New York's effort level. But, for maybe the first time this season, the Lightning simply wanted the 2 points more tonight by a clear and decisive margin. The old adage is that the harder you work the luckier you get, and that rang true tonight. Killorn's game opening goal was a heinous softie by Lundqvist and that ended up being the margin of victory. And, with under 2 minutes to go, with the Rangers in a position to potentially rob the Lightning of their payoff once again on a late PP, they got the vital turnover they needed for J.T. Brown to get free for a beautiful 2-on-1 setup to Filppula for the game winning goal. I thought the team was close to turning the corner 3 games ago in the OT home loss to the Panthers, where they played a chippy emotional game and just couldn't get the payoff at the finish line. Tonight they played an emotional game against one of last year's playoff foes and they got the payoff. The schedule is brutal coming up, but maybe this is the rocket fuel the team needed to start to get back on track. Sometimes when in a deep slump, it's not about tactics or any one lineup tweak. It's simply about playing with more emotion and energy and outworking your opponents.
Kudos to the callups from Syracuse to contributing to the night's victory. Honestly, maybe it was a blessing in disguise to have the Crunch's forwards up. People who haven't seen Syracuse the last couple of years might be surprised to know the speed/skill level in the Lightning's AHL pipeline isn't what it was in the Norfolk and early Syracuse days. They play a much different style in Syracuse right now than they do in Tampa Bay, and their offense comes from working hard and manufacturing goals the honest way. If some of that rubs off from the callups onto the Lightning's veterans up top, all the better. And if the Lightning's early season goal scoring troubles forces them to play a more responsible defensive style the rest of the year, which has always been a tough thing for Cooper to preach to such an offensively gifted group, maybe this tough going in the early season has been a blessing in disguise too. We'll see as the next few games unfold.
Jonathan Marchessault was -1 with 2 penalty minutes (for an undeserved diving call on a guy who weighs 5 pounds soaking wet), 3 shots, and 3 hits. These past couple of games have really been his best in a Lightning uniform so far. He needs to find the finish, though.
Joel Vermin had 1 shot and 1 hit in 10:14 in his NHL debut. He looked good. He has NHL skating ability and he was assertive and hustled well. Like Marchessault, he's slightly built, so the real challenge is fighting his way through the backwash in close quarters.
Luke Witkowski had 1 hit in 7:15. The man took some hellacious bumps and found himself in some defensive jams, but he hustled his way out of the holes he found himself in.
The two defensemen, paired together for the Syracuse season opener in Lehigh Valley Saturday, have quickly renewed the chemistry that made them one of the team’s top defensive duos last season. Both are working at rounding out their games as they prepare to take the next, permanent step to the National Hockey League.
“They both had real good camps and Tampa was happy with both of them,” said Crunch head coach Rob Zettler. “There’s players up there that have established positions, and they have to understand that. But the other part is that they still need to work on some of the things in their game that they can get better at. They’re both very good hockey players and able to play in the NHL, but both can improve and keep getting better.”
Lightning start to tighten up in the stretch run to the regular season.
Ben Bishop allowed just 2 goals on 25 shots for the victory. The Lightning seemed to indicate Bishop would get just a couple of games in during the preseason to tune things up. He'll need to carry a heavy load in the first couple of months of the regular season with Vasilevskiy on the shelf, so two is fine with me, and he looked solid in both.
0:33 TB Kucherov (1), (Palat)
15:47 DAL McKenzie (1), (Fiddler, Demers)
16:31 TB Filppula (1), (Killorn, Nesterov)
4:51 DAL Nichushkin (1), (Seguin)
15:28 TB Brown (1), (Drouin, Sustr)
Both teams had most, albeit not all, of the bullets loaded in the gun, so this was a good test for the Lightning and a good result after the strange clunker they had in Johnstown against the Pens (BTW, hey, did you know that night was NBCSN's debut of the movie Slapshot that was filmed in Johnstown?!). It wasn't without a price after Nikita Kucherov exited early with a lower body injury, but assuming that was just precautionary, the Lightning have to feel pretty good about the night. They held the Stars to a reasonable shots and goals total, their bell cow goaltender played well, and they got nicely distributed scoring from 3 of 4 of their apparent regular season lines. Bonus: J.T. Brown is actually starting to finish plays. If he finishes just 1/4 of the A chances he generates with his hustle and speed, I figure that's 15-20 goals right there.
Mike Angelidis was -1 with 5 penalty minutes, 3 hits, and he was 50% on draws in 11:28.
Jonathan Marchessault had 4 shots in 14:07.
Luke Witkowski had 9 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 4 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 13:22.
Nesterov had a helper and was +2 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 4 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 24:06, as the Lightning gave him a good, hard look tonight and he responded well. He also had 6 shots that he took that were blocked that didn't make it through on net.
Emery opens the door in the Third Period. Will Gudlevskis step through it.
Ray Emery allowed 6 goals on 26 shots for the loss in his first full game of action in the preseason. The stat line is ugly, especially in the Third Period where he allowed 3 goals on 9 shots. My theory remains the same: I think the Lightning would be thrilled for Kristers Gudlevskis to take the backup job in October and November until Vasilevskiy returns, but they're not going to hand it to him. He has to win it from Emery and right now Emery opened the door to Kristers.
0:42 TB Namestnikov (1), (Nesterov, Drouin)(PP)
4:17 DAL Lindell (1), (Honka, Shore)(PP)
11:09 DAL Seguin (1), (Klingberg, Sharp)
13:24 TB Drouin (1), (Blujus, Marchessault)(PP)
18:21 DAL Sharp (1), (Seguin, Smith)
2:01 TB Koekkoek (1), (Gourde, McGinn)
4:59 DAL Ully (1), (Smith, Goligoski)
6:47 DAL Seguin (2), (Ranford, Johns)
7:18 DAL Ranford (1), (Shore, Lindell)
The result tonight wasn't terribly surprising. This was another case of Dallas playing most of their NHLers against a depleted Lightning lineup that was sitting out its top two lines and best defensemen. Still, it's disappointing to have a game tied 3-3 early in the Third Period and then surrender 3 goals in less that 2 and a half minutes to spoil it. You'll no doubt see cuts en masse now as Syracuse Crunch camp is about to start overseas.
Matt Taormina was -1 with 2 blocked shots in 21:34. He'll likely be packing for Crunch camp now. I don't anticipate a lot of danger that he'll be plucked off waivers.
Slater Koekkoek had a goal and was -1 with 2 shots in 18:37. He's played well. I wouldn't be shocked to see him get an extended look, but I'd guess the nature of Syracuse's overseas camp probably makes it harder to keep him with Tampa Bay.
Brayden Point was -1 with 1 shot, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 15:19. He was also 23% on 13 draws. He's just a puppy, age-wise, and I'd expect the Lightning to pull the trigger here soon to send him back for his final season of junior hockey.
Tanner Richard was -1 with 2 shots and 3 hits in 13:55. He was also 36% on 11 draws. Suspect he'll have some family and friends make the trip over from Switzerland to watch him during Crunch camp.
Jonathan Marchessault had a helper and was -1 with 1 shot and 2 hits in 15:30. Maybe a slight chance he'll get plucked off of waivers if the Lightning do indeed choose to make the move right now.
Philippe Paradis was -1 with 5 hits in 11:41. Crunch camp, no doubt.
Luke Witkowski was -1 with 3 blocked shots in 17:16. I believe he's waiver eligible, too, but suspect he'll make it through.
Henri Ikonen was -1 with 1 shot, 1 hit, and 4 blocked shots in 13:54. Another likely Crunch camper.
Yanni Gourde had a helper and was -1 with 1 shot and 2 hits in 16:09. Another likely Crunch camper.
Dylan Blujus had a helper and was -2 with 2 penalty minutes, 2 hits, and 3 blocked shots in 20:21. Third on the team in ice time tonight. I've been pretty pleased how he and Dotchin have played along side the more obvious suspects like Koekkoek and DeAngelo. He's another likely Crunch camper, but the Lightning should feel a lot better about their future at that position than they did at this time even a year ago.
Nikita Nesterov had a helper and was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 1 hit in 21:19. Just 1 shot on goal? Does Nikki have a cold?
Overmatched Lightning B squad falls on the road.
7:47 NSH Neal (1), (Josi, Fiala)
8:40 NSH Weber (1), (Ribeiro, Wilson)(PP)
16:14 NSH Smith (1), (Josi, Bartley)
4:31 NSH Smith (2), (Wilson, Ribeiro)
6:39 TB Namestnikov (1), (Blunden, Peca)(PP)
10:14 TB Brown (1), (Tambellini)
17:47 NSH Sissons (1), (Arvidsson, Moses)(PP)
I don't want to call this a throw away game, but this was essentially sticking the Palat/Johnson/Kucherov line on a depleted Syracuse Crunch roster and putting them up against darned near all of the Nashville Predators opening night roster. The Preds had about a 4 to 1 experience advantage in the lineup tonight, and it showed in the final score. The good news is the Lightning managed to staunch the bleeding pretty well after it got to 4-0 and got some production from lower line guys like Namestnikov and Brown (good for Tampa Bay) and Blunden, Peca, and Tambellini (good for Syracuse). The only thing that gives me any real pause is Andrej Sustr getting a -3 hung on him, which continues the bleeding from his playoff run of last year.
Tanner Richard had 4 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 2 hits in 14:56. He was also 60% on draws.
Jonathan Marchessault was -1 with 3 shots and was 50% on draws in 15:07.
Philippe Paradis was -1 with 2 penalty minutes, 3 shots, 3 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 10:12.
Luke Witkowski stayed clean in 19:48 of ice time.
Jake Dotchin fought a Predator and had 3 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 18:33.
Matthew Peca had a helper and was -1 with 2 shots and 1 hit in 15:02. He only took 2 draws and was 0-for-2.
Dominik Masin was -2 with 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 17:45. I'd imagine he's ticketed for Peterborough come tomorrow, but we'll see.
Daniel Walcott had 2 hits and 1 blocked shot in 18:23. He's becoming a favorite on the website.
Nikita Nesterov had 2 penalty minutes and 5 shots in 21:05. You never have to ask Nesterov to put pucks on net. He starts shooting from the parking lot.
A brief moment of sweet schadenfreude before the bullets fly for real next week.
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.
5:08 TB Marchessault (1), (unassisted)
6:00 BOS Eriksson (22), (Kelly, Seidenberg)
5:12 TB Nesterov (3), (Carle, Marchessault)
18:54 BOS Marchand (24), (Krug, Krejci)
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.
P.S. Kick rocks, Jack Edwards.