Witkowski, Luke

NHL Game Night: 2-7-17 Kings at Lightning

When Kucherov got his mojo back.

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Ben Bishop turned aside all 28 shots he faced for the shutout victory. Got help from his horseshoe to usher back in a night of U. of Maine Justice.

First Period
7:46 TB Drouin (16), (unassisted)

Second Period
6:55 TB Kucherov (20), (Namestnikov, Sustr)
11:02 TB Dumont (1), (Brown, Hedman)
18:18 TB Kucherov (21), (Namestnikov, Witkowski)

Third Period
13:08 TB Coburn (2), (Drouin, Vermin)

Nikita Kucherov, Bishop, and Vladislav Namestnikov were the game's three stars. After struggling to regain his usual form for more than a month, Kucherov showed signs of getting back to his hold self in the last game against Anaheim. I'm happy to say the indications from that game were real and that Kucherov looks like he might be ready for a strong stretch run. As for the much maligned Namestnikov, he needs more nights like this because he's playing for his job in Tampa Bay at this point.

Do these back to back wins mean the Lightning suddenly have a chance to stride back into the playoff chase? Well, to comfortably make it in at 96 points, they'd need 42 of a remaining 56 points. Is a .750 winning clip realistic? There's your answer.

Brayden Point was +1 with 1 shot and 1 hit in 14:49. He was also 29% on 7 draws. Point's next game will be his 41st of the season and he will graduate from prospect status on the website.

Luke Witkowski had a helper and was +1 with 1 shot and 3 hits in 8:25.

Jake Dotchin was +1 with 5 hits in 14:00.

Gabriel Dumont had his first goal in a Lightning jersey and was +1 with 1 shot and 1 hit in 10:42. He was also an uncharacteristic 17% on 6 draws.

Joel Vermin had a helper and was +1 with 1 blocked shot in 10:29.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 2-2-17 Senators at Lightning

Dumpster fire continues to rage unchecked.

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Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 29 shots for the loss. He had one goal he probably needs back that went in off his glove. I can't fault him the rest, considering the drive by defense we saw most of the night. Still, it's a step backward after a string of quality starts by Vasilevskiy.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
3:39 TB Johnson (16), (Kucherov)
6:33 OTT Stone (17), (Smith, Ceci)
11:03 OTT Turris (18), (Hoffman, Karlsson)(PP)

Third Period
2:53 OTT Hoffman (18), (Turris, Stone)(PP)
7:46 TB Point (5), (Boyle, Palat)
9:22 OTT Stone (18), (Karlsson, Brassard)
19:35 OTT Kelly (4), (Karlsson)(EN)

Brayden Point was the game's third star. He's one of the players who needs the most vetting coming down the stretch of this lost season. He's responded well so far, and if he shows he's up to the task of playing center at the NHL level he may make Tyler Johnson expendable. Johnson, despite the goal he scored tonight, continues to make some very questionable decisions with the puck that are just infuriating to watch. He was a very good north-south player who has suddenly turned into an Old Marty St. Louis-style backward passing pain in the buttocks/liability, without the garbage time points.

At this point, we're watching the sad shell of a team that already appears to be going through the motions and anticipating their offseason tee times. I'm seeing players in position defensively but not making the extra effort to close out opposing shooters. I'm seeing board battles routinely lost by the team's best defenseman, Hedman. I'm seeing numerous mental mistakes at both bluelines with the puck by players who are just playing unfocused, careless hockey. At this point, it's clear the leadership of this team has evaporated and I've written off the chance of this team waking up until, maybe, Stamkos returns from injury. Get ready for a savagely bad next dozen or so games, at least.

Lay Down for Liljegren?

Make #2 for Makar?

Point had a goal and was +1 with 1 shot in 13:18. He was also 29% on 7 draws. He's been the silver lining in the past two very dreary games.

Luke Witkowski had 2 hits and 1 blocked shot in 10:58.

Jake Dotchin was +1 with 2 penalty minutes, 3 hits, and 2 blocked shots in 19:09.

Gabriel Dumont was -1 with 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 8:14.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 1-21-17 Lightning at Coyotes

Lightning's season dies in the desert.

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Ben Bishop allowed 5 goals on 17 shots for the loss before being pulled for Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy turned aside all 6 shots he faced the rest of the way.

First Period
8:05 ARI Reider (9), (Vrbata, Ekman-Larsson)
10:19 ARI Vrbata (11), (Hanzal, Reider)
18:39 TB Paquette (4), (Dumont, Bournival)

Second Period
14:56 ARI Stone (1), (Hanzal, Vrbata)(PP)
18:25 ARI Fischer (1), (McGinn, Burmistrov)
19:44 ARI Hanzal (10), (Vrbata, Reider)

Third Period
9:45 TB Namestnikov (6), (Filppula, Palat)
14:18 TB Palat (10), (Johnson, Nesterov)(PP)

Tampa Bay outshot Arizona by a very significant 48-23 margin, but that only underlines what a mess the team's goaltending has been this season. Bishop allowed two of the softest goals you'll see in your life in the First Period to put his team down 2-0, and lookee there, the team lost the game 5-3. Soft goals, as they often are, turn out to be the margin of error. Unfortunately, the Lightning have had a soft goal or questionable goaltending gaffe in each game of the current road trip, which is horribly demoralizing to a team. When you have to work twice as hard as the other team for a goal because your goaltending is faulty, it robs your team of its spirit. It really does.

The calculus now is pretty much impossible to overcome, to the extent that I'm ready to write the team's eulogy. They'd have to play about .750 hockey the rest of the way to get back on playoff pace, and that seems impossible given all the challenges the team is facing. The goaltending has been disappointing all season long. The center play has been steadily devolving since Steven Stamkos and subsequently Brayden Point got injured earlier in the season. Key forwards like "The Triplets" have suddenly gone missing on the scoresheet over the past several weeks. And, the defense continues to struggle to compensate for the team's inability to consistently play its possession style game and against the counters they routinely face when that style goes off the rails.

The Lightning have an excellent core of their hockey team, in general, and a rebuild is certainly not warranted. But, a serious in-season evaluation and a retooling is definitely in order. Bottom line, this team probably has one goaltending move, two or three moves on the blueline, and three or four moves at forward to make. Not big moves, in all cases, but necessary moves. If done shrewdly, and if the Lightning can get a little more luck with injuries in 2018-2019, there's little to suggest this year won't just be a little bump in the road and not a sinkhole.

Luke Witkowski was +1 with 1 shot and 1 hit in 8:06.

Jake Dotchin was -1 with 4 hits in 11:47 in his NHL debut.

Gabriel Dumont had a helper and was +1 with 5 shots, 6 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 13:53. He was also 71% on 7 draws. His game tonight was the continuation of a fantastic road trip by the line of Paquette/Dumont/Bournival, which along with the play of Jonathan Drouin has been the real bright spot of going out west.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night: 1-19-17 Lightning at Sharks

Soft goal and lack of finishing doom promising Lightning performance.

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Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 24 shots for the loss. His soft goal to start the Third Period ultimately became the margin of losing, which soft goals often do. Ben Bishop got away with it against the Kings and managed to salvage a point against the Ducks with questionable mistakes, but it's not sustainable for any team to regularly be spotting teams a free goal.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
5:01 SJ Carpenter (2), (Martin, Burns)
6:51 TB Drouin (14), (Boyle, Kucherov)(PP)

Third Period
0:22 SJ Couture (15), (Labanc, Donskoi)

Jonathan Drouin was the game's second star. His highlight reel goal was the lone bright spot in another frustrating night at the office for the Lightning's finishers. They had some chances, but ultimately 25 shots and a correspondingly low number of overall scoring chances isn't enough. Better play is needed from the likes of Nikita Kucherov and the team's other big guns even as they start to get the defensive side of their game right.

The loss means Tampa Bay will again lose ground on playoff pacing in this 10-game segment of the season. How much? That remains to be seen. The team will be at least 7 points off pace by the end of the segment.

Luke Witkowski had 2 shots, 2 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 12:58.

Gabriel Dumont had 5 hits in 10:17.

Joel Vermin was -2 with 2 hits in 5:17.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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