Szczechura, Paul

NHL Game Night 12/6: Sabres at Lightning

The Lightning continue to be the antithesis of clutch.

BUF-4
TB-3

Mike Smith allowed 4 goals on 27 shots in the loss.

First Period
10:02 BUF Stafford (4), (Gaustad)
13:05 TB St. Louis (7), (Lecavalier, Krajicek)

Second Period
09:46 BUF Vanek (19), (Roy, Stafford)
10:21 TB Ranger (2), (Lecavalier, Prospal)
14:41 BUF Hecht (3), (Mair, Lydman)
15:20 TB Prospal (6), (Malik, St. Louis)

Third Period
10:03 BUF Roy (7), (Numminen, Stafford)

Vets played better. The effort was there. The results weren't.

Steve Downie was -1 with 4 hits in 9:24, and lost a fight to Adam Mair.

Matt Smaby had 1 hit in 8:32, and was caught in no man's land on Buffalo's second goal. Tonight was the kind of night that gets you reassigned to the minors, in my opinion.

Paul Szczechura was -1 with 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 15:21. He was also 71% on draws, and was the best among the recent callups tonight.

Steven Stamkos had 4 shots and was 67% on draws in 19:28. The Lightning look like they're starting to work the puck more to him on the power play, and the kid has a great shot. Frustratingly, it's still not finding twine yet.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night 12/4: Bruins at Lightning

I know about six veterans players on this team who skated with their heads up their butts in this game.

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TB-1

Mike Smith allowed 2 goals on 25 shots in the loss.

First Period
01:21 TB St. Louis (6), (Lecavalier, Malone)

Second Period
12:21 Kessel (14), (Savard, Lucic)

Third Period
08:17 BOS Krejci (8), (Wheeler)(SH)
19:59 BOS Kessel (15), (Savard, Hunwick)(EN)

It is an indictment of the veterans on this club that in the third period of a tight game the one glowing shift of any line was by Smolenak/Szczechura/Downie. I'm seeing veterans have mental lapses that you would expect come from the rookies, and I'm seeing millionaires consistently lose races to loose pucks that these rookies who are making near league minimum are legging out. It's a lack of focus. It's a lack of attention to detail. It's mental and physical laziness, and it's unacceptable.

Rick Tocchet, do you want to send a message to your team about accountability? I know you played with Mark Recchi, and I imagine you're buddies. Heck, you're probably one of the guys who talked him into coming to Tampa. I know this isn't easy, and that's the reason you have to do it: Recchi's got to sit. He's absolutely, positively got to sit. It's not just the one mistake shorthanded but it's a string of about three or four weak plays in the neutral zone or just inside the opposing blueline that would get any one of the kids you have up from the AHL right now a plane ticket straight back to Norfolk. It's a leadership moment. Pull the trigger. Recchi's got to sit. You want to be an NHL coach? He's got to be in the pressbox for the next game.

All that unpleasantness aside, we can turn to the quality play of four out of five of the prospects the Lightning had in this game, headlined by young Steve Downie who might've had his best game in a Lightning jersey. He set up Smolenak for a partial breakaway in the second period and then was returned the favor in the third by Smaby in a rush where he ended up toppling the goaltender over. More than that, here is a young player who understands that you have to hustle to loose pucks on the forecheck (novel concept, I know). And you know, for a smallish guy, he's surprisingly strong on the puck. He definitely played above his weightclass tonight along the wall.

Radek Smolenak hit a crossbar in the first period and got a partial breakaway in the second period where he didn't quite have the speed to pull away and get a shot off. On the crossbar shot, Smolenak once again showed he has a wicked quick release and an NHL caliber shot. He can snap it off, no doubt. On the breakway, you saw that he is a quarter step slow and he does need to still work on his skating.

Paul Szczechura, at the very least, bailed Mike Smith out in the third period on a puckhandling gaffe that would've been in the back of the net were it not by a timely backcheck from the young center. He continues to play very smart positionally and make the correct, simple play. It's a shame some of the vets on this team are too busy counting their money to follow suit.

Finally, Matt Smaby, who was called up yesterday, recovered from a slow tentative first period to really make an impact in the second period. When he finally stopped tip toeing around and started mixing it up physically, the big defenseman started to get into the speed and flow of the game and his decision making starter to catch up with the NHL pace. He didn't see a whole lot of ice time in a tight third period, due in part to an unforced error on a bad decision with the puck in his own end that prolonged Boston's zone time on a shift early in the frame. But, I don't think he looked out of his depth at all, and I think he gave Tocchet something he's looking for: a defenseman who will lay the wood to oncoming forwards.

Steve Downie had 3 shots and 2 hits in 11:34.

Matt Smaby had 5 hits and 2 blocked shots in 11:33.

Paul Szczechura had 3 shots, 1 blocked shot, and was 40% on draws in 11:45.

Radek Smolenak had 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 11:01.

Steven Stamkos was -1 with 2 shots and 1 hit in 15:17. He was also 17% on draws. I thought he took a step backward tonight. I'd like to see an energy guy like Downie get some more shifts with him, because that seemed to trigger some things in the Flyers game.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Night 12/2: Lightning at Flyers

Wow. Radek Smolenak.

TB-3
PHI-4 (OT)

Mike Smith allowed 4 goals on 32 shots for the loss.

First Period
02:58 PHI Carter (17), (Timonen, Lupul)(PP)
11:50 TB Recchi (6), (Jokinen, Prospal)(PP)

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
00:36 PHI Richards (9), (unassisted)(SH)
04:36 PHI Carter (18), (Hartnell, Lupul)(PP)
04:57 TB Prospal (5), (St. Louis, Eminger)(PP)
15:25 TB Downie (1), (Smolenak, Stamkos)

Overtime
02:05 PHI Richards (10), (Timonen, Carter)(PP)

Steve Downie was named the third star of the game. He was the the fourth most impressive prospect the Lightning had in the game, to me, but ok. I get it. He's a former Flyer.

I was really impressed with the two callups, particularly Smolenak. I wish there had been more 5-on-5 play in the game so he could have played more. I really liked the energy he had on a line with Artyukhin before R2 got nicked on a boarding major from Scotty Upshall in the first period. Obviously, you can see the flaw in Smolenak's game: he's not a speed merchant. But, you know, there was no fear in the young man. Sometimes these callups get into these games and they act like they're afraid to get a puckmark on their tape because maybe NHL tape is expensive, or something. Not Smolenak. First shift he gets the puck down low and makes a power move to get a shot off from the angle. Third or fourth shift he fights Aaron Asham. Third period he's out there battling down low again and getting off a hard shot from the angle to try to tie up the game. And he gets rewarded with the assist on the tying goal as one of his long slappers generates a rebound for Downie to send the game to OT. That's probably the best NHL debut we've seen from a player since Paul Ranger came up a few games into 2005-2006. Honestly, if he keeps playing like that, one of these old fogies is out of a job.

Paul Szczechura, very quietly, played some big minutes in this game both at even strength and on the penalty kill. And, you know, that's high praise if you're an NHL rookie in your first game and the coach puts you out there on the PK. It shows the kind of intelligence Szczechura has, and I'm not surprised Tocchet instantly started leaning on the young man. He's just one of those guys who is a coach's dream. I don't think his scoring really projects to the NHL level, and you can see he's still maybe a quarter step slow, but he can outthink 95% of the players he's going up against, and that means he'll have a solid NHL career.

Bottom line, the Norfolk kids did good tonight, and I loved the energy the new blood brought to the table. And, you know, there's other kids down there knocking on the door like Brandon Segal,Matt Smaby, and Blair Jones. I think it's time to get some of the AARP members out of Tampa and mix some youth and enthusiasm into the team, especially on the forward lines.

Steve Downie had 1 goal and was +1 with 4 penalty minutes, 2 shots, and 2 hits in 10:43.

Paul Szczechura had 3 shots and was 30% on draws in 15:16.

Radek Smolenak had an assist and was +1 with a fighting major, and a game high 6 shots on goal in 9:45. And he gets a gold star from me.

Steven Stamkos had 1 assist, 4 shots, and was 60% on draws in 16:47.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

Szczechura, Smolenak Recalled to Tampa

The Tampa Bay Lightning have recalled forwards Radek Smolenak and Paul Szczechura from the Norfolk Admirals, it was announced today by Lightning Executive Vice President & General Manager Brian Lawton. It is the first NHL call-up for both players.

Smolenak, a 6-foot-3, 183-pound left wing from Prague, Czech Republic, has appeared in all 23 games for Norfolk this season, scoring eight goals and 10 assists for 18 points. He leads Norfolk and is tied for third in the American Hockey League with 93 penalty minutes. He is the only player among the top 50 of both penalty minutes and scoring in the AHL. Smolenak also has three power play and one game-winning goal to go along with a +3 rating. Smolenak was drafted in the third round (73rd overall) by the Lighnting in 2005.

Szczechura, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound center, has also appeared in all 23 games for Norfolk this season, leading the team with 11 goals, 13 assists and 24 points. Szczechura is tied for ninth in the AHL in scoring and is tied for tenth in the league in goals. His +7 rating is best among Admirals forwards and he also has one power play, one shorthanded and one game-winning goal. Szczechura signed a two-year deal with the Lightning on April 24. Prior to that, he played under an AHL contract as a rookie in 2007-08, scoring 14 goals and 12 assists with the Admirals after being acquired from the Iowa Stars on January 15. Despite appearing in only 24 games with Norfolk last season, Szczechura led the team in scoring by a rookie and tied for the overall team lead in game-winning goals with three. He netted points in his first ten games with the Admirals – the longest scoring streak ever by a Norfolk rookie and tied for the fourth longest streak overall.

AHL Game Night 11/19: Admirals at Sharks

The road is a tough place to make up ground.

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WOR-4

Karri Ramo allowed 4 goals on 32 shots for the loss. His .890 season save percentage is starting to become a bit of an eyesore.

First Period
NOR Szczechura, (9) (Smolenak, Bochenski), 1:30
NOR Smith, (3) (Hutchinson, Bochenski), 6:05 (PP)
WOR Cavanagh, (7) (Demers, Vesce), 14:20

Second Period
WOR Moore, (1) (Demers, Zalewski), 0:32 (PP)

Third Period
WOR Larose, (8) (Demers, Armstrong), 4:10
WOR Desjardins, (2) (Buckley, McLaren), 9:55
NOR Heward, (4) (Szczechura, Downie), 19:13

Paul Szczechura now has 9 goals and 20 points in 17 games. As of this moment, he's tied for 5th in the AHL in scoring.

Box score from TheAHL.com.

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