Tampa Bay Lightning
Lightning crush Sabres against the run of play.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 31 shots for the victory. I still don't think he's 100% up to NHL speed following the puck, but there were a couple of times in this game you could see his quickness and technical proficiency with his angles really got into Buffalo's shooters' heads. They were cutting it fine because they felt they had to against the big Russian mountain.
5:55 TB Stamkos (7), (Filppula, Palat)
11:35 TB Johnson (2), (Killorn, Kucherov)
18:20 TB Kucherov (5), (Namestnikov, Coburn)
4:21 BUF Eichel (5), (Weber, Ennis)
19:30 TB Hedman (1), (Sustr)(SH)
Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov were the game's first and second stars.
Hockey's a funny sport. The Lightning played a much better game against Detroit last time out and couldn't find the payoff for the chances they manufactured with their hard work. Tonight, I felt they got outworked and they definitely got outchanced and outshot, on balance, by Buffalo. The Sabres had their forecheck really working on the Lightning in the first 40 minutes, but when the Lightning were able to break that pressure and come out of their zone, they were able to catch Buffalo on 3-on-2's on the counter. The skill players did the rest to build the 3-0 lead. They probably didn't deserve to have that big of a margin, but considering how snake bitten they've been offensively, I'm not going to complain about it. They were definitely guilty of playing down to their opponent and even more guilty of taking their foot off the gas once they got up 3-0. But, to their credit, they really tightened up defensively in the Third Period to quell the Buffalo uprising and deliver the W.
With the win, the Lightning have 6 points through 6 games of this 10 game segment of the season. A win against Minnesota would be tremendous if they can get it next time out.
Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 2 hits and 2 blocked shots in 15:40. The stat line looks OK, but I think the tape will reveal Nesterov didn't cloak himself in glory tonight. He looked like the physically overmatched young blueliner that struggled in his rookie pro season of North American hockey tonight, taking some big hits and getting overwhelmed physically, rather than the offensive juggernaut he was in his sophomore pro campaign. Not his finest hour.
Lightning falling squarely behind the 8-ball.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 29 shots for the loss. Typically I'd defend a guy who only allowed 2 goals and didn't get the benefit of goal support, but Detroit's first goal was semi-soft and the game winner was all-the-way-soft. Fact of the matter is, if those keep happening, Vasilevskiy's going to start taking more than his fair share of starts.
2:02 DET Sheahan (2), (Tatar, Kindl)
15:58 TB Kucherov (4), (Johnson, Stamkos)(PP)
5:54 DET Larkin (4), (Abdelkader, DeKeyser)
Nikita Kucherov was the game's third star, and frankly he was the best player on the ice for either team by a considerable margin. He went to a new, more beastly level tonight.
It's a tale of three games. I thought the Lightning played a fairly good road period in the First Period, preventing any early surge by the home side and holding the balance of possession, although the resulting chances were few. The Second Period could've been an outright disaster, because the Lightning were getting slaughtered at the 10 feet around each blueline. They lost 80-90% of 50/50 pucks on zone exits and zone entries in the Second Period, and you can imagine the possession pressure that resulted. They're really fortunate Detroit didn't get more chances and goals from that pressure and even more fortunate they lucked into a 5-on-3 goal to equalize heading into the Third Period. The Third Period was actually the Lightning's strongest period, hitting 2 crossbars and a goal post and generating a lot of quality opportunities. That was cancelled by good goaltending by Howard and a Dairy Queen special served up by Bishop on a bad angle shot in tight coming off a 3-on-2. That's the game right there. On balance, I feel a lot better about the offense after this one, believe it or not. I was more concerned when the chances weren't flowing. Even when scoring 4 goals against Carolina, the chances were coming off of unforced or gently forced Hurricanes errors rather than pure Lightning assertiveness. The spigot is starting to open again now, though, so I'd say it's a matter of time. Looking ahead on the schedule, I know Minnesota's been in some track meets this season and Buffalo is a generous young team. I wouldn't be shocked if one of them is the recipients of a flood gates situation that looks like the opening of the Panama Canal locks.
The really big issue right now is that heading into the backside of this 10-game segment of the season the Lightning are really behind schedule in the standings to stay on track for the playoffs. They'll need 8 of the possible 10 points over the next 5 games to stay on pace. You do not want to be trying to make those points up in March and April when the sledding is the hardest. My biggest early season fear was a Stanley Cup Final hangover in the first two segments of the season, and that scenario may be playing out unless the Lightning can really put it together quickly and come out guns blazing these next 5 games.
Young Carolina defense proves the elixir for the Lightning's offensive woes.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 35 shots for the victory in his season debut with the Lightning. He wasn't as sharp as he can be, particularly with the trapper. I think he spent the bulk of the game getting up to speed with the NHL level again. But he's so big, so athletic, and so technically sound. There's just not a lot of holes there and you feel like you have a big Russian mountain in net behind the team times. It's a great luxury for the Lightning to know they probably have two of the best goaltenders in the game on their roster, and they're both still young and hungry.
15:07 CAR E. Staal (4), (Versteeg, Rask)(PP)
0:38 TB Callahan (4), (Palat)
18:54 TB Stamkos (6), (Kucherov, Stralman)(PP)
4:07 TB Brown (2), (Filppula)
9:16 TB Johnson (1), (Kucherov, Hedman)
15:25 CAR Versteeg (2), (Rask)
19:59 CAR J. Staal (1), (Rask)
Carolina's young defense is a traveling PSA for the dangers of NHL GM's rushing their blueliners to the NHL. They've got some talented young players on the depth chart at that position, but mercy are they generous with the turnovers. Noah Hanifin, holy cow, he was a dumpster fire tonight, and the generosity of that D corps as a whole showed was just what the Lightning needed to get out of their offensive funk. That, and the decision by Jon Cooper to flip Killorn and Palat from the Stamkos and Johnson lines, respectively, and the dividends that payed in the form of a couple of even strength goals. The lines are going to be up in the air so long as Paquette and Drouin remain injured, so whatever shuffling needs to happen in the near term to manufacture goals, I'm all for it. Tampa Bay eventually built a three goal lead in the Third Period and I'm not terribly concerned about the couple of garbage time goals Carolina got to try to make it look respectable.
No relief for Lightning offensive woes.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 33 shots for the loss. Can the team in front of Ben please give him a break and get him a sliver of goal support?
7:51 TB Kucherov (3), (Namestnikov, Palat)(PP)
16:53 BOS Beleskey (2), (Miller, Hayes)
5:54 BOS Connolly (4), (Marchand, Chara)(PP)
18:50 BOS Marchand (5), (unassisted)(EN)
Nikita Kucherov was the game's third star.
I don't want to overplay this by saying the Lightning played horrible, because I thought they played a pretty honest game nose to nose with a hot Boston team tonight. But, they're still not doing enough to generate the greasy goals they need to snap out of this funk they're in. They were inconsistent tonight with what they need to do, which is to start throwing pucks from all angles into dangerous areas and having as many bodies as possible crashing those dangerous areas. There's still too much of a reliance on the rush to generate chances and too much of a willingness to pass the puck around the perimeter in search of more pristine but also unscreened looks at the net. Tonight was a little bit better, but it still wasn't good enough, and I still don't see the number of goalmouth scrums I'd expect to see from a frustrated, goal hungry team. They need to be playing to the echo of the whistle right now and they also need to be unafraid to mix it up if that's what it takes to break out of this antiseptic rut that they're in. It also wouldn't hurt if the team's power play didn't choose the biggest moments of the game to play their worst hockey. It's been an annual rite of passage to watch this power play underachieve.
Bolt Prospects Alumni Brett Connolly with the winner for Boston. Off the Christmas card list. We'll fix your little red wagon.
Jonathan Marchessault was -1 with 2 hits in 7:02.
Nikita Nesterov had 4 hits in 18:00 in his first night assuming a good chunk of minutes for the scratched Matt Carle. Those expecting Carle's absence to be the panacea for all the team's woes learned tonight the scope of their problem is larger than just their third pair left defenseman, but I do think Nesterov showed he's no worse of an option than Carle in the near term.
Lightning succumb to the curse of the first game back from the road trip.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 26 shots for the loss. He was magnificent at time, including a game opening 3-on-1 robbery against Duchene. He's deserved a lot better in his past couple of starts.
15:57 COL Tanguay (1), (Iginla, MacKinnon)
13:04 COL MacKinnon (4), (Iginla, Tanguay)
15:46 TB Killorn (2), (Hedman, Filppula)(PP)
The Lightning were disappointingly flat in the First Period and nearly got away with it before surrendering the greasy goal to Tanguay toward the end of the period. When you don't play a full 60 minutes of hockey and that combines with running up against a goaltender who has a hot night, you'll lose. You can't always effect a hot goaltender, but you can always effect your effort level and it just wasn't a consistent, even effort tonight. Frankly, I think this team needed someone to take a run at somebody or start a scrum or something to get some emotion flowing in the First Period, but it was just antiseptic hockey. The team really misses what Cedric Paquette brings to the rink in the heart and grit department when he's out of the lineup, and that filters down throughout the team. It took into well into the Second Period for the Lightning to start to play a more north-south game and try to get traffic in front of Varlamov, which eventually netted Killorn's goal. But, unfortunately, they decided to foresake that formula with the game on the line with a power play late in the Third Period, and it was all downhill from there. It's disturbing. These first 20 games are the danger zone for the Lightning trying to fend off a Stanley Cup Final hangover. They managed to navigate the first 10 games, barely, but this is a bad start to the second batch of 10 games. They can't afford to dig a big hole right now, because they might not get out of it.
Jonathan Marchessault had 1 shot and 1 hit in 7:50 of ice time. I'm just not quite sure Marchessault has the speed, at his size, to be a legit NHLer. He's got plenty of smarts and skill, but he struggles to find space because he hasn't really shown the extra gear and he's so slight.
Lightning lose against the run of play, and the iron, and the refs...
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 23 shots for the hard luck loss. I thought his rebound control got a little shaky for a little stretch in the Second Period, but overall he looked a lot sharper with rest.
15:59 STL Gomez (1), (Parayko, Brouwer)
19:19 STL Brouwer (3), (Pietrangelo)(EN)
Bishop was the game's third star.
This is a tough one to swallow. The Lightning can play better, especially in the way of manufacturing some greasy goals in the dirty areas, but this isn't like the Chicago game. They dominated possession and the run of play against St. Louis and they really probably deserved better than a loss. It was a pretty good road performance against a good squad and ultimately nothing for the team to hang their head about to close this road trip.
Of course, the outcome would've been different were it not for the horrific officiating the Lightning had to overcome tonight, especially in the Third Period as they pushed for the equalizer. J.T. Brown gets body slammed in the Second Period. No call. Ondrej Palat gets tripped along the wall in the Second Period. No call. Nesterov gets tripped in the offensive zone in the Third Period. No call. Condra gets tripped in the neutral zone in the Third Period. No call. The Lightning technically went 0-for-1 on the PP thanks to a generous 20 seconds of PP time awarded after an even-up call where the refs whistled Tampa Bay for too many men... on a play where St. Louis also had six skaters on the ice. When one team has a possession edge the way the Lightning did tonight and as well as their forecheck functioned at times, it seems a wee bit suspicious that the other team gets 3 times the PP time. Indeed, as the Third Period wore on, it became clear nothing less than first degree homicide was going to be called on St. Louis in this game. Tell me how depriving one of the most offensively talented teams in the league, Tampa Bay, of any real power plays while on national TV on NBCSN helps the NHL sell its product? I know, I know. Toronto says, "Shut up Lightning fans. It's a privilege for the team just to be allowed to play in the league." It's a total joke.
Nikita Nesterov had 2 penalty minutes, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 15:51. He also had one of the more heinous turnovers in front of Bishop you'll ever see and the penalty he took was at a key time of the game when the Lightning were trying to get an equalizer. It was the very definition of a game where a young guy did the opposite of what he needs to do to make a case for himself to get steady ice time.
Gudlevskis gets the Lightning across the finish line...
Kristers Gudlevskis allowed 1 goal on 32 shots for the OT loss. Truth be told, the Lightning threw him to the wolves tonight with the hope that he would somehow be able to steal a point or two and he did. For the first time in his career, and I hate to possibly jinx it, he's starting to show some consistency game to game. He's as athletically gifted as just about anyone to come through this organization with his size and freakish quickness. If he starts to settle down a play consistently, he's a legit future NHL starter with those gifts, although it might not happen in Tampa with the logjam in the organization.
0:17 CHI Toews (1), (Kane, Seabrook)
Gudlevskis was the game's third star.
Even in defeat, as frustrated as they were on offense, the Lightning have to be ecstatic to get a point out of this game. They were coming off an OT game against Winnipeg last night against the defending champs in their barn with the organization's third string goalie between the pipes. Gudlevskis was as close to a sacrificial lamb as there is in hockey tonight as the Lightning made the strategic choice to try to get Bishop rested for the road trip finale in St. Louis. Under those circumstances, I'm happy.
The Lightning got their 4th point of the road trip and will finish no less than .500 on a swing through arguably the NHL's toughest division. That's nothing to sneeze at considering the Lightning aren't playing their best hockey yet. More importantly, Gudlevskis delivered the Lightning their 12th point of the season. For the uninitiated to the site, we break regular season hockey into 10 game segments. If you get at least 12 points every 10 games, you stay comfortably on pace to get to the playoffs. Gudlevskis got the Lightning over the 12 in 10 finish line tonight with 1 more game to go in the segment. Getting a couple of insurance points in St. Louis would be fantastic, but either way the Lightning fought off any potential Stanley Cup Final hangover and got their 12 in 10. Now, they need to do it again.
Nikita Nesterov had 2 penalty minutes, 2 hits, and 3 blocked shots in 13:19.
Despite their best efforts to give the game away, Lightning pull 2 points from Winnipeg.
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 36 shots for the OT win. That was certainly not Bishop's best effort. He looked shaky positionally and his rebound control was a bit of a hot mess and his puckhandling gaffe on Winnipeg's third goal was obviously inexcusable. However, he made key stops after that, including the stop on Little in OT, to insure that the team eventually got the opportunity to win the game. The big prize that comes out of that is it looks like they can play the freshly recalled Kristers Gudlevskis against Chicago with a clear conscience and finally give Ben his first rest of the season. With Vasilevskiy cleared to practice, hopefully Andrei can be back in another, say, 3 weeks and Tampa Bay can get Ben back into a more sane workload.
12:17 TB Coburn (1), (Johnson)
16:28 WPG Ehlers (2), (Scheifele, Perreault)
7:22 TB Paquette (1), (Condra, Hedman)
10:58 WPG Stafford (3), (Lowry, Burmistrov)
11:19 TB Namestnikov (3), (Paquette, Hedman)
1:17 WPG Wheeler (4), (unassisted)(SH)
0:36 TB Palat (2), (Stamkos, Hedman)
I'm absolutely ecstatic the team got this win, for reason I'll expound upon further later on, but I'm absolutely furious about how incredibly stupid they look defending teams on the rush so far this season. I just don't get how a team can look this braindead in coverage. No team in the NHL right now is better at turning what should be a harmless 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 stalemate coming at them on the rush into an odd man break and digging the puck out of the back of their own net. The d-men have an awful case of the yips anytime a forward is bearing down on them with speed right now, and the forwards aren't helping in the slightest by applying precious little backchecking pressure to help support their defenseman. The resulting brain crampage in positioning and communication is just intolerable to watch, and at some point Jon Cooper's got to get more aggressive with his players to correct the issue. This team won't win anything but a dog show defending the way they are right now.
On the good side, Cooper may have found another hundred dollar bill on the ground today by way of Brian Boyle calling into work sick. The makeshift line of Vladislav Namestnikov, Cedric Paquette, and Eric Condra was, start-to-finish, the Lightning's most consistent and dominant line tonight. Namestnikov's been playing really well lately, so it wasn't that surprising to see him pump home a goal. Paquette and Condra have flashed individually this year but they haven't really found chemistry with any linemates to any great degree until tonight. That line's got a little bit of everything, and you could see them becoming a regular item if they have another game or two like tonight's. Namestnikov's and deft playmaker with some higher level puck handling acuity. Paquette and Condra have laser releases that are really surprising for lower line guys. And, all three of these guys are aggressive on the forecheck and the latter two in particular are strong at body positioning to win 50/50 pucks. This really could be found money for Jon Cooper, and the makings of a third really good line he can put on his goldenrod game plan in ink every night. Now he just needs to figure out what to do with Val Filppula...
As I noted, one of the big benefits of the win tonight is it means you can give Bishop the night off against the Blackhawks. Te reason for that is that the Lightning now have 11 points through 8 games, meaning they need just 1 more point out of the remainder of the road trip to hit their target for the first 10 game segment of the year. So, they'll likely send Gudlevskis out and hope he can steal at least a point, but even if he can't they'll have a rested Ben Bishop ready for St. Louis to close the trip in his home town to try and clinch a successful first 10 game segment of the year.
Ben Bishop allowed 4 goals on 33 shots and 1 of 3 shooters to convert for the SO Loss. I thought he was average, maybe even slightly subpar by his standards on the first goal, and that may have ultimately been the difference because Rinne was splendid at the other end even giving up 4 goals.
19:07 NSH Fisher (1), (Weber, Neal)
3:25 TB Stamkos (5), (Hedman, Filppula)(PP)
8:51 TB Kucherov (2), (Palat, Coburn)
10:29 NSH Weber (1), (Ribeiro, Wilson)
17:41 TB Callahan (3), (Hedman, Stralman)
18:55 NSH Neal (4), (Forsberg, Fisher)
5:24 TB Condra (2), (Boyle)
14:30 NSH Neal (5), (Forsberg)
Steven Stamkos was the game's third star.
I hate losing, but not so much that I can't admit that was a whale of a game and absolutely the kind of product the NHL needs to put out on the ice. That had the feeling of a heavyweight boxing match with each team trading goals like they were trading haymakers. Just when one team would get a big possession push and a good cycle, the other team would answer in kind. It was a really, really good game.
Lots of silver linings in the loss. The obvious is the Lightning put up 4 goals on that goaltender and that defensive corps in a night where Rinne was on his game. They would've scored 7 or 8 goals, I'm fairly certain, on a mortal goaltender. The other obvious one is that the special teams, which have been dreadful to this point of the season, were a strong point in this game. They got the tying goal on the PP from Stamkos to get it to 1-1 and they were fairly solid going 3-for-3 on the PK. That's no small task considering the bomb launchers Nashville has back on the points. That looked like a bad matchup going into the contest, but the Lightning held stout.
What they'll want back is the semi-soft first goal late in the opening period, the Carle turnover on the Weber goal, and Condra getting absolutely lost in coverage on the rush on Neal's second goal. Get back any one of those and you obviously get the second point.
Interesting twist to see a more tactical, possession-minded approach from Nashville in the 3-on-3 OT. They held the puck for a minute, it seemed like, on the cycle in the Lightning zone and I give credit to Stamkos and Hedman for not dropping dead from exhaustion covering that much ice. Nashville didn't get an A chance out of that much possession and that much ice, which is pretty remarkable. I'd expect to see the Lightning start to install that kind of cycle to wear out the opposing defenders in the 3-on-3 in the future. It was definitely much different than the jailbreak odd man rush fest in the first OT game of the season, and was much closer in resemblance to real hockey, to boot.
Bishop is the truth.
Ben Bishop. 1 goal on 32 shots. Multiple key saves with high degrees of difficulty. He took the Lightning on his back tonight, and allowed them to survive a very subpar effort with their #1 defenseman, Hedman, out of the lineup. He was absolutely impressive, and one of the things I really love about Ben is he pretty much never has two poor games in a row. He was subpar against Dallas. Wipe the slate clean. He was a superstar tonight.
2:52 BUF Reinhart (1), (Ennis)
13:41 TB Namestnikov (2), (unassisted)
16:03 TB Killorn (1), (Johnson, Palat)(PP)
Alex Killorn and Bishop were the game's first and second stars.
A win's a win, but mercy was that an ugly win. Tampa Bay was outshot 32-22 and probably outchanced by a similar margin by a Buffalo team that is still pretty wet behind the ears. Part of it is almost certainly from losing their number one defenseman, Hedman, but it's still an unacceptable effort. They struggled to get out of their own end all game long, and when they did get out they looked pretty disjointed in the offensive zone. It was so bad that Cooper broke up the Triplets and the Stamkos line and pretty much benched Jonathan Drouin for most of the Third Period after he hot dogged it on a power play in the latter half of the Second Period. I expect Jon Cooper to strip several coats of paint off the walls in that video session once they chop up this debacle.
Fortunately, the did get the two points, and it's a very important two points as the team tries to stay on schedule in the first ten game segment of the year. These first couple of segments are very critical to help fight through any ECF hangover from last season. They need 4 points in the final 4 games of this segment to make it good.
Slater Koekkoek was -1 with 1 hit and 1 blocked shot in 10:21. He was partly culpable for the Sabres' goal, although the lion's share of the blame should go Filppula's way. Putting that play aside, though, you had to really like what you saw tonight. Koekkoek was very active at both ends of the rink, and at times was doing a Hedman Lite routine with more physical edge. Salary cap and waiver eligibility issues are the only things keeping him off the Lightning roster right now, in my opinion, and I truly believe he'll be in Tampa full time after the trade deadline, at the latest.