Tampa Bay Lightning
They're baaaaaaaaack, NHL!
Ben Bishop allowed just 1 goal on 18 shots for the victory. You could probably count the number of good chances CHI had in this game on one hand. It was a defensive masterpiece and Bishop got the benefit of having to face a surprisingly low amount of work tonight.
0:43 CHI Anisimov (17), (Kane)
7:14 TB Stralman (6), (Hedman, Filppula)
16:39 TB Kucherov (20), (Hedman, Killorn)(PP)
In the battle of the unstoppable force (Chicago's 12-game winning streak) and the immovable object (Tampa Bay's fledgling 6-game winning streak) the unstoppable force found itself thrashed to pieces on the rocks of a complete 60 minute gem by the Lightning. The final score was 2-1, but without the heroics of Cory Crawford (third star) the Lightning could've won this game by about a 4-1 or 5-1 margin pretty easily. They outshot Chicago 33-18 on the night, denying the Blackhawks anything resembling possession and hounding them for every inch of open ice. The league is on notice now: after floundering for the first half of the year the defending Eastern Conference Champions are back, baby, and they might even be better this year. As mentioned in earlier game blogs, if you're an optimist you'll see the silver lining of the first half is that the Lightning have learned to play a far more defensively responsible game out of necessity that, when fused with their offensive firepower of a year ago, could be nearly unstoppable. Heck, the Lightning power play even looked dangerous on 3 of their 4 opportunities tonight and netted the eventual game winning goal. It's like the stars are aligning.
It's all very impressive, but 7 is a fluke and 8 is a streak.
If you're referring back to the 10-game segment mathematics, the win tonight means the Lightning will cut their season-long points pace deficit to not less than 4 points, and they have 3 more games left in this 10-game segment to cut that down even more or eliminate it altogether. And, guess what? The Lightning have cut the Florida Panthers' division lead to 1 point with a head-to-head matchup coming up on Saturday. Delicious. Pending the outcome of tomorrow's game between the Panthers and Blackhawks, the Lightning could have the opportunity to take over the top spot in the Atlantic in their next game and do so at the hands of their downstate little cousins. We sat through ~42 games of lukewarmness... give us this one, please, Lightning.
Jonathan Marchessault had 1 shot in 8:29. He had one really good chance from the slot he nearly got five-hole on Crawford in the First Period. But, in a 1 goal game against the defending Stanley Cup champs, rookies aren't getting a ton of ice time.
Nikita Nesterov played 14:53. He didn't look all that great under physical duress against the Blackhawks forecheck, but he hung in there. And, offensively, he wasn't going for it as much tonight, in my opinion, understanding the situation of the game.
Lightning win 80's throwback night at Amalie.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 26 shots for the victory. Two short side goals and a whole lot of rebounds handed out. This was a rough outing for Vasilevskiy, and the silver lining is the team managed to find a way to pull it out for him anyway. That hasn't happened much for Lightning goaltenders this season, so the role reversal was a nice change of pace.
3:57 TB Nesterov (3), (Killorn, Sustr)
5:25 EDM Kassian (1), (Pakarinen)
16:57 TB Kucherov (19), (Johnson, Killorn)
19:26 EDM Letestu (7), (Nurse)(SH)
6:09 TB Palat (4), (Namestnikov, Stamkos)
17:12 TB Namestnikov (10), (Palat, Stamkos)
2:10 EDM Draisaitl (11), (Hall, Kassian)
4:29 EDM Pakarinen (4), (unassisted)
7:42 TB Boyle (9), (Coburn, Brown)(SH)
19:33 TB Killorn (8), (Kucherov)(EN)
So, now that they've re-found their goal scoring groove, the Lightning got away with a night of pond hockey against Edmonton. That won't please Jon Cooper. Too many turnovers. Too many odd man rushes. Too many plays that weren't situationally smart, especially early in the Third Period. And, it was all compounded by some subpar goaltending. Maybe it's fitting that Edmonton was the opponent in a game that took a definite 1980's feel in the style department. I'm not inclined to freak out about it, because the Lightning haven't played many games this wide open all year, but they do need to get back to a responsible mindset with a beast like Chicago coming to town... because 6 is a fluke, 7 is a streak.
The good news: the Palat/Namestnikov/Stamkos line is the truth, and Kucherov is starting to pull Johnson and Killorn along with him to build a second, potent scoring line. The Lightning never had a second scoring line last season despite leading the league in goals. If they can piece two together down the stretch and into a presumptive playoff run, they'll be that much more dangerous in the postseason. And, if they ever find anything approaching consistency on the power play, well, that's the stuff of dreams and legends, isn't it?
Advancing to 6-0-0 in this 10-game segment of the season, the Lightning now have 4 games to pay down/off their 6 point season deficit and get on firm pace to make the playoffs. There's still a lot of work to do, but even going .500 the next 4 games would put the Lightning in considerably better shape than they were after the stinker they laid in Calgary just a couple of weeks ago. Also, with the win, the Lightning have pulled to within 3 points of idle Florida for the top spot in the Atlantic Division with another head-to-head matchup between the two clubs coming up in 4 days.
"But Pete, don't you tell us to ignore the standings and keep an eye on the segment goals?" Yes, yes I do. But, I'm willing to forego that discipline on this one occasion because I really hate the Panthers with the intense burning heat of about 1,000 exploding suns and it would bring me infinite joy to pass them like a road cone on the way to the playoffs while they're still in the haze of the false euphoria of their precious little turn-of-the-year winning streak.
Bring forth the Governor's Cup and I shall use it as a chalice to hold the bitter tears of Panther fan(s), to be garnished by their broken dreams (and a lime)!
Nikita Nesterov had a goal and was +1 with 1 shot and 1 hit in 17:08. Nesterov certainly looked like he was in his element playing in a game this wide open. He really appeared to savor it.
5 is a fluke. 6 is a streak.
Ben Bishop sparkled down the stretch of the game, and ended up allowing just 1 goal on 27 shots for the victory in the duel with Luongo.
4:21 TB Kucherov (17), (Nesterov, Stralman)
18:30 TB Sustr (2), (Garrison, Filppula)
8:06 FLA Bjugstad (8), (Jokinen)
18:36 TB Kucherov (18), (Hedman)(EN)
The Lightning controlled the bulk of this game, and the Panthers were very fortunate just to have a chance to pull the game out late. Tyler Johnson had the kill shot on his stick 2-3 times and just couldn't get it to go, including a rebound chance he chunked off the post that nearly ricocheted in anyway. Ultimately, though, the Lightning probably sealed the game on a marathon PK that saw the Lightning weather nearly the full 2 minutes in their own end and still maintain their positional discipline. It was majestic.
The Lightning advance to 5-0-0 in this 10-game segment of the season, and now have set themselves up with a chance to get on really solid footing for the playoff chase. In fact, with the Florida Panthers coming up on the schedule again in about a week, the team has a really unique opportunity to interject themselves fully into the division title hunt, as nobody in the Atlantic Division has really been all that consistent thus far this year. Edmonton is next on Tuesday, with the opportunity to hit the 12 point mark for this 10-game segment in a perfect 6 games.
Jonathan Marchessault had 2 shots and 1 hit in 8:45. In limited ice time, he looked dangerous offensively.
Nikita Nesterov had a helper and was +1 with 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 15:28. He's terrifying to watch if teams get their forecheck on him in deep, but he's been excellent otherwise and he's been collecting pluses at a big clip lately.
4 is a fluke. 5 is a streak.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 4 goals on 40 shots for the OT victory. It was a mixed bag for Vasilevskiy, mostly on the positive side. He showed off his athleticism and ability to read the play on several occasions, with several timely saves. On the other hand, he had one or two short side goals he probably regrets a little. Still, he was a factor in a night where the Lightning were outshot 40-25, for sure.
1:51 TB Namestnikov (7), (Stamkos, Nesterov)
10:37 PIT Letang (6), (Crosby, Hornqvist)
8:12 TB Filppula (6), (Johnson, Stamkos)(PP)
10:47 TB Namestnikov (8), (Hedman, Filppula)(PP)
14:23 PIT Hornqvist (10), (Malkin, Letang)(PP)
10:13 PIT Daley (2), (Malkin, Kessel)
13:48 PIT Kunitz (7), (Maatta, Hornqvist)
15:21 TB Stralman (5), (Filppula, Paquette)
2:11 TB Namestnikov (9), (Kucherov)
Vladislav Namestnikov and Valtteri Filppula were the game's first and second stars. Namestnikov's selection was obvious, as he had his first NHL hat trick. Filppula had a 3 point night as he continues to try to revive his season after looking comatose most of the first half of the season.
Interesting game. Entertaining for the casual fan. Less so for the serious fan who cares about limiting chances and goals against. The Lightning did a really good job of fending off the curse of coming out flat the first night off a road trip. They jumped all over Pittsburgh and got the early 1-0 goal. They unfortunately couldn't press it to 2-0 and ultimately lost that early momentum when they got in the box and eventually the Penguins equalized. The Lightning built a 3-1 lead in the Second Period on a string of undisciplined penalties by the Pens, but failed to get the knockout punch to go up 3 goals, which they very nearly paid the price for. The Pens owned most of the rest of the game, eventually storming back to take a 4-3 lead before Anton Stralman bailed the team out with a strong individual play on a spinorama backhand goal to equalize and get the game to Overtime. In an evenly played overtime, the Lightning got some puck luck with a Namestnikov whack on a Kucherov rebound going in off Hornqvist's stick. I'll take it, even though there will be about a million defensive coaching points for Cooper to drive home in video sessions after this one.
For the first time this year, the Lightning finally got one of these games it'd be really nice to have with a view toward having a big 10-game segment of the year to make up ground. They've been decent at getting points early in the 10-game sets, but always seem to struggle a bit to get that next win or two quickly and set themselves up to have a good 14-16 point segment. With 8 points already and 6 games left to play, they're in excellent shape to have one of those big segments and make a serious dent in their 6 point season deficit and get on a more comfortable pace to make the playoffs. Getting a 5th straight win would be another one it'd be really nice to have. And, with two games against division-leading Florida coming up in the next 8 days, the Lightning have a chance to not only get on more solid footing, but they could also interject themselves in the division title race all of a sudden.
Nikita Nesterov had a helper and 2 penalty minutes with 1 hit in 9:09. Like you would expect from Nesterov, he got in trouble when the Pens made him play more in his own zone. When his 5-man unit has the possession advantage, he's a huge asset. When the rink tilts, be afraid.
Lightning get right against defensively terrible Avs.
Ben Bishop stopped all 21 shots he faced for the shutout and the issuance of some good old U of Maine Justice. He had very little work to do, but when the need came to make 2-3 10 bell saves, he made them, and therefore made the Lightning's work very easy tonight.
10:29 TB Palat (3), (Hedman, Killorn)
1:39 TB Stamkos (19), (Namestnikov, Palat)
5:16 TB Stamkos (20), (Palat, Namestnikov)
11:55 TB Johnson (5), (Hedman, Kucherov)
After a clunker in Calgary to start this road trip, the Lightning successfully manufactured a couple of wins in Edmonton and Vancouver, and tonight they were finally able to put together a full 60 minute effort that looked like an elite level team ready to go on a run. I don't want to overstate it because I think Colorado is dreadful at 5-on-5 and their PP is the only thing of much value, but the Lightning made the Avs look like a glorified Junior A team tonight. They outshot the Avs 38-21, outchanced them by an even wider margin, and just generally never looked all that threatened. That was ruthlessly efficient and what just about every coach dreams about: build a 3-0 lead at the Second Intermission and cruise to the shutout victory with a detail-minded Third Period. It was impressive, and if you're an optimist, tonight would point to the logical fusion of the offensive firepower the team had last season and the more defensively responsible style they've had to learn so far this season just to stay afloat. Put together, it could be a terrifying brew.
Headlining the win was a pair of goals for Stamkos set up by Palat and Namestnikov as that line has started to gel. It's a good group, because Palat and Namestnikov have the skill to threaten a team on their own, which allows Stamkos to lay in the weeds and find open pockets of ice to snipe from. When you add in Palat's strength and puck retrieval ability, it's a good mix. It was also good to see Johnson get a goal, as he's the next one who needs to get on track if the Lightning are truly going to go on a run the second half of the year.
Through 3 games of Segment Five of the season, the Lightning have collected 6 points. They're playing themselves into a good position to dig themselves out of the hole they're in for the season. I still implore you to avoid getting too happy about the Lightning rising up the Wild Card standings because there's still a ton of work to do. But, after these past 3 games, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Nikita Nesterov was +2 with 2 shots and 1 hit in 14:39.
Lightning pull another one out on this western swing.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 23 shots for the OT victory. He didn't have a ton of work but made a small handful of timely saves. I'm also willing to bet part of the reason Vancouver missed the net on a few of their chances is that Vasilevskiy's size and positioning make a shooter cut it a little too fine at times.
3:41 TB Killorn (7), (Kucherov, Namestnikov)
15:24 VAN Baertschi (7), (Horvat, Weber)(PP)
12:20 TB Filppula (5), (Stralman, Callahan)
17:10 VAN Horvat (6), (Hutton, Biega)
3:51 TB Kucherov (16), (Namestnikov, Stralman)
Thankfully, the ending of this game had some flair to it, because the bulk of this game was as boring as the previous two games on this road trip. The Lightning came out with a lot more energy in this contest and deserved the early 1-0 lead, but got in the box and eventually forfeited momentum and the lead before heading to First Intermission. The game really devolved into a defensive struggle in the Second Period with the Lightning squandering several PP opportunities in the middle frame before finally breaking through just after a PP in the Third Period when a Filppula centering feed banked in off of Edler's skate. It's another lucky goal, true. But, considering the Lightning did outshoot Vancouver 17-5 in that Third Period, it's the kind of puck luck you get when you're waylaying a team in possession. So, I won't poo poo that goal. Unfortunately, Bo Horvat had pretty perfect placement on a shot/pass off the rush late in the game to equalize, and this one ended up in Overtime.
The Lightning have been good in Overtime this year and with Vasilevskiy in net, I even like their chances in the Shootout, so I was optimistic heading out of regulation. Ironically, though, I think tonight was the Lightning's lousiest 3-on-3 session in a couple of months, and they were really lucky to get out of it with the second point. Vancouver missed the net on several glorious opportunities with a frequency that would make Victor Hedman blush, and that gave the Lightning the chance to end it on a Kucherov breakaway sprung by a good stretch pass by Vladislav Namestnikov.
You're going to see a lot of deceptively positive stuff about the Lightning climbing back into the second Wild Card spot with the win tonight. I really hope the team doesn't actually think they've made it all the way back, though, because they're still in a Grand Canyon sized hole and they still have no margin for error. Let's put it this way: to be on target at 60 points in our 12-in-10 model by the end of this 5th 10-game segment of the season, the Lightning would have to win 7 of their next 8. So please, let's pump the brakes on any celebrations because there's still a ton of work to be done and this team still is not playing anywhere close to their best hockey. You can be happy, though, that winning a couple in a row probably forestalls any thoughts of an early sell off by the Lightning. Mind you, I doubt Yzerman would act that rashly even with the pressure of the Stamkos and Drouin situations upon him.
Nikita Nesterov had 2 hits in 15:18.
Lucky breaks delay season obituary for at least one night.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 26 shots for the win. I'm going to attribute the lucky breaks the Lightning got in the Third Period to the Hockey Gods delivering some justice on behalf of Ben for all the wins he got shafted out of earlier this season for lack of goal support.
15:20 EDM Schultz (2), (Eberle)
3:38 EDM Pouliot (9), (Nugent-Hopkins, Sekera)(PP)
3:01 TB Kucherov (15), (Hedman, Johnson)
14:50 TB Hedman (3), (unassisted)
15:51 TB Stamkos (18), (Hedman, Namestnikov)
Victor Hedman and Ben Bishop were the game's first and third stars.
I'm kind of at a loss. I wish I could tell you how exciting this come from behind win was and how this is the turning point of the season. But, honestly, the Lightning played a subpar game tonight and got lucky drawing and inside straight of three lucky goals in the Third Period to pull it out. It's not that they played awful, mind you. They had the bulk of possession in the First Period and the Third Period, and when you have possession you increase your odds of getting some of that good old "puck luck." But, honestly, they simply weren't generating much in the way of chances. It was an antiseptic, robotic, emotion-free effort like we saw in Calgary occasionally interrupted by the Lightning struggling with Edmonton's speed on odd man counters the other way. Really, it was mostly boring, joyless hockey if you want to be brutally honest about it.
They crawled back into the game off a faceoff win that led to a shot into a maze of players that was credited to Kucherov. Then you had a 2-on-1 where a Hedman centering feed was tipped into the Edmonton goal by Taylor Hall on the backcheck. Finally, the hat trick of good fortune was polished off by a Stamkos centering feed/shot from the bad angle on the goal line that banked in off of Nurse's skate for the game winning goal. Yay.
We'll see if the Lightning can parlay this into any kind of run. I'm skeptical, but I'd be happy to be wrong.
Nikita Nesterov was a +2 with 2 penaty minutes, 1 shot, 4 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 16:02. He got his chances tonight. Thankfully, I think he's still got his "shoot-first" preset in his mind, but there was a time or two in this game, like in Calgary, where I think he was a little hesitant to try to get it through with a potential shot blocker in front of him.
The hole gets deeper.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 23 shots for the loss. Can't fault him for the goals (a 2-on-1 and a tip by an unmarked man in front). Can't fault him for the lack of goal support, either.
3:56 CGY Stajan (4), (Giordano, Brodie)
15:30 CGY Jones (8), (Giordano)
18:21 TB Stamkos (17), (Stralman, Filppula)
19:02 CGY Bouma (1), (Wideman, Russell)(EN)
They might as well have not gotten off the bus. They came out flat as a pancake, which they compounded with some pretty bad turnovers in the First Period. Calgary gets the early goal on the odd man rush, and from that point on the game never felt within reach. Calgary was too good defensively, and although the Lightning outshot the Flames 31-24, you could probably count the number of real scoring chances they had on one hand. The Lightning had nothing on the rush. Nothing off counters. No odd man rushes. And they were incapable of threading anything threatening through Calgary's defensive zone coverage inside the Flames zone. It was a clinic.
The Lightning finish Segment Four of the season with just 11 points in 10 games. Their overall season deficit climbs 1 point to 6 points overall at approximately the halfway point of the season. It's going to take a Herculean effort by the team in the second half just to make the postseason, and frankly they don't look like they have it in them. To reach 96 points, the Lightning have to play .643 hockey the rest of the way (with the extra 2 games at the end of the year factored in). That's pretty difficult stuff. What that means for the future of Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Drouin, and a few others in the organization? Nothing good, I would venture to guess. The frustrating thing is the Lightning probably left 5 points on the ice in this segment between the collapse in Washington, the power play futility against Vancouver, and the poor shift after taking the lead in Toronto. The deficit could be a very manageable 2 points right now. Instead, it's gone up to 6, and the fat lady is already starting to warm up on January 5th.
Jonathan Marchessault had 1 shot and 1 hit in 9:29. He's become sort of a power play specialist for the Lightning in the past couple of weeks, and when you get no power plays, the specialist's effectiveness tends to slide.
Nikita Nesterov had 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 19:45. He also had 4 other shot attempts he couldn't get on net. Calgary's defense climbed into his head with their shot blocking, and he ultimately froze on a great chance late in the game from the slot when he should've shot immediately. Not good.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 32 shots before stopping 3 of 3 in the penalty shot session for the SO win. Andrei didn't have a lot of work early and then really stepped in it on the puckhandling mistake that led to Minnesota's first goal. He looked shaky after that goal but got much, much stronger as the game progressed. And, in the Shootout, there's simply a different vibe with Vasiy in the crease. I'm going to make a bold suggestion to Jon Cooper: make Vasiy your designated SO goaltender from here on out regardless if Bishop is in net for OT. The fact of the matter is Bishop's five hole is a soul-destroying liability in the SO, whereas Vasiy's technique and newness is a big-time strategic advantage. I would use it, because with him in net you may only need to score 1 at the other end to get the second point.
11:40 TB Filppula (4), (Killorn, Stamkos)
15:39 MIN Coyle (10), (unassisted)
1:03 TB Kucherov (14), (Palat, Stralman)
17:21 MIN Spurgeon (6), (Coyle, Niederreiter)
Vasilevskiy and Victor Hedman were the game's first and third stars.
The first 40 minutes of this game were the closest to real Tampa Bay Lightning hockey we've seen all year. Finally at full strength with Palat returning to the lineup and backs squarely against the wall, they dominated the first two frames in all aspects of the game and should've been up 2-0 except for the Vasilevskiy puckhandling gaffe. It's frustrating to me the Lightning had to be this close to standings death to finally display this level of urgency, but at least it finally came out of them tonight. Very key: they HAVE to play with that same level of urgency in Calgary to start their road trip or nothing they did tonight will matter an iota anyway.
The Third Period was a case of a team simply not handling the pressure of a one goal lead well. Paquette started it off by taking a bad tripping call and they were back on their heels almost the entire period thereafter. Vasilevskiy made some dazzling saves and got aided by a video review challenge that went Cooper's way, but in the end they just sagged way too much to possibly preserve that lead and they were lucky not to lose the game in regulation.
3-on-3 OT continues to be a strength for the Lightning, in my opinion. After the jail break of their first couple of 3-on-3's of the season, they've figured out the tactical game of managing possession and wearing down an opponent to free up chances. Hedman could've easily won it with a dazzling move that was only denied by a (lucky) stop by Dubnyk with the paddle of the stick. They had the momentum coming out of OT, and with Vasiy in net, Callahan got the forehand deke stash the team needed to get that crucial second point.
So here's where we're at with 1 game left to go in Segment Four of the season nearing the halfway point of the campaign: 11 points in the last 9 games. The next contest against Calgary will be the margin. Win and they have their best segment of the year and cut their overall season deficit to 4 points. Lose and they have their second failed segment and the deficit goes up to 6 points. You don't want to have to play .675 hockey the rest of the way to make the playoffs comfortably. To put it in perspective, .675 hockey is what Dallas has played to stake their club to the best record in the Western Conference in their first 40 games. That's just a bridge too far to expect a team to turn on a light switch and do that the second half of the year. .650 hockey is still a hellacious clip, mind you, but you're not putting yourself in a position where you have to have one of the top two records in your conference just to make it in without sweating bullets. And, quite frankly, at a certain point the team just needs to make the psychological break through where they're doing more than just treading water and they're starting to make a charge in the standings.
Jonathan Marchessault had 3 hits in 9:33. With Drouin heading down to Syracuse, Marchessault's spot on the team seems secure from here on out. He's a good 19 games from graduation from prospect status on the site, but from the looks of it he'll be racing Nesterov the rest of the way to become the next Bolt Prospects Alumni.
Season in serious jeopardy.
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 24 shots for the loss. I can't say any of the three goals were necessarily his fault, but you've got to make a situational save in a game like this when you need to get points.
1:53 NYR Boyle (5), (Yandle, Moore)
16:35 TB Marchessault (6), (Stralman, Kucherov)(PP)
0:56 NYR Zuccarello (16), (Miller, Boyle)
19:51 TB Stralman (4), (Filppula, Kucherov)(PP)
3:16 NYR Moore (4), (Stalberg)
18:39 NYR Stalberg (4), (unassisted)(EN)
19:27 NYR Nash (12), (Fast)(EN)
Anton Stralman was the game's second star.
You can micromanage the mistakes the Lightning made in this game to surrender each of the three goals they allowed before the empty netters, but what concerns me most is the flat effort level the team has shown the past two games. Other than a 3 minute flurry to start the Third Period, the Lightning looked like zombies in blue uniforms tonight. The passing was improved from the Toronto game, but the whole team almost to a man lacked any zip. The power play gave them a chance by potting two goals despite looking underwhelming, but even strength they just didn't have it tonight.
Now the Lightning have really put themselves up against the ropes as they near the midway point of the season. They need 3 of the next 4 possible points just to avoid making the hole they were already in deeper, based on the 12 points every 10 games model. It's hard for me to feel optimistic for the team if they slip 6-7 points behind pace by the midway mark. That's starting to feel like a bridge too far. Then you're talking about having to play .700 hockey most of the second half of the season, and that's a grueling pace to keep up.
Jonathan Marchessault had a power play goal and was -2 with 1 shot, 1 hit, and 2 blocked shots. If nothing else, he's become a power play specialist on a team that could use one.