Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Game 22 - You Get a Goal! You Get a Goal! You Get a Goal!

Game 22
Opponent: Anaheim

Did I Watch Live:  Yes
And You’re Just Posting Now:  Busy Week.
Where are the rest of the posts: They’re written, just not posted.
Why Not: I’m traveling and they’re on the other laptop.
The Cloud, man. You should put that stuff in the Cloud: I know

Three Stars: 3. Nikita Kucherov 2. Steven Stamkos 1. Ben Bishop

Worst Play:

Not really a play, but the fact that they called up pretty much the entire Syracuse Crunch roster and then healthy scratched half of them.  I know you need warm bodies, but they really handcuffed their number one affiliate. Luckily, the walking wounded are starting to come back.


My God, what a relief that game was.  Five goals, two power play goals, Stamkos and Kucherov scoring, Jonathan Marchessault scoring! Brian Boyle scoring! Everyone scoring!  And Ben Bishop with a shut out on his birthday!  What a great story.  Should I worry that I’m getting way too excited about a win over a team that may or may not be good?

Sure Anaheim was a pre-season pick to be in the Stanley Cup finals by some (including me), but other than their penalty kill they haven’t been very good.  Kind of like the Lightning haven’t been very good.  Not necessarily bad, but not good either.  They have been playing better of late so perhaps we shouldn’t look down on the win too much.

Another reason not to worry - the Lightning were the better team for most of the game. While they might not have generated a ton of shots, they did do a great job of not getting frustrated by the Ducks physical style of play and making the most of the opportunities that they created.

One of the skaters creating opportunities was Joel Vermin.  The third round draft pick who was called up due to the rash of injuries that has decimated the forwards of the Lightning has played extremely well in his first two games with the big club.  My 2-cent analysis is that he is strong skater who is responsible with the puck and has enough offensive gumption to rack up a couple of points.  He looks to be built in the same mode as JT Brown (without the awesome highlights).

Who needs highlights when the Light of God shines upon you?

Ryan Callahan made his return to the lineup, and while he wasn’t at his Callahaniest he did look comfortable playing with Stamkos.  I think even after the squad is back to full strength you might see a line of Stamkos, Callahan and Vlad Namestnikov (with the happy side effect of reuniting the Triplets!).  The Russian Bieber has looked very, very good as Stamkos’ linemate and I have a feeling that pairing will be sticking around for a while…well until Stamkos is traded to Toronto.

Oh and by the way.  Searching “Russian Bieber” leads to this wonderful story.  Germans may love David Hasselhoff, but Russian bears apparently don’t like Justin Bieber.

So the Lighting have two wins in a row (including one against a team with a winning record!).  Ryan Callahan is back and it sounds like Tyler Johnson might be back for the game against the LA Kings.  The team scored five goals while not sacrificing their defensive shape.  Perhaps things are starting to get on track for the team.

Random NHL Thought I’m posting instead of the JoVsJohnny gimmick:

Sidney Crosby has 11 points in 20 games this season for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He’s projected to score only  45 points and finish at a ungodly -37.  People are worried about him.  People are writing him off.  I like to think that he is spotting the rest of the offensive players in the league 20 games.  If he stays healthy for all 81 games I’m pretty sure he’ll be in the top five of scoring.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Game 18: A Winning Streak Always Starts With One

Game: 18
Opponent: Calgary
Did I watch Live?: Yup
Three Stars: 3. Nikita Kucherov 2. Sean Monahan 1. Ben Bishop
Worst Play: With this win, I'm going to say we skip this part today
Well, that was a bit of a relief, eh? Finally a win against a team other than Buffalo. Ben Bishop breaks his five-game losing streak and the Lightning find the back of the net three times (actually five) in a 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames.

I'm not going to even worry about the fact that they only mustered three goals against the most porous defense in the league, or that they were held to one goal for most of the game even though they dominated large portions of the game. Steven Stamkos scored. Tyler Johnson scored. And Ben Bishop looked solid in net. What more could you want?

OK. So maybe I'll dwell a bit on the fact that through the first 7 minutes of the game they fired 18 shots in the general direction of former Lightning goalie Kari Ramo. Of those 18, 8 made it though to the Calgary goaltender, but none got past him. So it looked like more of the same. A lot of offensive pressure but nothing to show for it.

For the 18th time in 18 games the Lightning ended the first period without a lead. That is a pretty amazing stat which I'm pretty sure is still true, but I'm not going to look it up. If it's wrong, someone tell me so in the comments.

The second period got off to a much more productive start. Two minutes in, Brian Boyle – that ol' sniper – put one past Ramo. I'm pretty sure he only scored because the puck slipped past his stick when he initially attempted to shoot it, and by the time he had gotten under control he had changed the angle enough to throw Ramo off. Who cares...it counted.

Which was nice, because Steven Stamkos had put a puck into the net that didn't count. In front of the crease he tried to kick the puck to his stick to tap a puck into the open net. Unfortunately he missed his stick and it went straight into the net. No goal.

Sam Bennett tied it up a few minutes later and then the negative thoughts started to enter. Would the Lightning be able to score another goal? Would Ben Bishop smash everything in the locker room if he lost 2-1 again? Do the Lightning even know they're allowed to score more than once in a game?

And then good old Steven Stamkos found himself alone in the right circle on the power play. It wasn't the hardest shot he ever put on net, but it found its way behind Ramo and into the net. Two goals in one game! A lead! What an awesome way to play hockey.

Five minutes later the Lightning scored a goal that reminded me of the way they played last year. Dennis Wideman had a chance to clear the puck out of his own zone, but had his pocket picked by Johnson. Kucherov picked up the loose puck and passed it to Johnson. Johnson waited for Kucherov to drift into the slot and passed him the puck, Kucherov (channeling his inner Teddy Purcell) passed it back to Johnson, who despite being shocked that the puck was back on his stick slid it into the gaping net for the insurance goal.

My two favorite moments of the goal are Matt Carle in front of the net doing his best to not get involved and the fan with the “Beat Calgary” shirt. Only because I know that shirt is over 10 years old and there is a 10% chance he bought the one I donated to a thrift shop a few years ago.

A good win over a bad team that hopefully springboards them into a winning streak. Oh yeah, they also had an empty net goal called back because of an offsides. So the argument could be made that they actually scored 5 goals.

Jo or Johnny:

In the first of two head-to-head match-ups, both of our contestants were held off of the score sheet. Gaudreau's line was the more aggressive and generated more scoring opportunities. Drouin only played nine-and-a-half minutes as he skated with JT Brown and Cedric Paquette for most of the night. Johnny Hockey (I did enjoy the moment Rick Peckham referred to him as just “Hockey”like it was his actual last name) still leads 17 points to 6, but I feel a point streak coming on for Mr. Drouin.

Alex Killorn always looks like he is trying to calculate the tax on a dinner bill in his head. Photo by Scott Audette/Getty

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Game 17: At Least They Didn't Lose 1-0

Game: 17
Opponent: Buffalo
Did I watch Live?: Nope (but I listened)
Why Not?: Blackout (the TV kind, not the drinking kind)
Did I watch on replay?: Nope. Nor will I.
Three Stars: 3. Chad Johnson 2. Nikita Kucherov 1. Jack Eichel
Worst Play: Does it even matter any more?
So, we're seventeen games in and things don't seem to be getting any better. The coaches and the players are saying the right thing – it's a process, the goals will come, we have a lot of talent, it's not a Stanley Cup hangover, etc., etc.

The fans are getting freaked out. Let's check the Tampa Bay Times comments section for a sample of the outrage......oh......no comments? Game recap on NHL.com – all Sabre's fans (thanks for the tired “Tamp-ons” comment Arthur Carl Scott. ESPN? More Buffalo fans. Ian Lamb drops a “Tampa Suck”. Not really a comment, more like the title of the next Tim Dorsey book (if the season has you bummed out, pick up some of his stuff. It'll make you laugh...maybe even out loud).

So, we're not freaked out, we just don't care! It's easy to cherry pick a few articles and make fun of the apathy, but I think on a whole fans are more bewildered than anything else. With a roster filled with players that have produced goals a plenty in the previous season, to be in this kind of scoring drought is mind blowing.

All we are left with are tired adages like, “get the puck to the net” or “play harder”. The effort is there, they just aren't finishing their chances. At this point they're almost working too hard. They're trying to be too fine in scoring goals. They are a pass happy team to begin with and I think in their efforts to score they're trying extra passes in the hopes it improves the scoring opportunities.

Their one goal against the Sabres was on a one-timer from Steven Stamkos set up by a cross-ice pass by MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV. It was successful mainly because Buffalo defenseman Josh Georges hit his own teammate with a clearing pass and the rest of the players were out of position. The puck dropped right to Kucherov and he was able to find Stamkos.

Other than that, their passes are finding skates and sticks, getting deflected and cleared out of the zone. Teams are hip to their preference to generate shots by zipping the puck across the ice and are clogging the middle of the ice to prevent it. They are for the most part not pressuring the man with the puck, counting on him not to take the shot.

Wide open net, shoot into the goaltender. Sure why not.  Photo by Scott Audette NHLI/Getty

It might behoove the Lightning to start driving to the net more and taking the shot (hopefully getting it on net – looking at you Vic Hedman). Not only would more rebounds/deflections be generated, it would force the defense to play closer to the man with the puck which, wouldn't you know it, open up more passing lanes. Think of it as a hockey version of the play-action pass. For a play-action to work in football you actually have to hand the football off every once in a while. The Lightning need to take a shot at the net in order to open the ice for those beautiful one-time, cross-ice goals.

The good news is that the two players that are racking up points aren't in contract years (I realize MBNK is a restricted free agent, but he's either getting a big raise or an offer sheet if he puts up 30 goals). Also, it's not as if they are hopelessly out of the playoff race. Even with the stumbles they are still in the thick of things (although the fact they've played two more games then a lot of those around them in the standings doesn't help). As cold as they are now, they can get equally as hot and rip off a nice winning streak – especially with the schedule being a little more more home-ice friendly.

Jo or Johnny:

Still a bit one-sided. Both players were held scoreless in their last outings (Jonathan Drouin is now 0-for-November in points). Maybe the bet should be – will Johnny Gaudreau have more points than the entire Lightning team in their match-up on Thursday?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Game 16 - Missing in Minnesota

Yes I realize two games are missing. I'll get to those this week.

Game: 16
Opponent: @ Minnesota
Did I watch Live?: Yes
Three Stars: 3. Nikita Kucherov 2. Ben Bishop 1. Devan Dubnyk (From now on we will just assume that the number spot will go to the opposing goaltender)

Worst Play: Steven Stamkos tripping over....ummm...his own skates and wiping out. For a super awesome wonderful hockey player there are moments where he resembles a baby gazelle. Let's hit the flashback machine!


This stuff is getting pretty old. Lightning play well, get chances, don't score. The Lightning have a momentary let down, the other team scores. The Lightning start moping and watch Ben Bishop stop a bunch of shots. The Lightning regain momentum, hit a couple of posts, get robbed by the goaltender once or twice. The Lightning hear the final whistle, skate back to the bench with Sad Panda faces because they lost again. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Another road game and another loss. This time it was to the Minnesota Wild, 1-0. Ben Bishop was back between the pipes and once again, despite having a pretty good game, took the loss. He has now dropped five in a row. Total amount of goals scored by his team in those five loses – 3 (two by MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV).

In our fun with numbers section lets look at Ben Bishop. He is now 5-7-1 on the season. In his five wins the Lightning have scored 19 goals. In his 8 losses they've scored 11 (and 7 of those came in 2 games). That's not a lot of support. It's enough to make the tall man take up drinking. If it isn't then watching his so-called teammates score 8 goals in Andrei Vasilevskiy's two wins should have him reaching for the nearest bottle of Fireball (he looks like a guy who drinks Fireball, right?)

Maybe they're saving all of their goals for the post season. Or they're trying to see if a goaltender with a losing record can win a Vezina. Who knows? Whatever they're doing they have to figure it out soon. Their next two games are against Buffalo (thank you for the 3 wins!) and Calgary (the first JoVsJohnny match-up!). Then things get a bit challenging with the Rangers, Capitals and Kings all coming up.

There is some good news lost in their offensive struggles. They've definitely fixed their penalty kill. Since giving up 2 power play goals against Dallas on October 13th, they've killed off 31 of 33 times shorthanded (and one of those was a 5-on-3 goal) to raised their overall kill percentage to 80.9%.

Overall they're only giving up 2.31 goals a game which puts them 8th in the league. That's good. They're just behind Anaheim who is giving up 2.29 games a game. The two teams play each other on November 21st – bet the under.

At some point they're going to figure out how to score again. They are literally too good not to eventually succeed. We just have to sit back and hope it's not too late in the season.

Jo or Johnny:
Let's welcome Jonathan Drouin back to the lineup! The youngster was finally healthy enough to suit up and play. Not wanting to disrupt the awesome chemistry that the top three lines have developed (why yes that is sarcasm) he skated with Brian Boyle and possible fledgling Jedi JT Brown. 

Aww, Star Wars Couple's Costume! Photo taken from Lexi Lafleur's (that's his girlfriend) Instagram

Sadly our favorite skater was held scoreless in his return to action and still sits at 6 points. On the other side of the continent Johnny Hockey threw down 3 points in his match-up with Sidney Crosby. He has taken advantage of Drouin's absence to take an 11 point lead in their competition. He sits at 17 points with 4 goals and 13 assists in 15 games played.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Game 13 Recap - A Win? What the Hell is That?

Game: 13
Opponent: @ Carolina
Did I Watch Live?: Nope
Why Not?:  Went to Ikea
Did I watch the replay?: Yup
Three Stars:  3. Kris Versteeg 2. Ryan Callahan 1. Nikita Kucherov
Worst Play:  After breaking a 4-game losing streak there are no worst plays
Yes, I passed on an opportunity to watch the game live so that I could head out to the suburbs to pick up some things from Ikea. The Duchess had spilled some coffee on the couch and we needed a new cover for it.  It was an excuse to ride in a car and spend some time outside of the apartment with the wife.  When you work second shift hours you have to make the most of your time together and I’ve spent the last few nights with the headphones on watching the game on the computer.

We own a car but I haven’t been in it since some time in July or August.  I think it was August.  I can’t even remember the last time I actually drove it other then to move it on a street cleaning day. So I rode shotgun out to Schaumberg for a little Swedish shopping.

What did I miss?  Only the best offensive performance since the Bolts were in Winnipeg. Four goals by four different players and a strong season debut for Andrei Vasilevskiy. The four goals double the amount the team had been able to produce in the previous FOUR GAMES and brought a little relief to Lightning Nation.

Also feeling a little bit of relief was the forward who scored the fourth goal for the Lightning - Tyler Johnson. Number 9 finally broke his scoring drought when he roofed a nifty little wrister under the crossbar on a 2-on-1 midway through the third period.  The goal gave the Lightning a 4-1 lead and pretty much salted away the game.

The four goals ended up being just enough to edge out the Hurricanes, a team that had been riding a bit of a hot streak as they had won three in a row coming into the game.  Vasilevskiy was solid in his return, stopping 32 of 35 shots in earning his first win of the season. It looks like he has recovered from his surgery and is ready to settle in as Ben Bishop’s backup.

Carolina would draw within two when Kris Versteeg snuck a breakaway goal past Vasilevskiy with a few minutes left to play.  Jordan Staal would score the least dramatic buzzer beater in history as he scorched a slap shot past the Russian goalie with 0.1 seconds left on the clock.

Kind of a letdown finish to the game, but a win is a win is a win.  Capturing two points on the first game of another four game road trip is a great way to start.  It will be interesting to see if they can keep the offense going against a Red Wings team that handed them their first loss of the season.

A Jonathan Drouin Comparison:

Jonathan Drouin is stuck on the sidelines with a lower body injury.  Until he returns to challenge Johnny Hockey I will be comparing him to some players with similar Lightning stats.  In 33 games with the Lightning Drouin has scored 5 goals.  Another Lightning forward who has five career goals for the team  - Jaroslav Svejkovsky.

Svejkovsky found himself on one of the worst teams in franchise history when he was traded to Tampa in January  of 2000.  He would end up playing in 29 games for a team that only won 19 games all season long. He actually faired well netting 10 points (5 goals and 5 assists).

The Czech forward was a number one draft pick for the Washington Capitals in 1996. Drafted 17th overall (just after the Lightning drafted Mario Larocque) “Yogi” was part of a young nucleus for the Caps that included Richard Zednik and Jan Bulis.  While a prolific scorer in the minors (he scored 58 goals for the Tri-City American in 1995-96 and 38 for the Portland Pirates in 1996-97) he never transferred that scoring touch to the NHL.

After the one partial season with the Lightning he would play 2 games for their IHL affiliate in Detroit before suffering a concussion that would end his career. He is currently serving as a coach for the Vancouver Giants in the Western Hockey League.

Game 12: Connolly Comes Back To Ruin The Lightning's Night

Game: 12
Opponent:  Boston
Did I Watch Live?: Why, yes I did!
Wow, exciting Halloween for you in the big city: It was.
Three Stars: 3. Anton Stralman 2. Ben Bishop 1. Brett Connolly
Worst Play:

Victor Hedman had a pretty bad shift with about 6 minutes to go in the game.  First he flung a blind pass into the slot right onto Jimmy Hayes’ stick. Which wouldn’t have been bad if Hayes played for the Lightning.  Unfortunately he doesn’t.  Luckily Ben Bishop made the save.  He then had to make another save as Hedman failed to clear the zone once again.


Losing is rarely fun. However, there are always teams that make losing to them even more excruciating. Boston is one of those teams. There is just something about them, the players, the coach, the fans, the announcers that makes it more infuriating when they come out on the winning side.

Unfortunately on Halloween night, the Lightning and their fans had to deal with yet another loss to the Bruins. The offense sputtered once again as they dropped the 3-1 decision on Saturday night. Former Bolt Brett Connolly had the deciding goal as he converted a cross ice pass while the Bruins were enjoying a 5-on-3 power play.

The good news is that the Lightning actually  held a first period lead, something that is as rare as a Mattias Ohlund sighting. According to the Tampa broadcast video, the team has yet to end a first period with a lead. The bad news is that the streak continued.  Matt Beleskey took a shot, got knocked down and fired home a spinning backhand shot on the rebound that surprised Bishop.

As mentioned, Connolly’s game winner came on a 5-on-3 power play. Both penalties by the Lightning were a little ticky-tack.  Hedman (not his best game) took a holding penalty on Brad Marchand’s breakaway. The Big Swede put his hand on Marchand’s hip and the Boston forward spun down like he had been shot.  A minute and a half later Erik Condra was fore checking in the Boston corner when he poked his stick at the puck. Unfortunately he missed and Torey Krug stepped on the blade and fell down.

The Lightning lost the ensuing faceoff and the Bruins were able to pass the puck along the perimeter. Marchand threaded the needle with his pass across the crease and Connolly flicked it into the open net.  There was actually a better chance of the puck hitting Stralman and deflecting into the net then Connolly getting the pass and being able to roof it past the outstretched Bishop.

Depressing as it may be to be scored on by the team’s former first round pick, the real sad part of the game was the lack of offense from the Lightning.  Yes, they are a bit beat up on the front lines with Jonathan Drouin missing another game along with Cedric Paquette. Brian Boyle returned and Tyler Johnson played after being doubtful for most of the game, but both of those centers are playing at less than 100%.

Still despite the banged up offense, they are still spending time in the opponents zone. They just aren’t getting shots on net.  They are actually generating some shots, just not getting them on goal.  They were credited with 22 shots (despite having 5 power plays) and Boston was credited with blocking 14 shots.  There were another dozen or so that went wide of the net.

They have to find a way to direct more of the shots on target.  Instead of trying to score goals off of pretty passes (although Nikita Kucherov’s goal was pretty, pretty) they have to start owning the front of the net and scoring the ugly goals. Until then they’re going to struggle.

Jo Vs. Johnny:
This feature is being suspended until Mr. Drouin is back on the ice.

Game 11 - At Least They Scored

Game: 11
Opponent: Colorado
Did I watch Live?: Yes, I did!
Three Stars: 3. Ben Bishop 2. Nathan McKinnon 1. SemyonVarlamov

Worst Play: Tyler Johnson's goalie interference “penalty”. So let me get this straight. You get cross-checked into the goalie AND you still get an interference call? In my less-than-expert opinion, the ref saw Johnson crash into Varlamov, assumed he did it of his own accord and called a penalty. When he huddled up with his buddies they told him what happened so an off-setting cross-checking penalty was called. Still cost the Lightning a power play. That's where I miss having Bobby Taylor in the booth. He would have gone crazy.


Well, the team has killed something along the lines of 20 straight penalties. So that's good news. They also scored a power play goal against Colorado in the 2-1 loss. That's good as well. Unfortunately, for the third straight game they were held off the score sheet while skating five-on-five. That's not good.

There was some hope going into Thursday's game that Colorado, and Semyon Varlamov in particular, would be the cure for the Lightning's offensive woes. After all, in four of his five previous games he had given up 3 or more goals, including 4 goals to the not-so-good Columbus Blue Jackets. Sadly, they ran into the Varlomov who almost won the Vezina in 2013-14.

Varlamov (and the goal post) kept the Lightning off the score board until Alex Killorn broke the scoreless drought late in the second period when he jammed home a rebound on the power play. Kllorn looked good all game long as he was re-united with Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan on the top line. Callahan, showing the traits that made him a captain in New York, was all over the ice, throwing checks in the corners, setting up in front of the net and generally causing a ruckus all game long.

The Colorado goalie won the game in Tampa. Make no mistake about that. The Lightning played on tilted ice all game long and generated one of their best games in terms of possessions and shots. With the exception of the McKinnon,Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla line, it was all Tampa.

Ben Bishop was solid. He bailed the Lightning out early by making a diving blocker save on Matt Duchesne thirty seconds into the game. From there on he made all the saves he needed to win the game. Both of the Avalanche goals were slightly freaky- Tanguay's just barely trickled over the line before the ref blew his whistle and McKinnon's was the result of the puck redirecting to his stick off of Bishop's skate. An inch or two in either direction and Bishop posts a 1-0 shutout win.

The Lightning are gripping the sticks a bit tight right now, but they are still playing well. If they stick to what they're doing the goals will come.

Jo or Johnny:

Jonathan Drouin was a late scratch with the ol' dreaded “lower body injury”. Of course, the lateness of him missing the game set off the “Cooper Hates Drouin” crowd on twitter. Odd, I didn't see any of them post apologies after the official word came out that he was hurt. Any way, he is stuck on 6 points (1 goal, 5 assists). Johnny Gaudreau picked up an assist against Ottawa. He is up to 1 goal and 10 assists. Good for him.