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 comments? Game recap on – 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?

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