Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Game 23: Hey, Hey The Win Streak Hits Three!

Game: 23
Opponent: Los Angeles Kings
Did I watch Live?: Nope
Why Not?: Can't remember, but probably work. No wait. Travel. That's right. I was in Baltimore and didn't have a strong enough signal to watch live.
Did I watch on replay?: Eventually.
Three Stars: 3. JT Brown 2. Johnathan Quick 1. Ben Bishop
Worst Play:
Not really a worst play of the game, but something that's been annoying me all season. The Lightning made their hay last year by never letting a cross-ice passing opportunity...well...pass them by. It's a great idea in theory. Draw attention to yourself and fire the puck to the other side of the ice to an open player who can drive it on net.

The problem is, they were so successful with it, other teams have noticed. Detroit in the playoffs was probably the first team to work hard to shut down the passing lanes and force the Lightning to find other ways to create offense. Tampa was able to do that. This year it's been a bit of a different story. Let's go to the first period of the game against L.A. to demonstrate.

To set up the screen shot below. The Lightning have forced a turnover in their own zone. Erik Condra is going to get the puck in the middle of the ice and take it into the offensive zone. As he crosses the blue line, this is what it looks like:

The Kings are back and in position. Condra is surrounded. At this point his best bet is probably to ring it around the boards as Jason Garrison is covered at the blue line and at least three players would have a shot at the puck if he tries to get it to Brian Boyle (number 11 at the right of the screen). Needless to say, Condra tries to saucer a pass to Boyle. The Kings pick it off and start an odd man break the other way. Nothing resulted in the play, but it prevented the Lightning from setting up in the zone. If Condra had taken it down low, Boyle is in the best position to retrieve the puck and allow the rest of his teammates to set up in the zone.

Welcome back Tyler Johnson! The diminutive forward returned from missing three games to score the Lightning's lone goal in regulation as Tampa Bay beat the Kings 2-1 in a shootout win to drive their winning streak up to 3 games.

It was good to see the center back on the ice, even if he wasn't much of a factor outside of his goal. His return allowed Coach Cooper a little more flexibility with his lines and added a legitimate second scoring line to the attack. Cooper started the game with Johnson flanked by Nikita Kucherov and Vlad Namestnikov while Alex Killorn joined Ryan Callahan on Stamkos' line.

The Lightning were getting some chances but in the second Coach Cooper shook things up a bit by flip-flopping Namestnikov and Killorn. I like Namestnikov on Stamkos' line as it relieves some of the playmaking responsibilities from the captain. As great of a player as he is, he does better if he has someone setting him up. For his part, Killorn is as amendable as they come. He can pretty much fit in with any line, providing offense and a little bit of defensive responsibility.

Unfortunately, the line ups didn't really get too many quality chances and the Lightning were unable to follow up their offensive awakeining that they experienced against the Ducks. The power play problem reared its ugly head again. They were able to coax three extra man opportunities out of the Kings, but were unable to convert any of them. With the exception of a puck jumping over Killorn's stick when he had a wide open net, they weren't even able to really generate much pressure.

Hopefully they get that turned around against the Caps. The special teams are going to be important against Washington if the Lightning want to keep these winning ways going.

Random Hockey Thought:

We're a quarter of the way through the season and I think that's enough time to critique Brian Engblom as the Lightning's new analyst. My first thoughts are that he is...ok. It feels like he's trying to stay impartial and he covers the games like he is doing a national telecast. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but from time to time you'd like to hear a little homerism coming from the guys calling the game. There is a balance between being objective and obnoxious (I'm looking at you Jack Edwards...oh and you Paul Steigerwald).

Also he tends to hold onto to certain thoughts or aspects and repeat them ad nauseum through several games to the point where we could have a drinking game going. Early in the season it was the new rule where the defensive player had to get his stick down first for faceoffs. Lately it's been the phrase, “The Lightning have to play like they want to win 1-0.” Why? Why not play like they want to win 6-1. Unleash the offense. Let the boys play!

In the end, I think he's been a good replacement for Bobby Taylor and I actually do enjoy the fact that he brings a little bit more analysis to the game.

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