Thursday, January 14, 2016

Game 42: The One Where Callahan Missed All of The Chances

Game: 42
Opponent: Vancouver
Score: 3-2 OT Win

Two wins in two nights is a nice way to gain some ground in the playoff win. If the win in Edmonton was the result of lucky bounces, then the overtime win in Vancouver was a result of hard work and perseverance.

The game got off to a quick start for the Lightning as they outshot the Canucks 5-0 to open the action. With one of those shots Alex Killorn managed to beat Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom. The Harvard man received a nice pass from Nikita Kucherov, deked once to pull Markstrom out of position and flicked the puck into the open net.

After the lackluster first two periods against Edmonton Coach Cooper shuffled his lines up. Ondrej Palat was bumped up to the Steven Stamkos with Vlad Namestnikov while Killorn found himself on the “Triplets” line with Kucherov and Tyler Johnson. The shakeup seems to have worked.

With all of the injured forwards back healthy again Coach Cooper has a little bit of stability to work with and some of the role players can get back to doing what they excel at. For instance, Brian Boyle hasn't scored in 10 games and has seen his time on ice dwindle from 16-19 minutes a game down to 9-12 minutes a game. That's not a bad thing.

The Lightning no longer have to rely on Boyle, JT Brown and Erik Condra to generate offense. Instead those players can work on controlling the puck and grinding down the other team so that the offense can get to work. That's the system that led to success last year and one that can carry the team in the second half of the season.

After a quick start the game settled into a slow back-and-forth battle that, quite frankly, wasn't very entertaining. Tampa Bay was once again not able to carry a lead into the second period as Vancouver scored late in the period to tie it up. For most of the second and the first half of the third the play was mired in the neutral zone and featured more broken up passes than shots.

In net Andrei Vasilevskiy, giving All-Star Ben Bishop a night off, was steady if not spectacular. While he gave up a few rebounds, for the most part he was steady and in control for the majority of the game. He looked like a viable future starter stopping 21 of 23 shots in picking up his fifth win of the season. As if General Manager Steve Yzerman didn't have enough on his table, it will be interesting to see what he does when Ben Bishop's contract is up after next season.

The Lightning got their footing back after a couple of power plays. Valteri Filppula fired a puck toward a cutting Ryan Callahan in front of the net. The pass never made it there, but it did happen to hit a skate and sneak through Markstrom's five hole. Another “lucky” break for an offense that was starved for them during the first 40 games of the season.

As for Callahan, man, you got to feel for him at this point. He is scratching and clawing for a point, but just can't seem to buy a break. He knows he has to contribute more. Five goals and nine assists just isn't good enough for him. He is a bit snake-bitten right now. In the Vancouver game he had three or four great chances that were either stopped or just missed the net. At least he managed to pick up an assist on Filppula's goal – his first point of the new year.

He has been a good soldier to this point and not complained about his ice time or his role on the third line. He has just gone out and done what Ryan Callahan is built to do – hit people and cause chaos. Should he start finding his scoring touch, then really look out for this offense to get going.

Let's celebrate a Callahan point! Photo by Jeff Vinnik (NHLI/Getty)

Vancouver did manage to tie it up as Bo Hovart managed to sneak a wrist shot past Vasilevskiy. Horvat, whose name has come up in trade rumors with Tampa, was probably the best player on the ice for both teams. He scored the the second goal and set up the first by drawing two defenders to him before sneaking a quick pass to Sven Baertschi who tapped it into an empty net.

It's kind of disconcerting to watch a Canucks game and not have the Sedin twins be the most important players for them. The 20-year-old Hovart and the 19-year-old Jake Virtanen were the best Vancouver players on the ice. They may be struggling right now, but they do have some good pieces moving forward.

The game went into overtime (where Vancouver is a dreadful 1-7). Both teams had several good chances, Vasilevskiy in particular had to make several saves to keep both teams playing. With less than two minutes to go, the Lightning managed to dig the puck off of their own boards and Vlad Namestnikov found Kucherov behind the Vancouver defense on a long stretch pass. One move by the Russian and the puck was in the net and the Lightning had another overtime win.

Like the announcer pointed out, what a horrible time to leave the ice for Henrik Sedin. Yes he was at the end of the long shift, but he's got to cover Kucherov long enough for Alex Edler to get in position. Instead he was like, “I'm done guys. Peace out.”

It was a nice, tough win for the Lightning. Again this felt like one of those games that they would lose 2-1 earlier in the year. They're starting to find their game and if they can keep this momentum going, it won't be long until they find a secure spot in the playoff race.

Did Matt Carle Get a Point?

Alas, our protagonist was once again a healthy scratch. Young defensemanNikita Nesterov took his spot in the lineup. It's time for the team to start playing Nesterov on a regular basis. He's not going to learn anything in Syracuse or by sitting on the bench. If the Lightning want him to become the Russian Dan Boyle they need him on the ice.

He shows signs of being the puck-moving, offensive minded defenseman that the Lightning need. He needs the on-ice experience at the NHL level to get better. He needs to learn when to pinch and when to stay back. When to skate the puck out of the zone and when to dump it along the boards. The only way he does that is by playing.

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