Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Game 63 Recap: The One With All of the Callups

Game: 63
Opponent:  at Toronto
Score: 2-1 Win

Welcome back to the recaps!  My god, it has been awhile hasn’t it?  The last time posted a recap I believe the Lightning were clinging to a playoff spot and now they’re looking down from atop the Atlantic Division.  It’s been so long that even Matt Carle has scored!

I apologize for abandoning this project for a month.  Life, as it tends to do, got in the way a bit.  A little bit of traveling, a couple of “sleep studies” and various changes in work hours have gotten in the way of watching and recapping the games. Luckily, things are slowing down a bit so more time for me, yea!

Monday night found the Lightning in Toronto riding a six-game winning streak that has given them some separation from the bottom of the pack of Eastern Conference playoff race. Wins against Pittsburgh and New Jersey, two teams chasing a wild card spot, really, really helped the cause.

For once this season, the storyline against Toronto wasn’t revolving around Steven Stamkos future employer.  It was, instead, about the debut of the next generation of homegrown Toronto talent.  Four players were making their NHL debut, among them highly touted rookies William Nylander (son of former Lightning forward Michael Nylander), Kasperi Kapanen (son of former NHL’er Sami Kapanen who scored 9 goals against the Lightning in his career) and Nikita Soshnikov  (who was scouted by Evgeny Namestnikov, father of current Lightning forward, Vlad).

The Maple Leafs have spent the last year burning their team down to the ground, digging a hole and burning it some more, taking the ashes and then throwing them in an incinerator.  As Lightning fans, we’ve been through this process and it is painful.  However, the Leafs are at the point where it begins to turn.  Instead of watching retreads like Roman Polak and Rich Clune lose games they now get to see prospect like Nylander and Kapanen lose games.  Trust me, there is a difference.

Remember when the Lightning did their mass call up from Syracuse at the end of the 2012-13 season and we got to see a glimpse of Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Richard Panik, Ondrej Palat at the NHL level?  Wasn’t that fun?  That’s what Leaf fans get to enjoy for the next month - hope.

As for the game, to be honest, whether it was all of the youthful exuberance in the line up or the fact that the Lightning had played in Boston the night before, the Leafs outplayed them for most of the game.  With exception to the first period, where the play was pretty even, most of the game belonged to the Leafs. They just couldn’t put one past Andrei Vasilevskiy until late in the game.

The Lightning did get two goals from a stitched-up Tyler Johnson (perhaps taking a puck to the face reminded him that he is, indeed, good at hockey), but the number one star for them was Vasilevskiy.  The young goaltender was sharp in gaining his 11th win of the year.  The 22 points the Lightning have picked up in his starts can’t be understated.  Being able to give Ben Bishop a rest and still have a better than 50% chance to win is a tremendous advantage in a close playoff race.

It was obvious as the game went on that the Leafs had the quicker legs. They were first to loose pucks, dominated the neutral zone and limited the Lightning to occasional forays into the offensive zone.  However, along with Vasy’s excellent play, Tampa Bay as a team did a great job of clearing rebounds and keeping most of the threats to the perimeter.

Early on in the game the Lightning dominated. They pressed the Marlies Leafs in the zone and unloaded 15 shots on goal (and another three that found iron). If it wasn’t for Garret Sparks and his awesome leg pads, the game could have gotten out of hand early.  Perhaps Sparks’ best save came on Valtteri Filppula who was looking at an empty net after collecting a rebound.  Unfortunately for the blond Finn, Sparks was able to get enough of his stick on it to deflect it wide.  Sparks would also stop Filppula on a breakaway later in the game.

Sparks is not getting a Christmas card from Flip this year.

There was a feeling that if the Lightning could get one goal things would fall apart for Toronto.  They didn’t get that goal until the second period when Tyler Johnson, using a nifty pick by Brayden Coburn on a Leafs defenseman (that’s why he got the big bucks) roofed a shot over Sparks’ shoulder.  Things did not fall apart. Johnson scored 11 minutes later when he was able to trickle a shot through Sparks’ pads. It was a soft goal that the rookie net minder should not have allowed. Surely, now the Leafs, who had had been pressuring the Lightning for most of the ten minutes between the two goals would collapse.  Nope, and don’t call me “Shirley”.  In fact they increased the pressure and held the Lightning to only 5 shots on net.

Of the young players Kapanen seemed to be the most dangerous. He seemed to always have the puck on his stick in front of the net and of his 5 shots that were directed at the net at least three of them were close enough that I breathed a sigh of relief when they didn’t go in.

The Lightning won a game that, on paper, they should have won. They also won a game that, on ice, they shouldn’t have won.  The future is bright for the Leafs.  God help us all if they add Auston Matthews and a certain high-priced free agent center.

Those things are so awesome. Best pads in the league!

Did Matt Carle Score a Point:

Sadly, he did not.  Everyone’s favorite beleaguered defenseman was on the ice for a season-high 21 minutes (probably due to Andrej Sustr leaving the game with an injury) and recorded one shot on net.  He wasn’t bad, more like back to his invisible self.  There was at least one, “puck turned over by Carle” comment from announcer Rick Peckham, but other than that a solid game.

Carle has been playing decently since his return to the lineup. He has 3 points on the season now and has proved valuable in the absence of Jason Garrison. If Sustr is out for any length of time, Carle should be able to fill the spot adequately.

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