Thursday, April 7, 2016

Dear God - That's Jo Drouin's Music! Enigmatic Forward Returns to the Bolts

So Johnny D is back in the arena.  The Lightning, beset with injuries (someone make sure Nigel Kirwan hasn’t had a camera fall on him or something), succumbed to the inevitable and recalled their prodigal son.  Now can their former top prospect help them clinch home ice advantage and spark a little life into their moribund offense or will he find himself playing six minutes a game?

Drouin has done what Tampa Bay asked since he got off the couch, turned off the X-Box and returned to the organization.  He has scored nine times in his last nine games with Syracuse and has, from reports, been an exemplary teammate.  Except for one alarm clock-related mishap he has kept his name out of the gossip news and on the score sheet.

Now the questions is, will Coach Cooper truly #FreeDrouin?  Let’s face it, having him play on the fourth line and grind away ice time with Brian Boyle and JT Brown was not, is not, and will never be the way to use the former first round pick.  Whatever his deficiencies, real or imagined, might be defensively with the puck, he has to be given an opportunity to score or else Tampa Bay might as well have called up Joel Vermin or Yanni Gourde again.

Drouin isn’t being brought so that Jonathan Marchessault or Mike Blundin (and his 23% shooting percentage) can move up to the top line.  As stubborn as Coach Cooper is, he has to realize that the Lightning need offense right now with Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan out of the line up.  That’s what Drouin can provide,  even if it comes with the occasional turn over.  Heck he’s watched Val Filppula do it all season, why not let the young kid do it as well?

2013- The last time both of them smiled at the same time

According to a tweet by the Tampa Tribune’s Erik Erlendsson, it does appear that Drouin will get a shot at some top line minutes.  In the morning skate he was taking rushes with Alex Killorn and Vlad Namestnikov, which, for lack of a better combination, is now the default number two line behind the reunited Triplets Line. How long that lasts is anybody’s guess, but hopefully it’s more than three or four shifts.

Drouin wasn’t the only one called up.  Also catching the short flight from Syracuse to New Jersey was Evan Oberg….I mean Matt Taormina.  It looks like Taormina will slot in for Slater Koekkoek who was sent back to Syracuse.  Kind of an odd move as I felt Koekkoek actually played fairly well against the Rangers in his last game.

If you thought the forward lines were a mess for the Lightning, the defensive pairings are a train wreck.  Coach Cooper looks like he will split his veterans with the young guys as Jason Garrison was skating with Andrej Sustr, Nikita Nesterov with Hopeful Chase favorite Matt Carle, Tamorina with Brayden Coburn and the injured Victor Hedman with Nikita Nesterov. I am thinking that the coach goes with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen to spread out the ice time for his mish-mashed defense unit.

Matt Carle tries to stick check an opponent.  Photo by Bruce Bennet/ Getty Images

That….that…is going to be an adventure to say the least.  I’m assuming Garrison/Sustr will get the most minutes, but if that’s the top pairing going into the playoffs then the 15/2 odds of the Lightning winning the Eastern Conference are not high enough.  Since Hedman was skating, that’s a good sign he’ll be back by the time the fun starts next week, but the Lightning defense as is, is not good.

Erlendsson also tweeted that Ben Bishop was first off the ice so it looks like he’s getting the start.  How much Bishop plays in the last two games came up over on Raw Charge where our dear leader John argued that he should be benched for the next two games in order to rest up for the playoffs.

Valid points were made (especially since injuries severely hampered the MVP in both of the last two playoff seasons) and Bishop’s workload over the last three years has been rather heavy.  However, the Lightning need to win one of these next two games to lock up home ice advantage in the first round.  This year more than ever I think they need it.  For whatever reason they are a completely different team on the road then they have been in years past.  And while their home record might not be as locked in as it was last year, I’ll still take the chance of playing four home games in the first round over playing four road games.

My thought was to play Andrei Vasilevskiy tonight against New Jersey and then, if they don’t win, start Bishop against Montreal in the season finale.  That still gives Bishop plenty of rest over the last two weeks of the season while also giving the Lightning the best chance to secure those final two points (lets face it, New Jersey is a better team than Montreal at this point).  However, it looks like Coach Cooper is pushing his chips to the table and looking to lock up the number 2 seed tonight.

Whatever happens, let’s remember that somehow, someway, the Lightning have stumbled to 45 wins this season.  If they win their two remaining games, the 47 wins will be the second most wins in a season in franchise history behind last season’s 50 wins.  They have had a good year.

Forty-some wins with the injuries they’ve suffered is almost impossible.  If you look at games played, Alex Killorn is their only forward who hasn’t missed a game, heck he’s their only player who hasn’t missed a game this season.  They’ve been without their top goal scorer (Stamkos), their top THREE defensemen (Hedman, Garrison and Anton Stralman), two-thirds of their second line (Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat) for significant periods of time and they are still looking at one of the top seeds in the playoffs.

God bless what Gerald Gallant has done in Florida, but this might be Coach Cooper’s best coaching since he’s been in the NHL. The Lightning coach has not only had to deal with injuries but also the Jonathan Drouin situation and the Stamkos contract issues.  Granted, his best move has been to put Ben Bishop between the pipes 59 times this season, but still he has jerry-rigged this team into the playoffs. That has to count for something when it comes to the coach of the year awards,

Two games are left for the Lightning and they are chasing two points to lock up the number two seed.  Hopefully number 27 helps them do that.

No comments: