Friday, April 29, 2016

Six Thoughts on a Not So Easy Night for The Lightning

Playoff losses used to be more difficult to take. The passions of youth I guess. It's either that or I've developed adequate coping mechanisms for normal playoff losses. Overtime losses....I'm not sure yet. So on Wednesday night, after the Lightning fell a bit short on their comeback in Game One I turned off my slightly, possibly less-than-legal video stream, started running all of my anti-malware programs and fired up the iTunes.

Music definitely helps sooth the angry, well slightly-disappointed, beast. Instead of firing off a bunch of angry comments I flipped around the play list and tried to organize my thoughts so I could write about something three days after it happened. Why not organize my thoughts based on an album? Everyone loves a themed post!

I think we can all agree that the team and the fans had themselves a rather hard night, right? So here you thoughts on Game One based on the Beatles third studio album – A Hard Days Night.

(ed note – I was originally going to come up with some thoughts for each track on the album, but then I got a little wordy so I made some cuts. Sorry all of you “Can't Buy Me Love” fans.)

If I Fell – Erik Condra

Condra's Game One experience is not one he's going to want to remember (if he even can). It lasted 57 seconds and he managed to dish out one hit before he was destroyed on a hit by Casey Cizikas. The bewildered look on his face and the fact he wasn't moving his lower body made things momentarily tense. Anytime one of your players is laid out on the ice with a blank look on his face you immediately think “Dirty Hit!”

In this case, it wasn't. Condra just managed to get caught in an awkward spot when Cizikas unloaded on him. He was also in a position where his head snapped pretty violently when he hit the ice. Hockey is a contact sport and hits like that happen. As of Friday it seems like Condra is doing better but is questionable for Game 2.

In the dictionary this is the picture posted next to "woozy".  Photo by Scott Audette NHLI/Getty

One of the major talking points of the game was that the hit “changed the momentum” of the game. After all the Lightning were leading before the hit and then the wheels came flying off after the hit. So it makes a nice tight story. I'm sure there may be a ring of truth to it. The Lightning were definitely controlling play up until that point. However, for me the turning point was Thomas Greiss' stop on Alex Killorn's breakaway.

If Killorn buries the puck on that play, the Lightning are up 2-0, the Amalie Arena is rocking and Greiss' confidence is a little shaken. The Islanders would be forced to play catch up and Tampa could take advantage of their aggressiveness.

Instead, the Islanders get a reprieve and then go down and score the equalizer and all of the momentum that the Lightning had earned in their first five minutes of play were washed away.

I’m Happy Just to Dance With You - Vlad Namestnikov/Johnathan Drouin/Ondrej Palat

Well, wasn’t this a fun line to watch? Namestnikov returned from his 4th line duties and replaced Val Filppula on the Lightning’s “Other” Line. For most of the night they were the best line on the ice for the Lightning. Drouin’s creativity and vision led to the opening goal as he pivoted along the boards and hit a streaking Palat in stride in a prime scoring area.

While his ornery streak wasn’t nearly as evident as it had been against Detroit, Drouin continued to play well in the offensive zone, building on the excellent play from the first series. Defensively, ehhh. Could he have back-checked harder on Shane Prince’s first goal? Probably. But the same could be said for the entire line that was on the ice.

In the past, being on the ice for a goahead goal probably would be enough to relegate him to the bench for the remainder of the game. But out of trust or necessity, Coach Cooper had to keep playing top line minutes. While his leash might be a bit longer than it has been in the past, Drouin should remember that defense is just as important as offense on a Cooper-led team.

It was nice to see three goals from three different lines (and some help from the blueline) on the scoresheet. Relying on one line is rarely successful in the playoffs and if the Drouin line continues to play well together, it’ll open up the ice for Tyler Johnson and his running mates.

Namestnikov looked rejuvenated early in the game when he was getting shifts with Drouin and Palat. He played with speed and confidence (kind of like earlier in the season when he was paired with Stamkos and Kucherov) and generated a number of chances. It was his puck handling across the blueline that led to Drouin’s nice play on the first goal.

So it was a little shocking when I looked at his final numbers and saw that he only had 9:43 of ice time. I remembered that Coach Cooper had reunited the Triplets during the 3rd period, but didn’t realize Vlad was the victim of the line shuffling. With Drouin skating with Killorn and Filppula, Namestnikov didn’t see the ice at all in the last 15 minutes of thegame.

This stop on Drouin late in the game was probably Greiss' best save.  Photo by Scott Audette NHLI/Getty

I’m thinking it was more of a numbers game then any knock on his performance or injury. Coach Cooper rolled the top two lines for most of the comeback attempt and Vlad just happened to be the odd man out. A quick check of Twitter and it doesn’t look like he was hurt. Hopefully he’s back out there again on Saturday.

And I Love Her Him – Nikita Kucherov

MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV! You really can’t stop him this year. He tapped in a nice cross-ice feed from Matt Carle to start the attempted comeback. It was his team leading 6th goal of the post season and will probably result in him playing for another team in the not too distant future. I’m sure every time he scores from here on out all Steve Yzerman hears is a cash register. Between Stamkos, Hedman, Bishop and Kucherov there has to be a point where they all can’t be signed. And what team wouldn’t want a 30 goal scorer who is in his mid-20s? If anyone is getting an offer sheet this summer, it will be him. Then the decision for Mr. Yzerman will be – match it and lose someone else or let him go and recoup future assets. Last year the compensation for signing away a restricted free agent was a 1st and 3rd if the average was between 3.6 and 5.4 million or a 1st, 2nd and 3rd for between 5.4 and 7.3

I don’t see the Lightning matching at over 3.5 million and I don’t see them letting him walk for less than that. Even though their record with number one picks under Mr. Yzerman has been a bit spotty, getting that kind of asset from a team could help in the long run.

Of course, that means I’d have to buy yet another jersey. Perhaps it’s throwback time. Lightning sleeve Zac Bierk, maybe?

Tell Me Why – Shane Prince’s Two Goals

I’m sure Shane Prince is a fine individual despite the fact that I had no idea who he was until about a week ago. And to give him credit, he had two opportunities to score and he took advantage of them. But both of his goals were more a result of defensive ineptitude than his individual effort.

I read a book once that explored why people do stupid things and one of the tangents was how things like plane crashes happen when so much of the process is automated and redundant. The explanation – it isn’t one thing that goes wrong. It’s usually a multitude. The plane didn’t crash because a computer relay broke. It’s because the relay broke, the pilot was at the end of a long day and there was bad weather on the approach.

If allowing a goal can be considered a disaster, it’s usually the result of many things going wrong, not just one. For instance, here is Prince’s first goal.

Of course, a guy named Brock should win a lot of battles

As the clip starts, Matt Carle loses a battle along the boards. That frees Brock Nelson to hit a wide open Ryan Strome with the puck. Breakdown 1.

Hedman is playing it pretty well. The stick is just on the wrong side.
Victor Hedman, who hustled back to support Carle, drops to a knee to block a pass but he puts his stick to the left and can’t bring it back in time to cover the open ice. Breakdown 2.

Even in a bad position look how much net Bishop covers.  Unreal.
Ben Bishop, the long-legged mack daddy, is usually pretty good at moving from post to post. In this case he’s a little slow to react and can’t square up on the wide open Prince. Breakdown 3.

Namestnikov is that guy on his belly. If the pass gets through it's one-on-one for the Islanders
Vlad Namestnikov comes zooming into the play 5 seconds too late to cover Prince. If you watch the top of the screen during the replay, you’ll see Vlad dive after the puck. It's actually a nice hustle play as he deflects the puck from getting to Prince in open ice. Unfortunately, it goes straight to an Islander and it takes the Russian awhile to get back on his skates and chase down the play. Sometimes good hustle leads to bad luck. Breakdown 4.

If just one of those breakdowns don’t happen, there is a good chance Prince doesn’t score. There was a central theme to all of the goals that the Lightning surrendered – being outworked. That is something that didn’t happen in round one and can’t happen in the rest of this series if they want to advance.

Things We Said Today – Ben Bishop

“I felt good. Just one of those nights where it wasn't really hitting me.” That's what Bishop had to say to the Tampa Bay Times following the game. Nice to know the Vezina-finalist has a complicated philosophy when it comes to goaltending.

Of the four goals that Bishop gave up in his half-hour of action, two of them were ones we're used to seeing him stop. The first goal, a wrister from Travis Harmonic seemed innocent enough. Bishop was square to him and there was only a minimal screen in front of him. It hit him yet trickled behind him and into the net.

The fourth goal, a power play goal by Jonathan Tavares, seemed similar. The Islanders captain just put the puck on net and somehow it made it up and over Bishop's shoulder. Which, seeing how he is a long individual, was not a good goal to let him.

The good news is that we've been down this road before. Remember that Bishop got lit up a couple of times against the Rangers last year and both times he bounced back. It is a reminder, however, how much the 2015-16 Lightning rely on their big netminder. He's managed to bail them out time and time again when they've forgotten how to play defense (see Shane Prince's two goals). And when he's been merely mortal, they've struggled.

Coach Cooper isn't about to panic. “Bish is Bish. The kid bounces back”. If he isn't concerned, why should we? Right?

You Can't Do That – Johnathan Marchessault

At the 8 minute mark of the second period, and the Lightning down 3-1, Marchessault was beat along the boards by Jonathan Tavares. Marchessault, in his first game of the playoffs, got his stick around the Islanders forward and impeded his progress. The ref's arm went up and Marchessault skated to the Shame Box for two minutes. Forty seconds later Tavares beat Bishop on a wrister and the game was all but over.

The hooking call was one of four penalties that the Lightning took as a team on Wednesday night. Unlike the Red Wings series where a lot of the penalties were of the bullying/roughing type, the ones against the Islanders were lazy penalties. Marchessault and Tyler Johnson picked up hooking penalties, Alex Killorn had a kneeing/interference/tackling penalty while Ryan Callahan added a holding penalty.

It's indicative of the lack of pace that they were playing with when they picked up those penalties. Their skates aren't moving and the Islanders were basically outworking them. It's not a surprise that all of the penalties happened in the first two periods, once the Lightning found their legs in the third all of that nonsense seemed to have disappeared.

Marchessault did not have his best game in a Lightning uniform. He may get a chance to redeem himself due to the Condra injury, but he is going to have step up his play quite a bit.

I'll Be Back – The Tampa Bay Lightning

No one likes losing Game One on home ice, especially with a sub-optimal performance. It is, however, only one game. The rust of a week-long layoff should be gone and the Lightning should be back in the playoff groove. If they win Game 2 then they just need to split in Brooklyn to recapture the home ice advantage. No one picked this series to be a sweep, so they just need to get over it and move on.

No comments: