Kukla's Korner

The Collabo Continues: Questions from Metz, Answers from JJ (Gm 5 Blowout, Roli, What’s Next & More)

Wow. Game five really raised some major question marks about the ultimate end result of the Penguins/Lightning series and sparked some interesting storylines moving forward, didn’t it?

Continuing our ongoing collaborative efforts throughout the series, I’ve checked in yet again to answer a series of questions from FromThePoint.com’s Brian Metzer.

Here’s a peek at the first Q&A from our latest showdown and a link over to FTP for the rest:

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BM: We have seen almost everything in this series… I guess it is high time that we got a blowout! The good part of the game is that the Lightning got contributions from a number of the players that we have been criticizing for not showing up. They got points from 13 different players, goals from five guys not named St. Louis and saw the first big contributions from Steven Stamkos and Pavel Kubina. Was this a good thing in your estimation or are you concerned that it was a bit too much of a good thing? It seems that sometimes you are looking at a situation where you only have so many in the hopper and the Penguins defense will certainly play better on Monday.

JJ: Honestly, my friend, at this point? I don’t even know how to answer this one. After an 8-2 decision, and what we’ve seen the rest of the series, what we see on Monday could literally be anything. Had I not seen the overeager, mistake-prone play the Bolts put forth in the first period of game three, and had I not seen the lax, sleepwalking Lightning of game four’s first period, I’d fully anticipate a jacked-up Bolts bunch ready to knot this thing up in game six.

All in all, I think that’s what they’ll aim to be, but this Lightning team has not yet shown an ability to master the emotional stability needed to perform at home in the playoffs.

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He Asked, I Answered, Round 5: On Tampa Bay’s Scoring Depth Woes, Roloson, Comeback Chances & More

As promised, my latest round of answers to the latest round of questions from Brian Metzer of FromThePoint.com, on all things game four and what’s to come from here…

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BM: The Lightning managed to score 241 goals during the NHL’s regular season, good for 8th in the league. However, now that the playoffs are four games old, they are looking like a team with a serious lack of scoring depth. They have scored just nine goals in the series, four of which came from the blade of Marty St. Louis. It is also worth noting that if you remove the fact that they put up five during a Game 2 victory, they have scored just four in the remaining three games. How big a concern is that lack of production moving forward in the series? Have Marc-Andre Fleury and his defense been that good?

JJ: It’s huge, Metz but you have to give credit where credit is due. Fleury has been excellent and the Penguins, as a team – not just the defensemen, have clamped down with the lead. Of course, in games three and four, the Lightning willed their way to tying things up, but they had to rely on relentless individual efforts to do so, particularly last night, and probably exhausted themselves in the process. Pittsburgh has now scored the first goal of the game three times in the series and, voila! They’ve won all three times. You can’t come back all the time and the Lightning have got to have better starts, period.

As for scoring depth, as you pointed out, save for game two and Sean Bergenheim last night, what scoring depth? After Marty’s four, the Lightning have not a player with more than a single goal; five with one apiece. Mattias Ohlund’s goal was an empty-netter. Take out that and Eric Brewer’s game two tally, and you have three goals from forwards not named Martin St. Louis in four games.

That’s just not getting it done.

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Opposing Viewpoint: Metzer on Pens’ Dominance, Bolts’ Comeback, James Neal, Arron Asham and More

Game four’s double-overtime winner by Pittsburgh’s James Neal meant many things. One, the Penguins now lead the Lightning three games to one in the series. Two, unless the Bolts can manage to turn things around – and fast – Tampa Bay hockey fans won’t soon stop talking about that particular goal, right or wrong. And three, and perhaps most importantly, it’s time once again to check in with FromThePoint.com’s Brian Metzer for his take on the latest events in this series from his so very astute and insightful Pittsburgh-based point of view:

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JJ: Well, Metz… We got the overtime(s) we predicted. It wasn’t really hard to see that coming. But, while each game, for the most part, has been as tightly-contested, score-wise, as we both thought coming in, I personally thought last night’s game was awfully one-sided for a double-overtime thriller. Specifically, I thought the Penguins controlled the play throughout and that the Lightning were only afforded the chance to win on the efforts of a few hard-headed individuals. Did you see the same dominance from the Pens that I did, despite them having to squeak out the win in the 83rd minute? And did last night’s game ever scare you, from a Pittsburgh perspective, in the sense that it had every bit the look of being one of those playoff games that “the wrong team” would win?

BM: I will start with part two of that one sir. There were plenty of moments late in that game when I was scared about the outcome. The first probably being when Bergenheim tied things up late in the third period. It was something hat we had seen a ton of times over the second half of the season – a group of Penguins who dominated, but weren’t able to get the back breaking goal. Once you let a team get up off of their heels and tie it, anything could have happened. I was also a bit concerned about the two power play opportunities – one in the third period and one in overtime – the Lightning had started to get some chances after the Penguins had sort of “slowed their roll” through their first two chances of the evening. I was definitely bracing for a “wrong team winning” situation. I also said out loud: “The longer this game goes on, the more important it becomes.”

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Pens Playoff-Ready, Lightning Still Learning

When you’re outworked for the majority of a game and the end result doesn’t end up going your way, there shouldn’t be much in the way of surprise at the outcome.

And the reality of it is, that’s what happened to the Tampa Bay Lightning last night.

As double-overtime games go, this one wasn’t that close. The score may have ended up tied after 60 minutes and beyond but the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins controlled the play throughout and, when that happens, you just can’t expect to win.

So enough labeling of last night’s game four loss for Tampa Bay as heartbreaking, if that’s what you’ve been doing.

It wasn’t theirs to win.

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Bored at Work? Get Jacked for Game Four With a Listen to Last Night’s Show

Last night, my Pittsburgh/Tampa Bay playoff series partner in crime, Brian Metzer of FromThePoint.com and I hooked up for a special, largely impromptu podcast, discussing all things Pens and Bolts in a show that turned out to be a lot of fun.

We hit on as much as possible, including what’s happened in the series so far, where we see things going from here, key players to this point, as well as those that have disappointed, a quick peek at the coinciding Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins vs. Norfolk Admirals Calder Cup playoff series and so much more. We even had a few guests stop by and, as I am wont to do, I got off a few cracks at Metz’s expense.

If you enjoyed my old show, The Bolts Beat, while the co-host was different, the vibe was quite similar and you should leave pleased. (By the by, no one’s given up on a return for TBB just yet. While it would take a minor miracle for that to happen during these playoffs, at the very least, it’s an off-season priority, even in a different incarnation, if necessary.)

If you’re just looking for more on what has been an intense playoff series so far, there’s about on hour’s worth of extensive banter for you as well.

So, fill part of your day with a listen to last night’s show RIGHT HERE from Metz and I. If this series goes long enough, we’ve agreed to try and put together a follow-up.

JJ
jj@kuklaskorner.com
JJ on Twitter

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He Asked, I Answered, Round 4: On Stamkos, Tampa’s Physical Game and the Special Teams Battle

Hookin’ it up with Metz once again, for the latest installment of his questions for me and, of course, my answers!

Here’s a peek at the latest round before a link to FTP for the rest:

BM: I realize that you asked me a question about the fact that the Lightning might have been a little too amped up to start the game, but I am a bit curious, have they been instructed to out-physical the Pens? The birds have made it an edict to lay the body and to be physical as often as possible, it is all part of the Disco Dan system, but the Lightning have done a great job of staying neck and neck in the hit department. Heck, in all actuality, they have outhit the Penguins. What is your take?

JJ: I think a key for the Bolts is to stay even-keeled in terms of playing an aggressive, physical game and – CATCH PHRASE ALERT – staying within their system. They can hit like crazy, as can the Pens, as we’ve seen but, on at least three occasions last night, that proved costly:

One, Ryan Malone and James Neal collide hard in the corner early on in the game and Malone leaves the worse for wear. Granted, that could happen to any player on any play but it isn’t as though these guys can just go all out with reckless abandon. As you well know, Bugsy’s as huge a piece for the Lightning as he once was for the Penguins, if not more. (We will all have to keep a close eye on how he fares the rest of the way.)

Two, Steve Downie’s railroading of Ben Lovejoy not only led to a Pens goal (well, sort of… Coach Boucher seemed to think guys were standing around admiring the aftermath as Max Talbot and Co. headed up ice, eventually opening the scoring) but we know now that it costs the Lightning Downie’s services in game four. (That the suspension to Chris Kunitz evens the score, so to speak, is immaterial, to make this point.)

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Birds & Bolts: Playoff Showdown Podcast Tonight (Now at 8:00)

[UPDATE: We’re going live now at 8:00. I blame that darn Pittsburghian (Pittsburgher? Pit Stain? Hmmm…) Apologies!]

Join Brian Metzer of FromThePoint.com and myself for a live podcast this evening.

Listen along here, call in or fire away in the chat with your questions, to be answered during the show. Metz and I are going to keep this one light-hearted, chat all-things Pens/Bolts, possibly have a special guest or two jump in and, hell, maybe we’ll even crack a cold one or two during the show. (Hey, it’s an off-day!)

[NOTE: Replaced the original widget with an archived link of the show.]


The fun kicks off at 8:00 PM, ET.

JJ
jj@kuklaskorner.com
JJ on Twitter

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Opposing Viewpoint: FTP’s Metzer on Pens’ Defensive Prowess, Bolts’ Jump and Downie/Kunitz Hits

It’s time, once again, to hear a take from the other side of things, checking in with FromThePoint.com’s Brian Metzer, for his reaction to the Penguins’ 3-2 game two victory to take a 2-1 lead over the Lightning in the series…


JJ: We talked earlier about the Penguins having to do a better job at clearing out the crease area in front of Marc-Andre Fleury and limiting second (and third) chances for the Lightning. You even hinted at the possibility of Deryk Engelland getting his way into a game to help with just that. Engelland took the warm-up last night but did not play. Overall, I thought Pittsburgh did a better job of maintaining position down low, despite both Martin St. Louis goals coming off of rebound chances. It sounds weird to say that, since the Lightning only kept it close in this one on the strength of those two tallies, but I did see improvement in that area from Pittsburgh’s perspective nonetheless. What say you, good sir?

BM: I would agree with you JJ. The Penguins did a much better job of keeping the Lightning to the perimeter. They didn’t allow as much traffic to just camp out in front of Marc-Andre Fleury as they had done on Friday evening. There were still a few occasions in which the Lightning were able to get body position in front of Fleury and it resulted in a couple of good scoring chances for them.

The Penguins clearly were willing to do what it took in that “dirty” area though, as evidenced by Mike Rupp’s penalty on Ryan Malone. In watching that situation play out I looked at it as a play that would have resulted in a goal for the Lightning during Game 2, but it was counteracted with rare “smart” penalty.

I would look for the Penguins to do a lot more of what you saw last night moving forward. Keeping that net front area clean will become just as important as the discipline, physicality and quick puck movement that they have been preaching.

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On Downie and Kunitz: Sentences For Each? (Your Guess is as Good as Any)

Quick thoughts on both questionable hits from last night’s Pens/Bolts game three:

First, on Steve Downie’s apparent charge on Ben Lovejoy, which would have been called a penalty, had Max Talbot not scored just moments later.

At first glance (which for me came via the tail-end of a bad replay, having missed the play when it happened because I was on the phone with TSN Radio) I thought Downie appeared to leave his feet only after the initial point of contact. Later, having seen the replay again in much more clarity, the penalty that Downie would have been assessed certainly would have been just. By definition, that was a charge.

I wonder, then, if he might come out of today’s hearing with a fine, maybe, but no suspension? A penalty was being assessed. That said call was wiped out because of a goal should have no bearing on that fact. Lovejoy wasn’t injured on the play, something that is often taken into consideration on supplemental discipline decisions these days (though whether that should happen or not is a subject up for much debate).

Naturally, Downie’s status as a repeat offender could come into play and, if he does get suspended, the guess here is that would definitely be a contributing factor. [Edit: Downie hasn’t been in hot water with the league since March 16, 2010 when he was fined $1,000 for an attempt to injure Sidney Crosby. Not sure if that fine counts as part of the 18-month window a player must stay clean within to avoid said repeat offender status or if that only pertains to suspensions. Will research…]

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Lightning Positives in Game Three Loss

From a bottom-line perspective, that the Tampa Bay Lightning fell short in their efforts to take the series lead at home in game three will leave them disappointed.

We’ve already accounted for the emotional up-and-downs of last night’s 3-2 win for Pittsburgh but there were several positives that deserve more discussion, from the Lightning’s perspective.

1 – The atmosphere at the St. Pete Times Forum was incredible. From fans gathering on the plaza before the game, to an elaborate audiovisual presentation on the Forum ice as game time neared, “electric” doesn’t even begin to describe the vibe of the crowd and the general feeling surrounding the first home playoff game in Tampa in four years.

It was as loud throughout as I’ve ever heard that building (keeping in mind, of course, that I wasn’t around for this club’s trademark moment in 2004).

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