Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Jon Jordan on 10/22/10 at 03:25 PM ET
Last night’s tilt between the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning won’t highlight any instructional hockey videos – it was ugly, all-around, really – and the finish was marred by what was probably the longest video review in the history of NHL hockey in October. But, though the 3-2 Islanders overtime victory serves as a shining example that, even in a slop fest like this one, there’s some good and bad to go with some serious ugly, I can’t bring myself to go full G, B & U today. (Tried – didn’t work – onward…)
Instead, some random observations:
It’s not as though I’m ever pulling for the Lightning to lose but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to the first Guy Boucher post-loss press conference.
I’ve been impressed with Boucher, who seems to have the favorable blend of teacher, tactician and shrink attributes in his bag of coaching tricks, from the start. He’s been intense all the while but he’d led me to believe that after a loss – particularly a poorly-played loss – we’d see a different side and, last night, he didn’t disappoint.
Leading off with, “To be honest, I don’t care about the replay. We didn’t come out in the first period,” set a very blunt tone. Coach Boucher was not at all pleased with his club’s effort. But it was the complete disregard for the game’s controversial finish that struck me as most important. Here we have a game in which the Lightning earned a point and lost on what maybe was/maybe wasn’t an Islanders overtime goal and you’d think Tampa Bay got pasted 9-1.
This, Lightning fans, is a very, very good thing.
Of course, I should have seen this coming. Boucher wasn’t jumping for joy at a couple of wins I’ve witnessed thus far either – and he’s reminded us all along that this team will not be at its best for quite some time. But his candor is beyond refreshing.
Best of all?
A repeated emphasis on the importance of showing up and putting on a performance “Out of respect for our fans and the money that they pay.” That a coach in the National Hockey League actually has that in the forefront of his mind after his club’s first home loss of the season – rather than harping on the intricacies and/or marginal calls of the game itself – is both remarkable and surprising.
It was easy to address as much after recent wins when, for a night, from a bottom line perspective, all is right with your team. That it comes through again, however, minutes after a deflating loss, well…
The organization’s new favorite buzz words, “world class”, come to mind.
Rest assured, what irked Boucher about the game itself – and there was plenty – has already been addressed. (Surely, the flight to Atlanta included some choice words in private conversation.) But it’s already beyond crystal clear as to why this guy was such a hot commodity in the coaching market this past summer.
The Lightning may not be Cup contenders this year, they’re sure to play their share of stinkers the rest of the way and there are several question marks to be addressed.
But the coach isn’t one of them. Mark that down.
Boucher indicated a desire to have some discussions with certain individuals after last night’s performance and, of course, he wouldn’t identify who drew his ire. But we can take a guess or two…
In my opinion, Randy Jones had as poor a game as any defenseman and Matt Smaby wasn’t far behind. On the first Islander goal, neither player looked able to keep pace with any of New York’s forwards, who thwarted clear attempts and worked the puck around for an easy tap-in by Michael Grabner.
Ryan Malone had not a shot on goal, was a minus-1 and took an ill-advised penalty in the second period that, in part, led to a 5-on-3 for the Islanders, during which they tied the game.
And, for as much as I sing the praises of Steve Downie, it is only fair that I note not even noticing him last night. For a player of Downie’s ilk to go unnoticed means he simply hasn’t been effective. No specific criticism, then, is really even necessary. I had to read the box score to notice that he had a shot on goal and was credited with two hits. That’s not a fine performance from the Lightning’s usual spark plug.
Elsewhere (and I do hate to bring this up), he’s banged up (hand injury) and it’s early but Vincent Lecavalier is now pointless in three straight. 1-1-2 in five games puts him on pace for 16 goals and 32 points. That’s all. (Someone had to, okay?)
He’s been given the “new surroundings” grace period and folks have been careful not to overreact but, after six games, the fact that Simon Gagne has produced zero points now, frankly, has to be a concern.
Of the three other pointless Lightning forwards to this point other than Gagne, one has played in a single game (Mattias Ritola), another just four (Dana Tyrell) and the other (Nate Thompson) isn’t relied upon for offensive production. Gagne, Ritola, Tyrell, Thompson. Which one sticks out like A sore thumb?
Gagne’s all-around game has been commended since his arrival but I can’t help but wonder if those doing the commending have been trying to calm whatever tensions the former Flyer might be feeling in his new home. While I’m on record as not being an advocate of plus/minus as a sure-fire performance indicator, a look at that stat column in his game log this year shows a minus rating in all six Lightning games for an aggregate total of minus-8. That’s good for worst on the team, by a healthy three goals against, and that can’t be indicative of stellar defensive performance.
It might not be time to panic…
But it’s awfully difficult not to notice.
[Update: The Tampa Tribune‘s Erik Erlendsson reports via Twitter that Gagne will sit tonight due to a stiff neck from a heavy hit in the third period last night and also that he has been sick in recent days. So, there’s that.]
Finally, I’m all for getting plays right and, upon my intensive, much, much further review, it looks like the overtime winner for the Islanders was, in fact, a goal. But, echoing the sentiments of just about everyone in the St. Pete Times Forum press box, the crowd, watching at home or hearing about the review later on, how in the world can something be considered “conclusive” when it takes that long to consider? Is that not an inherent contradiction?
I’m not the smartest man in the world, but…
Probably for the best, the Lightning are right back at it at 7:00 tonight in Atlanta.
Filed in: NHL Teams, Atlanta Thrashers, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, | KK Hockey | Permalink
Tags: dan+ellis, guy+boucher, matt+smaby, randy+jones, ryan+malone, simon+gagne, simon+gagne, steve+downie, vincent+lecavalier
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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