Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Jon Jordan on 11/19/10 at 02:08 PM ET
That was crazy.
And, with craziness comes a reaction a bit altered from my Good, Bad, Ugly usual. Instead, a hodgepodge of thoughts for your consideration on this lovely Friday morning:
My reality (which I love, through and through, for the record) when the Lightning are on the road often entails missing the first few minutes of the first period, regardless of whether the game starts at 7:00 or 7:30. (Ergo, roadies outside the Eastern Time Zone do not apply.) You see, Papa JJ (by far my favorite of the many hats I wear) is usually either helping out with baths, bottles, diapers, bedtime or all of the above for one or both of my two young sons.
Though I’ve tried many times, I simply cannot get into the idea of watching on tape delay and catching up. Something just irks me, with sports, about what I’m currently seeing play out in front of me having already happened. And so, by the time I settle in on these kinds of evenings, oftentimes, much of the game story has already been told.
Case in point (I thought) last night, when I got comfortable on the couch with the Flyers already out to a 2-0 lead, 5:03 into the first period. “This was very predictable,” I remarked, having already gone on record to say that starting goaltender Dan Ellis again, after a relatively taxing win on Long Island the night before, was a questionable move on head coach Guy Boucher’s part. My muddled thinking would have given a struggling Mike Smith a go against the woeful Islanders and then Ellis in Philadelphia against a much stronger team. But, as it turned out, there was nothing at all predictable about last night’s outcome and, with the Bolts winning both of these games, once again in my life, I’m left wondering, “What the hell do I know?”
Answer? Not much, considering my botching the all-important calculations behind #StamkosMath momentarily during Tampa’s wild 8-7 win, for starters. At one point, thinking we were taking in Tampa Bay’s 18th game of the season, for some reason, I had Steven Stamkos projected to score over 82 goals after his second of the game (and 18th this year). Called out (thanks, Mr. DuBose), the error was amended – and how dare I be so irresponsible as to elevate the kid to a goal-per-game pace!
Of course, Stamkos completed his second hat trick this season in the third period and that’s 19 goals in 19 games, folks. Maybe I was onto something…
Score against Buffalo Saturday and that would be 20-in-20.
So, beyond that, just when can we begin to think about… You know…
Aw, hell… Why not? I’m the guy that called this Stamkos’ team, long before anyone else had the stones to do so, circa Halloween last year. What is there to convince us that the dynamic talent Stamkos has become can’t manage 50-in-50?
Well, there is the cold, hard truth that says it hasn’t been done since Mario Lemieux in 1995-1996 [edit: Okay, officially not since Brett Hull in 1991-92 – whatever] and history dictates that Stamkos would need to notch another hat trick or two – and several multi-goal games over the course of the next 31 – to have a real shot but nobody thought this kid would be “Rocket” Richard Trophy-good last year and, with the 25-game mark far closer, are you going to argue that he can’t score six more between now and then? That’d be halfway to the epic feat, something we would most certainly have to acknowledge… And I’d take that bet for sure.
I’d call it improbable, at best, but the fact that he’s scoring in a variety of ways that still includes a healthy dose of the trademark one-timer opposing teams quite literally know is coming, coupled with uncharted levels of confidence that Stamkos now exudes certainly gives him at least some chance.
Either way, the 82-goal, 151-point pace he’s set (again, brought to you by #StamkosMath) is simply remarkable, 50-in-50 or not. (Another bet I’d take? If not this year, he’ll get it someday.)
Damian Cristodero of the St. Pete Times reports that Stamkos’ agents and Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman have begun the formal process of negotiating a contract extension for the NHL’s leading scorer. Good news (that we had been expecting for some time) that should quell the concerns of the many fans who have contacted myself and others, presumably, on the matter in recent weeks.
Cristodero quotes Yzerman as prioritizing a smooth, behind-the-scenes approach to the negotiations, with as little disruption as possible:
“Coming out of the meeting, both sides thought it was important to do this quietly. We want Steven to play hockey with no distractions.”
So far, I’d say the kid appears focused, wouldn’t you?
How fitting that, in a fifteen-goal game, the winner is scored by a mucker like Nate Thompson? We’ve praised the likes of Sean Bergenheim, Adam Hall and Dominic Moore here consistently this year but here’s a guy who deserves some extra accolades too. A waiver claim from the Islanders last year, Thompson’s been everything the team could hope for, playing in key situations – on the penalty kill, in on important faceoffs and late in games to close things out – and his third tally of the season last night was a fitting reward for a guy who is the quintessential hardhat player.
That, too, unpredictable… But fitting, nonetheless.
The other day, I made mention of the surprising truth of this year’s Lightning being just about as good as last year’s squad at this time and that they’d need five of six points on the current road trip to match last year’s point total at the indicative 20-game mark.
Maybe they heard me, cause they’re four-for-four so far. And maybe they don’t want any part of being linked to last year’s team (or any other from the past few seasons, for that matter) from this point forward.
A win in Buffalo on Saturday would pull them ahead of that pace… And, who knows? Maybe there’s no looking back (finally?) at that point.
There is much work to be done still and I think a lot of that starts with the defense. In fact, I know it does… And so does Coach Boucher, who spoke of some of the defensive woes from last night to the Times:
“All [Philly’s] goals except one came from bad box-outs in front of our net. We have to be better at boxing out and hunting sticks.”
It should be noted, in fairness, that I am not basing any observations about the Lightning defense on last night’s game alone (nor is Boucher, undoubtedly). When a game gets that out of hand that quickly, nobody’s going to come out looking any kind of shiny.
But, since we mentioned last year’s team a moment ago, we may as well address the fact that this very misstep of poor coverage down low was consistently problematic for the Bolts over the course of the last two seasons and maybe even further. Though the cast of characters has improved – JJ says: Brett Clark is aces – that tendency is a killer and Tampa Bay has been in need of what used to be known as crease-clearing in the worst way for seemingly, well, forever.
You can’t hack the guy to death in front anymore but you can do as Boucher says and box out. (Think basketball, after a free throw… Kind of… Now stop thinking basketball… Because basketball sucks.) It’s about body position and forcing the opponent to go places he doesn’t want to go. The Bolts haven’t done a good job of that as a team on a regular basis in as long as I can remember. Worse yet, they still seem to be stuck in the habit of just kind of standing around at times in this exact area of concern. Mattias Ohlund, for example, was guilty of this several times last night.
Beyond Clark and Victor Hedman, neither of whom I really have any complaints about, personally, and, to a lesser extent, Pavel Kubina, it sure looks to these eyes like the Lightning could use a little added defensive depth. Ohlund has been a disappointment – just dreadful overall against the Flyers, in my opinion – and Mike Lundin, after a stellar effort last season, has been beaten individually all too often. Randy Jones, Matt Smaby and Mathieu Roy as fill-ins are best suited as just that, but the current numbers dictate at least one of them in the lineup nightly (two, if Boucher gets his wish of seven ‘D’) and a bolstering of the blueline would lessen the load there.
Again, though, what do I know? I’m just an unfrozen caveman blogger, whose opinions, if the Lightning were the Islanders, may have already drawn the revocation of credentials by this point.
(But upgrade the ‘D’ a little anyway. K?)
Finally, today, one last note on the controversy surrounding that Islander decision to ban blogger extraordinaire, Chris Botta, from their practices and games.
Botta has drawn widespread support from fellow members of the hockey media and was the guest of several radio shows yesterday, culminating in an appearance on Versus’ NHL Overtime show last night, telling his side of a story that has become a hot topic throughout the league.
From his spot with Mike Francesa on New York’s WFAN to an appearance on Hockey Night in Canada Radio with Jeff Marek to the interview spot on Versus, all parties made mention of attempts to be fair with efforts to contact the Islanders for their side of things as well.
And guess what?
In each instance, the Islanders were said to either be unavailable for comment or flat out did not return a phone call.
What are you hiding up there anyway?
Sad. Truly, truly sad.
I’m out, folks. Enjoy the weekend.
Filed in: NHL Teams, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL Media, Hockey Broadcasting, Eye On the Media, Hockey Bloggers, | KK Hockey | Permalink
Tags: chris+botta, guy+boucher, nate+thompson, steve+yzerman, steven+stamkos
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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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