Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Jon Jordan on 11/10/10 at 12:41 PM ET
From a Tampa Bay Lightning perspective, all was quite good at the St. Pete Times Forum last night and, while a 4-0 shutout for the home squad makes the latter parts of Good/Bad/Ugly slightly more difficult for yours truly, we’ll take it. (And it sure beats most of the G, B & Us put together in years past where the Good was often a stretch and the Bad and Ugly could have gone on for days.)
What started as an outright joke, as in, “Steven Stamkos is currently on pace for 98 goals this season,” is becoming less funny and more scary good serious with every tally for the 20-year-old Lightning superstar. With two more last night, Stamkos’ early season line of 13 goals and 11 assists for 24 points is better than Crosby, better than Ovechkin, better than the entire league and setting a breakneck pace that, as everyone’s new favorite hashtag, #stamkosmath, is documenting by-the-second (well, sort of) on Twitter, projects roughly to a 76-goal, 141-point total over 82 games. (In the interest of showing marksman-like precision, #stamkosmath actually dictates that 91’s projected numbers are 76.142857 goals and 140.57143 points.)
In all seriousness, after last season’s emergence as a top-three talent in the league (sorry, folks, but there is no debating as much now), could Stamkos have asked for a better start to follow-up that performance? What’s astonishing is not that he’s picked up exactly where he left off but that he truly looks to be getting better on a game-by-game basis.
Consider the adjustments he’s making to teams attempting to defend his trademark one-timer on the power play, including this last night:
You’ll notice that Stamkos hangs awfully low in the Toronto zone as the puck is worked around – away from his customary high-circle post – and then springs back into that familiar territory at just the right time before a defender can adjust, allowing him to get off the very shot the opponent thought they were successfully avoiding. That’s game-planning and coaching, yes, but it’s also execution. And Stamkos, along with a few patient teammates on the power play unit, gets yet another pat on the back for that.
It works for several reasons but, perhaps more than any other, because Stamkos has scored from everywhere so far this year, forcing the opposition to pay close attention to him no matter where the dynamic scorer is positioned. Case in point, goal two last night (for Stamkos, the Lightning’s fourth of the evening) coming on a rebound chance from directly in front of the Toronto crease.
There’s fun in numbers and #stamkosmath is showing us just that through 14 games this year. (If this pace keeps up, you might find the very term used by Stamkos’ agents when negotiating his forthcoming contract extension with Lightning GM Steve Yzerman.)
Ideally, the Bolts were looking for the cliché 1/1A situation in goal when bringing in Dan Ellis from Nashville (via Montreal, technically) during free agency this summer. Through the first 14, it looks as though that’s just what they’re getting.
Ellis, of course, pitched his second shutout of the season last night, stopping 28 Toronto shots and, at times, was simply spectacular. Check out this flurry from late in the second, which culminated in highway robbery on Tyler Bozak not once but twice:
Bozak’s frustration tells a real story there.
But back to a different tale; that of the emerging effectiveness of the Lightning’s goaltending duo:
Ellis’ stats (2.11 G.A.A., .924 save percentage and the two shutouts) are significantly better than those of his counterpart, Mike Smith (3.43, .881) but, in the one department that truly matters, wins and losses, each netminder has doubled-up where it counts. Ellis is 4-2-2 and Smith 4-2-0 and, as we’ve consistently mentioned on The Bolts Beat this season and, as I noted on XM 204’s Extra Point with “Boomer” Gordon yesterday, each goalie, for the most part, is making the key saves when necessary for his club. For a team that has clearly showed a penchant for scoring, that’s about all you can ask from your men in the crease.
And now, with Ellis clearly emerging as the 1 to Smith’s 1A and proving capable of throwing up a goose egg here and there, if that offense ever falters, Tampa Bay knows it still has a fighting chance.
Gritty, Gutty Go-To Guys
They’re scoring in bunches and getting solid goaltending. Their defense is improved and coaching, well… Yeah, they have that going for them too. And, clearly, the morale of the new regime from the top on down continues to pay dividends throughout the organization.
But one of the biggest differences in this club this season that doesn’t get a lot of run is the impact of several key role players.
Sean Bergenheim, Adam Hall, Dominic Moore and Nate Thompson headline a cast of supporting characters that bring a hard-work demeanor to the Lightning lineup that sways the game in their favor in such a way that it often times can’t be measured.
Last night, however, Moore and Thompson made sure their efforts were indeed measurable, with each getting on the scoreboard in between the offense that Stamkos provided. Moore was his usual versatile self, playing a sound game in all situations in addition to scoring his fifth of the season, while Thompson engaged Toronto’s Mike Brown in a second period scrap for good measure and blocked a couple of Maple Leaf shots.
As for those other bit-parters, Bergenheim may not have hit the scoresheet in this one but how about his leading all skaters with five shots on goal and creating several other scoring chances? The former Islander is simply always in the middle of things.
And Hall was everywhere as well, spending more time killing penalties (with the Lightning a perfect five-for-five in that department) than any other Tampa Bay forward, and filling in admirably for a hobbled Steve Downie alongside Stamkos and Martin St. Louis for much of the evening.
The big names might always get the bulk of the glory but it’s the hardhat types that make all the difference in the world.
I know, I know: How is this bad?
First, as I said before, it’s a good thing for you fans when the Bad and Ugly sections are admittedly each a stretch. Patience.
And secondly, neither the goaltender interference penalty to Stamkos less than a minute in, nor Thompson’s tripping call that led to the 5-on-3 opportunity for Toronto were “no-doubter” penalties. (Alas, we’ve come to come to expect this sort of thing regularly. And that’s just what Mike’s Missed Call of the Week segment on The Bolts Beat is there for.)
But, as Lightning head coach Guy Boucher has said a couple of times this season when calls haven’t exactly gone their way, the Bolts shouldn’t even be putting themselves in the position to where these types of calls can be made. Whether you can swallow the specific calls or not, in last night’s game, they did just that and, in what very well could have been a classic trap game, what with the Lightning relieved to be home (even for a moment) after a lengthy road trip and all, that situation could have set them up for certain disaster.
Nevertheless, it didn’t. In fact, the work done on that particular penalty kill probably set the tone for the rest of the game and, thus, the Lightning turned this Bad into a positive.
So there… That wasn’t all that bad (Bad?), was it?
Word was prior to game time that despite Boucher labeling Downie a major question mark for the game against the Leafs, the rugged Lightning forward was, in fact, going to go last night. As it turned out, he wasn’t out there for pre-game warm-ups and Tampa Bay sat him out in favor of a seventh defenseman in Matt Smaby.
Downie’s inability to suit up was first labeled a lower body injury and then was corrected to that of the upper body variety which, naturally, led to a few “inner” jokes among myself and my colleagues from the podcast but is really no joking matter concerning a true “gamer” who wouldn’t sit unless he absolutely had to.
Remember that Downie has been dealing with a bit of a wonky back, though this was said to be unrelated.
They did make do without him for a night but getting Downie’s spark back in time for Washington (with whom he does have a bit of a history) could surely be a difference maker in that game on Thursday.
Simon Says What, Exactly?
Simon Gagne’s neck troubles continue to keep him out of the Lightning lineup which is an ongoing worry in that no one’s really sure exactly what is going on there.
The team has consistently said that this is not a concussion issue, as Gagne has reportedly been cleared of as much more than once. But, while he is feeling better and was said to be riding the stationary bike as recently as Monday, he is not practicing and was to undergo a nerve conduction test to monitor nerve patterns in the area of concern.
The good news is, the team is doing quite well without their prized free agent acquisition. The ugly part here is that one would think, with far more questions than answers about his health at this point, we may not be seeing Gagne in the Tampa Bay lineup any time soon, especially when you consider the fact that Gagne has missed large chunks of time at several points earlier in his career.
Even when Gagne does return, expectations will have to be tempered. After all, he didn’t exactly have a flourishing start to his Lightning career, with not a single point in six games and a minus-8 rating. It will, one can assume, be just like starting all over again in this new environment only this time, after recovering from a significant, lingering injury.
The carrot dangled in front of all of this, of course, remains the added offensive boost that a healthy Simon Gagne can bring.
Unfortunately, there’s no telling how far away that is from becoming reality in Tampa.
The Boogeyman Scores!
It’s quite a good thing for the Lightning when I’m closing out the latest G, B & U with the ugliness of a goal by Derek Boogaard of the New York Rangers, especially when Boogaard and the Blueshirts were facing someone other than Tampa Bay.
This is also, no doubt, a good thing for Boogaard, in that his last goal came on January 7th, 2006 (when, to put things in perspective for Lightning fans, a 16-year-old Steven Stamkos was in the midst of a 105-goal campaign for the OHA’s Markham Waxers).
We’ll close out this edition of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly with the “beauty” of a Derek freakin’ Boogaard breakaway goal:
JJ’s Three Cheers for last night go to:
***Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, for his two-goal performance (and that 76.142857-goal pace!)
**Carolina’s Eric Staal, who picked up four assists in a 7-1 Hurricanes trouncing of the Edmonton Oilers.
*Derek freakin’ Boogaard, in the big time cheers department, for the aforementioned glorious goal, despite his Rangers falling to Washington 5-3. Hell, why not? After all, this Hailey’s Comet-type moment deserves as much pub as it can get…
Filed in: NHL Teams, New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals, | KK Hockey | Permalink
Tags: dan+ellis, derek+boogaard, dominic+moore, eric+staal, mike+smith, nate+thompson, simon+gagne, simon+gagne, steve+downie, 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.
From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.
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