Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Jon Jordan on 02/09/11 at 03:41 PM ET
As the second period of last night’s Sabres/Lightning game was nearing a close, anyone trying to get a jump on writing their game story had to feel pretty good about things.
Captain Vincent Lecavalier was putting together a dominant performance, the Bolts had a two-goal lead, goalie Dwayne Roloson looked sharp and entering the third period with a lead has been a near sure thing for this team, 22-1-1 in such a scenario before last night.
Once Thomas Vanek’s 20th goal of the year cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 3-2 with less than two minutes left in the middle frame, however, a not-so-fast vibe filled the St. Pete Times Forum. That Vanek, a notorious Lightning-killer, started the turn of Buffalo’s tides should be no surprise. That the game got as out of control as it did beyond that, though, should be.
And now, the return of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, with some cameo appearances from other games (so as not to overly depress the Lightning faithful):
Critics will discount this kind of performance in a losing effort, particularly a loss that ended up as lopsided as this one did, but Lecavalier was a force against Buffalo and that wasn’t lost on head coach Guy Boucher.
“I think Vinny could have had five goals tonight,” he said. “He was tremendous out there.”
Indeed he was: two goals, three points, ten shots, six on goal, three hits, three takeaways and 15-7 on draws. Beyond the stats, he was hungry, aggressive and a clear impact player. The end result of the contest aside, this is the Vinny Lecavalier people clamor for when the complaints begin to roll in – because of this very kind of production.
But again, stats or no stats, he was excellent against Buffalo, even in what ended up a very ugly loss.
Sean Bergenheim potted another pair of goals against Buffalo, giving him 10 on the season for a year-end projection of about 15. Not bad at all for a player who forever sought a clearly defined role on Long Island prior to joining Tampa Bay, where he has thrived in just that.
Bergenheim, along with fellow pluggers Dominic Moore, Nate Thompson, Adam Hall and Dana Tyrell has helped this team form its identity among the forward ranks and these workhorses deserve all kinds of credit for the team’s success this season.
Victor Hedman’s progression in his sophomore season has been steady, sustained and stabilizing. Against Buffalo, as things got a bit heated, Hedman showed the snarl that once surprised us but has become a very underrated part of his overall game.
He also exhibited some offensive flair, setting up Lecavalier’s first goal, on the latest of his end-to-end rushes that we’re starting to see more and more frequently from the 20-year-old. A must see:
Last year, Hedman may have hesitated in pursuing that puck, after temporarily losing control, but he’s gotten so much better at reading the play and picking his spots and this is a perfect example. By recognizing his ability to close the gap on Andrej Sekera with his speed, Hedman kept the pressure on the Buffalo defender and forced a turnover to continue his rush. And then, the capper: Finishing the play by finding an open and streaking Lecavalier.
Great things are ahead for Hedman – sooner than most think.
Turnovers and Penalties
The Lightning gave the puck away 13 times to Buffalo last night and afforded their opponent six power play chances. The latter only cost them once, in terms of a goal on the scoreboard but with an already depleted bench, the added loss of players consistently in the penalty box hurt. And multiple turnovers and lost puck battles led directly to Sabre goals.
There was also the Marc-Andre Bergeron blunder of tangling up with Buffalo’s Drew Stafford in front of the net, leading to Stafford’s upending of Roloson and Jordan Leopold’s tying goal. Witness:
Boucher noted that, had Leopold not scored on the play, Bergeron deserved a penalty, so add it to the list.
Down Goes Malone… And Smaby… And Downie
Already without Thompson and Mike Lundin for this one, the Lightning lost both Ryan Malone and Matt Smaby at different points in the game and Boucher made it sound like what was called a mid-body injury to Malone, who had just returned from missing five straight with a different mid-body injury, will keep him out a while.
Tough break for Malone and the Bolts because the player had started to produce as hoped and the team needs the kind of scoring depth he can provide.
Losing a forward and a defensemen (and then Downie, who was left hobbled after a Tyler Myers check but stayed in the game, to a misconduct penalty later) severely shortened Tampa’s bench but forward Adam Hall wasn’t making any excuses post-game.
“We’ve had injuries before and we’ve fought through a lot of adversity,” he said. “We know we have it in this locker room to be able to fight through that and that’s why it’s frustrating not to get it done tonight.”
Five Goals in the Third!
Five goals against in any third period deserves its own category as that would be far beyond ugly. But that was reality for the Lightning last night, who lost any semblance of composure in the final stanza.
Boucher seemed to think the wheels started to fall off on Vanek’s first goal and cited the old last-minute goal changing the momentum adage but it was evident to all eyes watching this one that the Lightning were down for the count after Buffalo took the lead.
One of the coach’s mandates is that his players forget about each game gone by and focus on the next, regardless of result. With that type of third period, the Bolts would be best to have last night completely out of their heads already.Disaster Island
Piling on the New York Islanders has been as easy as ever this season but, at some point, when does legitimate sympathy step in instead?
After dealing Roloson on New Year’s Day, backup goaltender Nathan Lawson soon after, missing out Evgeni Nabokov because he refuses to show up and losing goaltender Rick DiPietro to Brent Johnson’s haymaker, sudden number one Kevin Poulin goes down last night with a knee injury – in warm-ups – while skating through the crease all by himself. Wow.
Mikko Koskinen, already up far too soon in his career after a rough season at AHL Bridgeport, was forced into his first NHL action as CHL import Joel Martin, with just six games at Bridgeport under his belt after the Isles inked him out of necessity, was summoned to make the drive from Connecticut to back up, arriving late in the second period.
Unless GM Garth Snow is willing to don the pads once again and step in should Koskinen or Martin suddenly go down, absorbing the next round of whatever karmic punishment his franchise keeps enduring, then it’s time, hockey gods, to lay off.
There are many innocent souls playing hockey at the old barn in Uniondale who don’t deserve added hardships on top of another lost season.
Matt Cooke – Aaaaaaagain
We’ll keep it simple here. Is anyone surprised anymore?
Another day, another incident where Matt Cooke shows a complete lack of respect for the game and disregard for the well-being of a fellow player, after absolutely railroading Columbus’ Fedor Tyutin.
And a phone hearing takes place this morning, meaning a suspension of less than five games, in all likelihood.
Again, you surprised?
For a league that talks all the time about taking dirty hits out of the game and protecting its players, by not coming down with harsh discipline – and we’re talking real harsh, as in not using the “Wheel of Discipline” this time – on Cooke for the latest in the seemingly endless run of questionable, dirty and outright cowardly plays that has defined his career, they’re making it just that easy for him to return and do this very thing again.
No more time needs to be wasted writing about this guy and his shameful antics. The time came long ago for the league to step in and make an example out of a player like Cooke.
But they missed the boat on that before and, sadly, they’re missing it again it seems.
Filed in: NHL Teams, Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, | KK Hockey | Permalink
Tags: dwayne+roloson, fedor+tyutin, kevin+poulin, matt+cooke, rick+dipietro, ryan+malone, sean+bergenheim, victor+hedman, vincent+lecavalier
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