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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Lightning/Stars, 10/18/10

When you get waxed as the Tampa Bay Lightning did Saturday night in Sunrise, 6-0 to the Florida Panthers, all you can ask for is a rebound to the tune of two points in the following game. The Bolts got just that last night against Dallas, so complaints can be held to a minimum. Besides, as head coach Guy Boucher said during the preseason, this team won’t be at their best in the first 5, 10, 15 games of the season. And who would want them to be? Certainly, all would rather a club peak much, much (much, much, much) later, no?

Nevertheless, analyze we must.

Hence, the original: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly...

The Good

Please, Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em
I contest the level of “good” here, actually, since, as I noted on Twitter last night, Steven Stamkos’ “Hammer” alter ego, which many of us thought to be quite corny upon its inception last season, has become so widely accepted that my sarcastic M.C. Hammer references and song quotes have been rendered virtually irrelevant. Still, Stamkos notched a goal and a pair of helpers last night (despite some struggles in the defensive zone), giving him five goals and nine points in the Lightning’s first five games this season.

I may crack a wisenheimer line here or there about how that puts him on some 82-goal, 140-something point pace (or whatever the math comes out to at any given time) but let’s be dead serious about one thing here: This kid is franchise-good.

It was evident very, very early last season (at least it was to me, anyway) that Stamkos had taken things to a whole new level far sooner than most expected. We all saw how that turned out.

And though there were no leading indicators to say Stamkos would take a step back in 2010-11, it is fairly common to expect as much after a young player has their first breakout year.

But there’s been a statement made from the onset by the Lightning’s 20-year-old megastar that last season was just the beginning.

Just what is he capable of? That remains to be seen, though whispers of some awfully lofty numbers have already been thrown about by long-time NHL dignitaries. And in Boucher’s uber-aggressive system, go, go, go will suit 91’s game just fine. What’s more encouraging for the Lightning – and dreadfully frightening for opponents – is that Stamkos has opened up his bag of tricks even further, burying chances this year on tips and from grittier areas. Last night’s tally is a fine example:

 

I saw his emergence as a superstar coming in late October last year, just as I see his place among the game’s top three talents being cemented a little less than a full trip through the calendar later.

Crosby, Ovechkin, Stamkos. Mark it down.

Heady Heddy
I took a mini-swipe at a poorly-timed pinch or two from Victor Hedman in the last edition of the G, B & U, admitting that it was nitpicking at its finest. After an intelligently played game last night, where Hedman led all skaters in ice time, was sound defensively and recorded a pair of assists, he deserves proper kudos in turn.

But it was something that was unexpectedly noted last season by many of us in Hedman’s play, recognized as well by Boucher last night, that may end up being the biggest accelerator in turning Hedman from premier prospect to impact defenseman:

“He’s got a lot of emotion,” said Boucher of 2009’s 2nd overall pick. “He’s got jump because of that. He’s got drive.”

“He’s progressing real fast – probably, since the beginning of the year, he’s the player that’s progressing the fastest.”

Hedman’s accountability, also mentioned by Boucher and something that was recognized by the previous coaching staff as well, is another feather in his cap. When he makes a mistake, he wants right back out there. As last night’s game showcased, his mistakes are giving way to successes.

His efforts of a night ago were rewarded with first star honors and, as an impact defenseman – perhaps as soon as, oh, now? – that’s something Lightning fans can expect more of in the future.

More from Moore
We’ve sung his praises on The Bolts Beat and his “DNA of the Game” honors were chronicled here last week as well but not enough can be said about what Dominic Moore is bringing to the Lightning early on in his tenure here. And the genetic makeup of Moore the player might actually be where it all begins.

With two more goals, for an early season, just-behind-Stamkos total of four, Moore’s underrated offensive prowess has already shone through. But it’s what’s engrained in a player like Moore – the work ethic, tenacity, versatility and grit – that coaches and management staffs dream of. Moore’s key shot-blocking in the waning seconds further emphasizes the wide range of attributes he can contribute to team success.

And a bonus for Tampa? They have several players that fit a similar mold. Sean Bergenheim, Adam Hall, Nate Thompson and Dana Tyrell, to varying extents, can contribute at both ends of the ice and all, it just so happens, played a big part in last night’s win.

Players with Moore’s intangibles influence teammates. And when you can run off a quartet of other players who have those same qualities that quickly?

The character on this team is striking.

The Bad

Close Call
No one wanted to mention it post-game, though it was surely in the back of everyone’s mind that the Lightning, for the second time in as many home contests, took their collective foot off of an opponent’s throat and allowed them back into a game.

This time, the behind-the-net travels of Mike Smith (and some defensive confusion) led to a Brenden Morrow goal that shrunk a 5-2 Lightning lead to 5-3 and then, in what was probably a foregone conclusion, a trademark Brad Richards pass found the stick of James Neal for Dallas’ 4th goal before Tampa Bay hunkered down and squeaked out the 5-4 decision.

That it got so hairy may be an unintentional systemic result. Consider: The Bolts are still transitioning into Boucher’s intense, push-the-pace attack and the defense – the team defense – may take some time to adjust. After that go, go, go style for 50 some-odd minutes, it is conceivable that the simple lockdown method of finishing a game (chipping pucks out and keeping the opposition on permanent retreat to their own end) can get lost.

Of course, there’s something to be said, even, for sustained aggression. Never letting up. Relentlessness – another Boucher catchword. Win the game by three or four (or more). And, of course, Smith’s adventures that led to the third Dallas goal didn’t aid the cause.

But, again, it’s early, and this time will take its time before hitting full stride.

All that considered, life is still pretty rosy around the St. Pete Times Forum so far this year.

Please, Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em (As in Your Own Team!)
Three points will forgive a lot and the pair of defensive zone turnovers and penalties from Stamkos gets a pass therefore but, moving forward, that sort of thing has to be cleaned up.

It didn’t lead directly to a goal, as defenseman Michael Vernace’s similar goof did in Montreal, but Stamkos was guilty of cardinal sin numero uno in trying to go up the middle from deep in his own end to clear the puck from the Tampa zone. It led directly to a Dallas scoring chance and could have been worse.

One penalty was debatable, so full reprieve on that one and two turnovers plus one deserved minor equals three ‘X’ marks for Stamkos in this one. But three points washes all of that out, so we’re all square after all.

Three-point nights won’t often draw complaints anyway.

The Ugly

Shorties Kill
They didn’t pay for it, ultimately, but shorthanded goals are ugly (hence the placement here) and often killers. Toby Petersen opened the scoring last night with a goal on the Dallas penalty kill, showing some impressive speed down the right wing on the play. It wasn’t a terrible goal allowed by Smith, really, but one he’d probably like to have back, especially in a scoreless game to that point.

Slightly more concerning is that the play nearly repeated itself on a couple of occasions later in the game, where errant passes in the neutral zone led to odd-man chances for the Stars.

More little things that will need to be cleaned up and, ugly as it may be, no major cause for concern.

Poutine Bot
(You know things are going pretty well when your Ugly section includes mentions of Twitter bots…)

So, during the game last night, I razzed an old friend employed by the Lightning (and oh-so empowered by the command of their Twitter feed!) for rarely, if ever, showing my witty quips any retweet love. (I’m a self-admitted promotion whore and I’ll sell out at the snap of a finger for increased name/work exposure.)

Friend’s predictable response was, “Write something meaningful!”

Ouch, baby. Very ouch.

Minutes later, said official Tampa Bay Lightning Twitter feed retweets a fan’s mention of poutine – forgive me, I forget the context – which prompts me to fire off, “‘Write something meaningful!’ Poutine? Smooches…”

(You’re not lost. This is all completely pointless so far.)

And then comes the retweet from @Poutine_Bot, which drew a mention, and a subsequent retweet from @Poutine_Bot_Bot, which blew my mind.

Here’s the ugly part of it all (and, yeah, thanks for hanging in there): Who in the world has the time, desire and, worst of all, the fundamental purpose for creating a Twitter autobot that instantly publicizes any and all mentions of poutine?!?!?!?

Now that’s ugly.

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly… And the Fat?
I had the pleasure of enjoying the catered meal for media members, team folks, etc. at the Forum before last night’s game. (Had to, really, as my travels yesterday took me from home to work to the radio studio to the Forum, with no in-between.)

And I must say, what an incredibly improved spread from the last time I’d eaten there! There are upgrades all around the facility since the new regime stepped in and this, most definitely, is one of them. (So good, in fact, that I caught a whisper of some of the off-ice officials and, perhaps, others sending a thank-you card to Lightning owner Jeff Vinik for the more appetizing meal options when the upgrade first took place.)

But it’s a good thing I won’t “have to” be dining on site before games all that often because if that, my friends, is a recipe for some serious poundage. (A palatable “donation” gets one free reign in the eating quarters and I’ve never been what one might call disciplined in such an area.)

Marrying “Miss Fitness USA” five years ago in February was indeed my life’s greatest feat after all.

***

Bolts host the Islanders on Thursday night – always a fun

and not at all conflicting

matchup for yours truly.

JJ

jj@kuklaskorner.com
JJ on Twitter
The Bolts Beat podcast archive

Filed in: NHL Teams, Atlanta Thrashers, Carolina Hurricanes, Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: adam+hall, alex+ovechkin, brad+richards, brenden+morrow, dana+tyrell, dominic+moore, guy+boucher, james+neal, jeff+vinik, michael+vernace, mike+smith, nate+thompson, sean+bergenheim, sidney+crosby, steven+stamkos, toby+petersen, victor+hedman

Comments

Leo_Racicot's avatar

Outstanding recap, thanks.

That Stamkos rebound off of the Hedman shot should be a thing of beauty for Bolt fans in the years to come.

Posted by Leo_Racicot on 10/19/10 at 01:44 PM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

That type of goal, as I said, is a scary one for Stamkos to start scoring. That and a couple of tips in the opener, in addition to the one-timers he pops off in bunches… How good this kid gets with time is simply unfathomable.

JJ

Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 10/19/10 at 02:09 PM ET

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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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