by Mike Chen on 10/04/08 at 01:41 PM ET
While Tampa Bay celebrates having the Devil Rays actually do something meaningful, I’m much more interested in the beginning of the Steven Stamkos era. It’s 8:45 AM PST and I’m revved up for an actual regular season game. This post will be a liveblog of the first period between the Rangers and Lightning from Prague, Czech Republic (unfortunately, a family event will force me to Tivo the rest of the game) but rather than just comment on the game in general, I’m gonna answer the damn “Seen Stamkos?” question and put an emphasis on Stamkos and his shifts.
Of course, there will be plenty else to note, like coach Barry Melrose’s style, the status of Vincent Lecavalier’s shoulder, and the pseudo-defense that those wacky guys in Tampa Bay have put together. Time to brew some coffee (I am NOT a morning person)...
8:50: Here’s the setup—my standard-def TV (yeah, yeah, I know…) with the NHL Network on, a big bowl of cereal and a steaming cup of coffee. Not the usual setup for watching hockey, but whatever works, right? Nice fluff piece on NHL Network about Sidney Crosby—wow, watch Sid look pensive while…fishing on the harbor.
8:52: Hey, waaaaaaaaaaay off topic, a quick flip to the news and O.J. Simpson’s been found guilty. Guess you can’t get away with everything after all. Now I don’t have to worry about him breaking into my house and stealing my autographed Dan Boyle bobblehead.
8:54: First Stamkos mention of my morning: on the way out to commercial, “At the top of the hour, the Rangers taking on Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning.”
8:58: I’m really glad that people stopped thinking that games in October don’t matter. Gary Green and Larry Murphy just talked about how great starts are so important, a complete reverse of how people felt even just a decade ago.
8:59: It’ll be interesting to see how the Czech crowd reacts. Is Vinny Prospal the one they’ll be getting behind? Also, weird seeing Markus Naslund warming up in a Ranger 91.
9:01: Hey, we’re stealing the CBC’s feed! Oh Caaaaaaaaa-na-da.
9:02: Shirtless Ryan Malone in the locker room. Nice tats all over his body. Vinnie Lecavalier’s dressing, if anyone was worried that his shoulder would hold him out at the last minute.
9:03: Oh, snap! Mike Milbury just compared Jaromir Jagr in NYR to his time with Alexei Yashin. Kelly Hrudey expects an up-tempo style similar to Torts in Tampa Bay and pegs the pressure not on Stamkos but on Mike Smith in net. By the way, almost every mention of the Lightning between the NHL Network and CBC have been about Stamkos, not Lecavalier. Good to see Marc Crawford be self-deprecating about his time in LA. No video, though, so we don’t know if his hair moved.
9:05: STAMKOS! In an interview, he says it’s an “honor” and a “great trip”...ok, so he’s not the next Jeremy Roenick when it comes to quotes.
9:06: Hey, that’s San Jose’s Randy Hahn doing the voiceover for the NHL 2K9 commercial. Wonder how that affects Randy and Drew Remenda’s drinking game they talk about during broadcasts (“Icing on the power play and that’s never a good thing”—take a drink).
9:09: Here we go. Drop the puck! There’s the mullet behind the bench. Your opening Tampa line: Lecavalier, Prospal, St. Louis. For the Rangers, Gomez, Drury, and someone I can’t see. I hear “Let’s Go Rangers” chants.
9:12: Hey, there’s Mark Recchi with Jussi Jokinen. I forgot they signed him. Line change and Stamkos is on the ice.
9:13: Stamkos is out with Vrbata and Malone and loses his first faceoff. His line is having a tough first shift against Markus Naslund. Crawford notes that the Bolts will worry about playing D wall season. Stamkos off, Chris Gratton on.
9:15: So far, Lecavalier’s speed looks and shot look strong. He’s able to shoulder off Kalinan, so it’s looks good early on. We’re going top line versus top line. It’s Naslund with Gomez and Drury.
9:16: Marc Crawford can’t pronounce Zherdev. “Zer-dei-ev”
9:17: Hooooooo boy, it’s gonna be a long season for poor Mike Smith. They can’t handle the Ranger cycle. Here comes Stamkos again.
9:19: Good little burst of speed by Stamkos but you can see that he doesn’t have the upper body strength yet to shoulder off defenders with force. Still, a nice little setup with Vrbata and that’s one shot for Stamkos (backhand into Lundqvist).
9:20: The Lecavalier line looks dynamite. The rest of the Lightning, not so much.
9:21: Power play.Jokinen, Recchi, Carle, Malone, and Prospal to start.
9:22: Here comes the top line. Meszaros is now on the point butt Carle’s still out there. Great deke move by Vinnie, better stop by Lundqvist. Looks like Mullet isn’t putting Stamkos on the PP yet.
9:24: Replay of Lecavalier going into the boards. All eyes on Vinnie’s shoulder but he looks solid so far.
9:25: Stamkos back out there. Home-run pass to the point that’s a great idea but missed in execution. That’ll come in time. Hey, Crawford just stole my thought.
9:26: It looks like Mullet will be riding Meszaros and Carle on D. I saw plenty of Carle here in San Jose and hopefully Melrose will build his confidence rather than destroy it like Ron Wilson did.
9:27: A shot of Mullet on the bench…and his mullet isn’t as free-flowing as it used to be. Barry, that’s not cool.
9:30: A constant thing I’m seeing—if the Lightning forwards can get the puck, they can get out of the zone. But when it’s up to the D, they struggle with puck possession. Meszaros (in the box) has an A already?
9:32: Mike Smith sure likes to wander out of position. Confidence or stupidity?
9:34: I might have missed it but I didn’t see Lecavalier on the PK. He’s usually out with St. Louis…maybe Mullet is holding him back to ease his shoulder into things?
9:37: Stamkos’s Sarnia Sting coach predicts he will score 25 goals this year. My prediction? 23 goals, 37 assists.
9:38: I haven’t commented too much on the Rangers as I’m focusing more on the Lightning side. However, Gomez looks confident and shifty out there with some sneaky passes and good stickhandling. Stamkos back on the ice and he’s lost another faceoff.
9:39: That was a short shift.
9:40: Another Ranger power play. Let’s see if Stamkos gets PP time this time.
9:41: A new look for the Bolt PP: Recchi, Lecavalier, Vrbata, St. Louis, Meszaros. Good stop by Smith on the Drury breakaway, Recchi’s playing the point.
9:42: No Stamkos on the PP still. It’s Jokinen, Malone, and Prospal up front.
9:44: Last minute of play in the first period, and this time a Bolts penalty. Looks like no more Stamkos this period unless Mullet wants to test him on the PK.
9:45: Interesting how Renney has an all-young scoring line and an all-veteran scoring line. It’s something we wouldn’t have seen during the Jagr/Shanahan days of yesteryear.
9:46: And that’s it for the first period. A quick look at the line for Stamkos and it’s one shot, one scoring change, and no faceoff wins. It looks like that despite the bravado and the marketing campaign, the Lightning are trying to ease Stamkos into things despite a fairly successful preseason. That’s a smart thing as there’s no need to rush him into anything, despite what the Lightning marketing team wants.
Some other thoughts: Lecavalier’s timing may still be recovering from his shoulder but he still looks strong and worries about him not being able to perform should be forgotten. Mark Recchi’s getting a ton of ice time in all situations, though I doubt that’ll last throughout the season. I can’t believe how much ice time Matt Carle’s getting but really, who’s above him on the depth chart in Tampa Bay? On the Rangers side, the combo of Drury/Gomez/Naslund looks good so far, and of the young guys I’d say Brandon Dubinsky’s probably looked the best.
Of course, this is all of one period into the new season. Still, I hope that if Stamkos goes on to have a Hall-of-Fame career, he’ll look back at this liveblog as a critical document of his very first game. Maybe it’ll even get me into the Hall of Fame as an artifact of the time! Or not.
Ok, that closes up this liveblog as I’ve gotta attend to a cousin-in-law’s return from the Air Force. I’ll be “Seeing Stamkos” on Tivo later this afternoon.
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