The holiday break is already over as NHL hockey starts again tonight. It’s funny how long this holiday break feels when you don’t get to see a game for a couple days. It makes me cringe when I think about a season with the possibility of no playoffs. Thank goodness the golfing is good everywhere that time of year. A little too cynical for the holiday season? All that aside, we have a game going on tomorrow against the Philadelphia Flyers. To me, this game shapes up as a great one despite the huge difference in the standings between these two clubs. There’s a little bit of history, great players and a lot on the line.
Every fan of these two teams remembers the whole 1-3-1 incident. I wrote a blog defending Guy Boucher’s right to play the trap and even weeks later I stand by that position. Not that I want to rehash the whole situation here, but neither coach was in the wrong. Nobody was breaking the rules and nothing was done to really compromise the integrity of the game. Do we want to see that sort of incident in a game every night? Absolutely not. While it was entertaining for the 30 seconds it went on, it would get boring really quickly. Still, I think Boucher was more in the right than Laviolette from a purely hockey standpoint. The trap has been used for years; Lavy’s interesting method of fighting it was a rather new take on “moving the puck”.
Now I’m sure Gary Bettman had his little chat with both organizations about how this was ruining his marketing strategy and all, but let’s be honest, it was good entertainment that would have been absolutely priceless on HBO’s 24/7. At the end of the day, what has this incident really done? It’s created a little bit of discussion and a bit of a rivalry. Isn’t that what the NHL wants most today? When the entire league was talking about this little 30 second segment of a game, it was great! The whole league was focused on the Lightning that night. Any press is good press, right? I believe that’s the old saying in the media world.
The Great Players
As I’ve voiced in my blogs before, I happen to think that Claude Giroux is the most complete player in the game. Sorry Sidney Crosby fans, this guy does it all. Not only is he one of the pure goal scorers in the game, he has a physical edge, he’s hard on the boards and he does it all very quietly. For a guy who’s on pace to be one of the league leaders in scoring in a big market, he’s going about it kind of quietly in my opinion. While he doesn’t bring the whole excitement factor to the same extent that a guy like our friend Steven Stamkos does, he’s still a riot to watch. If you were to extrapolate his current point production over an 82 game season, the guy would be on pace for a 118 point season. Not too shabby there, eh? If you think those numbers are impressive, the hot streak he’s on right now is equally if not more so. Giroux has 11 points in his last 5 games. He is going to be a huge handful for Hedman and Brewer to take care of.
I figure that it’s best to get the great Philly players out of the way first. Next up we have Scotty Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr. I won’t go into much detail on Jagr as I mentioned in my last pre-game blog for these two teams that I give the guy a lot of credit for coming back to the NHL and playing at a point-per-game pace. He’s one of those guys that just excites you when he skates into the zone. Even at the “elderly” age of 39, he is still one of the smoothest skating forwards in the game. Unlike Jagr, who does it all with raw talent, Scotty Hartnell is your working class player. He’s big, he’s physical and he comes across as downright friendly. Now, I’ve been a fan of Hartnell’s since his days back in Nashville. He’s just one of those guys who commands a lot of respect because of the work he does on the ice. Adding to that, he is silently on pace for the most offensive season of his career. With the departures of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, it’s nice to see Hartnell picking up the slack. That said, in Philly there isn’t much slack to be picked up. This team is scary good.
On the Lightning side of the puck, we have our beloved Steven Stamkos. Stammer is also on a little bit of a hot streak, though it looks weak in comparison to Giroux’s, with 7 points in his last 5 games. Every time he steps out on the ice, something exciting seems to follow. I love the whole aura this guy brings to the ice each and every single night. As I’ve said many times before, he is the most exciting player in the game by a country mile. His ability to bring fans to their feet just by skating into the zone is almost unmatched in this league. With these superstar guys it’s amazing how much we take them for granted. I thought I respected Stamkos and everything, but it wasn’t until I talked to fans from other cities that I really began to understand what we have in this guy. He’s a special player who should be able to carry this team for a really long time.
The other player of note in tomorrow’s game is Marty St. Louis. Since returning from the scary facial injury, St. Louis has a point in each of his two games played. It’s nice to see him come back and make an immediate impact as we all know that it can sometimes take some time before a player feels fully comfortable out there after an injury. That is probably most true in the cases of facial injuries like Marty’s. You always want to pull for the guys who wear their hearts on their sleeves and just do everything to get the team a win. St. Louis is one of those guys. Here’s hoping for a big night from the man on Tuesday.
On the Line
There’s a lot on the line tonight with regards to position in the standings. We’ll begin with the Lightning. With a win tomorrow, the Lightning would leapfrog the Montreal Canadiens in the standings by virtue of having a game in hand. Both teams would be tied with 33 points with the Lightning having played 35 to the Habs’ 36. Okay, so it’s not like the Bolts can jump into an elusive playoff position with a win tomorrow, but I do feel that every situation like this is important. If the Bolts truly want to make a run at the post-season, they’ll have to pass a few teams at some point. Each time we have a shot to do so, there’s a lot on the line. Right now, the Lightning are 8 points back of the 8th place Ottawa Senators with 2 games in hand. Down the stretch, I feel like there’s a good shot for a few teams ahead of the Bolts to fall back.
There’s a lot more on the line for the Flyers tomorrow. With a Philly win and a Rangers loss, the Flyers would move into first place in the Eastern Conference. I know, I know, I know; it’s not playoff time. Still, it’s always nice to hold down that first place spot when your head hits the pillow for sleepy time. Knowing you are in first just creates a certain mentality that is tough to stop. Ask the Canucks of last season? Oh, we are in first? Sure let’s continue on a run to the President’s Trophy. Thank you.
I would assume that Mathieu Garon will get the start on Tuesday but you just never know with this team. His performance in the last game against Colorado was the first bit of inspiring goaltending that the Bolts have seen in quite some time. Could you imagine if he could play like that for a good stretch of games? The playoffs wouldn’t seem like such a farfetched idea. It’s actually kind of funny to think about things that way. Right now, the playoffs do seem kind of distant. Imagining we had solid goaltending makes them seem almost guaranteed. You know your goaltending is an issue when…..
Everyone is going to have to be on the top of their game tomorrow if the Bolts want to beat the Flyers. It doesn’t take a lot for the Flyers to flex their muscles and just dominate nearly every team in this league. While I think the Lightning have a shot in this game, I’m scared that the hot forwards Philly boasts are just going to overpower our weak defense. It’s becoming an issue that cannot be ignored for much longer. When fans are scared every time a high octane offensive team comes to town, you know things are bad. Steve Yzerman must see that and know that he is going to have to do something unless he wants a high draft pick this coming summer.
My last note that is somewhat game related pertains to Philly’s trade of Mike Richards to Los Angeles. As I follow the Kings, I’ve found it incredibly interesting to note that while Philly has been lights out without Richards, he is the only thing keeping the Kings above level ground right now. It’s been said that good hockey trades are the ones that help both teams. That adage seems to be holding true here.
On a completely unrelated subject, as the year comes to a close this week, I just wanted to thank each and every one of you for your support over the last three months here at MYHB. It’s been a true pleasure writing here and I look forward to continuing my Lightning coverage in the New Year. Your readership and comments always managed to keep me entertained and engaged and I hope that continues into a healthy and prosperous 2012 for all.
Thanks for reading and have a great Boxing Day. There’s going to be some great sales going on!
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