It’s amazing how gratifying two wins can feel. After beating up on the Flyers and squeezing by the Canadiens, the Lightning close out this current three game home stand with a tilt against the Carolina Hurricanes. If there was ever a game the team wanted to play on home ice, this would be it. The Bolts’ problems haven’t been at the newly re-named Tampa Bay Times Forum, they have been on the road. That holds true for the ‘Canes as well. At home, the Bolts are 10-5-0. While it’s not exactly a record that screams powerhouse, it is respectable enough to be considered a “playoff-like” home record. On the other side of the spectrum, the ‘Canes’ road record is a dismal 4-10-4. Based on that alone, you would think that the Bolts will have a great chance to win this one.
First and foremost, let’s address that the Toronto Maple Leafs may have woken the sleeping giant last night. Eric Staal was truly dominant and downright fantastic in last night’s comeback victory for the Canes. To me, when he’s on, Staal is a much bigger threat than Jeff Skinner just because of his size. He can overpower players left, right and center. All the trade talk surrounding the guy confuses me a little bit. Sure, he’s having a below average season. But let’s be honest here, he is an emotional guy who really does lead that team. I don’t see any reason for GM Jim Rutherford to pull the trigger on that one.
As for the Lightning, well they come in having won two important games in a row. I’ve outlined it many times, but I believe that this is the make-or-break point of the season. I wasn’t expecting a win against Philly but I was expecting one in Montreal. There hasn’t been a better time to be wrong this season. Last game especially, the Bolts showed that they can come back and have that resilience that we saw last year. You never really did feel like the Bolts were out of the Habs game. That’s a feeling most fans haven’t had since last season.
It’s important not to take the Hurricanes lightly. Despite having the second worst record in the Eastern Conference, they still boast some challenges. As I pointed out above, Eric Staal is one of the best power players in the game. Combine that with a great goalie in Cam Ward and this ‘Canes team should be a lot higher in the standings. We can only hope that Burkie and his Maple Leafs didn’t start the turnaround at the wrong time.
Even before Paul Maurice was fired, I didn’t think this was a terrible team. Now that he’s gone and Kirk Muller is at the helm, I’m even more confident in that assessment. Kirk Muller is this year’s version of Guy Boucher. He is a product of the Montreal Canadiens’ coaching system and he knows how to win. Look for him to pose a tough coaching challenge for Boucher to overcome.
It wouldn’t be a complete game preview without looking at a few of the players. I’ve already mentioned Eric Staal who had a monster game for the Hurricanes last night, but let’s look at some Lightning players.
Stamkos continues to be red hot and man, has he found the scoring touch. His ability to just create offense out of a seemingly harmless play continues to amaze me. When he was drafted by the Bolts, I thought he’d be good. I had no idea he would be this good. His development into a superstar was so quick and full of excitement. Let’s hope his stellar play of late continues into this next game. The other Lightning player I want to take a look at is Mathieu Garon. Based his previous three performances, you’d have to assume that he will be getting the start tomorrow. It’s not a lot of rest for the goaltender, but even without rest he’s a better option than Roloson. Garon’s home ice record this season is just spectacular and his stats reflect that. Even though goaltending has been an issue for this club, he has definitely been worthy of number one status at the TBTF. The problem is that most fans weren’t noticing that just because Roloson was playing the majority of the home games.
Well there’s your game preview for the ‘Canes tilt. I hope you’re all looking forward to it as much as I am. What are your predictions for this one? Before I end this blog, I’ve got two more little tidbits to put in.
In response to the Hockeybuzz Hotstove’s suprises/disappointments, I have drafted up my own:
After reading the Hockeybuzz Hotstove yesterday, I came up with two “surprise” players and two “disappointment” players for my own list. Here’s my response to the Hotstove.
This was probably the easiest selection to make. Phil Kessel plays on a team without a true number one centerman yet he continues to reside near the top of the league’s scoring category. It’s pretty impressive stuff when you consider the guy had never really broken into the echelon of the elite in the NHL. How a guy can go from being a 60 point guy to a 90+ point guy in the course of one summer is truly remarkable. He’s playing with the nearly the same roster yet he seems to have much more confidence and trust in his skills. Even more than all that, it’s his defensive game improvement that impresses me most. Unlike last season when TSN would pull highlights of him just casually skating back, we see Kessel back check hard each and every single time he steps out onto the ice.
I’m sure most people around the league thought of Versteeg as that guy who could score you 20 goals a year pretty consistently and not much more. Well, I’m not sure there is a more surprising player in the league than him at this point. With 17 goals and 38 points through 36 games, Kris is quickly establishing himself as an offensive force to be reckoned with. His shifty abilities combined with his knack for timely offensive contribute to him being a great all-around player for Dale Tallon’s Panthers. He’s outscoring many superstars and yet he goes about his business relatively quietly.
I’m getting tired of hearing him come out to say that he is “terrible”. Why doesn’t he just do something about it? Stop entertaining the media with your little anecdotes and just play harder. Allowing 5 goals on 16 shots against the Lightning wasn’t great. That 9-8 Jets game wasn’t his best either. Anyone else think that the Flyers are going to come to regret signing this guy to BIG money in the off-season? What made him successful in Phoenix was playing behind Dave Tippet’s outstanding defensive systems. With Peter Laviolette running things now, Bryzgalov just looks lost and disorientated. Remember that he was a very capable back-up in Anaheim before going to Phoenix where he thrived in a defensive system. A solid defense can make a good goalie look great, but a weak defense can make a great goalie look good. What’s going on with Bryz?
Fans of the Los Angeles Kings were thrilled when this guy was signed to his 8 year $56million contract. I’m sure Doughty himself was thrilled to be signing it. He gets to stay in Los Angeles for a little while, and live like a King while he’s there (no pun intended). So, why on earth is he playing so poorly? Is the motivation just gone after signing the deal? How a guy can go from being one of the budding young defensive stars in the game to just being plain average in a couple of seasons is beyond me. The kid has talent, but does he have the drive to make things work for him? I follow the Kings a little bit and I’ve never questioned Doughty until this season. Over the last few years we have come to expect him to make exciting plays with the puck and dazzle fans with some great offense. That’s all gone this year. The Doughty in Los Angeles right now is not the Doughty that was drafted right after Steven Stamkos.
A Little Rumor/Speculation
The Fourth Period is reporting that the Calgary Flames, led by our old pal Jay Feaster, are incredibly close to becoming HUGE players in the trading market. You can see in Ek’s blog updates that he’s hearing the same thing. Every rumor blog seems to have some mention of the Flames. There’s been talk that a lot of the big pieces could be moved out in an attempt to re-build. The only personal commentary I have on that one: It’s about time!
The suggestion I’m going to make is that Steve Yzerman should target Mark Giordano. He’s the perfect D-man for this club. By bringing him in, the top three would start to look a lot like Vancouver’s. We wouldn’t have any superstars but there would be a lot of really solid players that would help to balance out ice-time. Personally, I think that’s the direction Steve Yzerman is going to have to go. Would you rather have 1 superstar D-man and a bunch of below average guys, or 6 really solid guys who can all move the puck up the ice?
Well there you have my game re-cap, my response to the Hockeybuzz Hotstove and a little rumor/speculation. It was a jam packed blog but hopefully you all enjoyed it.
Thanks for reading.
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