Heading into this game, everything seemed right for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts had just come off a 3-0-0 run at the Tampa Bay Times Forum (I try to plug it as much as possible just to get used to it) and were looking for a fourth straight victory in Toronto. Say what you want about tonight’s game, but it’s pretty hard to argue that, on paper, this wasn’t a winnable game for the Lightning. Regardless of my predictions, the Lightning lost and now head to Ottawa to try and start a new streak of wins.
Normally, after watching the game, I would sit down and write out my period by period summary with my thoughts included. Tonight, after watching the Leafs debacle, I’m going to take a different approach. First off we will start with a quick game summary with my thoughts, and then we will move on to some key issues that presented themselves in tonight’s contest.
Things really couldn’t have started off any better for the Lightning. Playing on the road, in a hostile environment like the ACC, it’s so important to get that first goal. The guys commentating on the EA Sports NHL franchise do know what they’re talking about regarding this. Not only did the Bolts’ first goal give them momentum, it also deflated the Leafs and took a lot of the energy right out of the ACC. As a Bolts fan, I couldn’t have asked for a better start.
It’s tough to really judge this game just because the scoreboard was such a glaring eye sore. I’ll start with the negatives I saw throughout the night and then, yes, despite the score, I do have some positives to note.
Going into this game, everyone knew that the Leafs had speed. They boast one of the most mobile teams in the NHL. The defense can move the puck so quickly to the forwards that it can sometimes be difficult to defend; that was exactly the case tonight. The Lightning defenders had a tough time matching the speed that the Leafs were utilizing to transition the puck from defense to offense. Guys like Clark and Bergeron, while not necessarily slow skaters (Bergeron could be considered quite fleet of foot, actually), were just unable to contain the explosiveness that the Leafs had tonight.
When you consider that, it’s not that surprising that the Leafs were able to manage over 40 shots. When a team allows that many shots on goal, there is a damn good chance that they lost the game. Despite Garon’s recent strong play, he can’t be expected to play superhero for a bad defense. The key to victory in this league is defense. Good defense creates good offense. Right now, the Lightning, as a group, doesn’t have strong defense. Yes, I know I was all high on this team after winning three straight, but even in those blogs you could tell that there was a lot of skepticism about the defensive structure.
The other negative I want to highlight was the coaching from Guy Boucher tonight. While Garon wasn’t spectacular, I didn’t think that pulling him at 4-3 was the right move. I’m not typically one to complain about a coach’s reasoning, but this one puzzled me. Despite giving up 4 goals on 21 shots, Garon wasn’t brutal. The goals were results of odd bounces and weak defensive coverage. It’s easy to see where the breakdowns were on most of the goals. Hint: They weren’t with Garon. What does Guy Boucher pulling him at that point say to a team that had battled back all night? It says that he doesn’t believe they are battling hard enough. If you ask me, the Lightning were doing just fine up until Garon was pulled. They weren’t dominating, but they were staying in the game. Garon is pulled, and what do you know? The game goes down the drain. Also, what message does this send to Garon, the guy who has basically turned himself into the number one goalie? One bad period and you’re done. In my opinion, that’s not good coaching.
It’s always better to hear the good news last, right? Stamkos continued his red hot streak with another goal tonight, giving him 27 on the season. The Bolts have yet to reach the 41 game mark; is 60 goals an unreasonable total for the guy who wears number 91? I personally don’t think so. He continues to dominate night after night. It’s quite the spectacle.
The other positive I want to highlight before moving onto the second segment of this blog is the work of Vinny’s line (Vinny, Moore and Wyman). Over the last few games they have done a superb job of creating turnovers all over the ice. That play continued tonight. Having Wyman play alongside Vinny just opens up so much more ice for #4. The three complement each other in such a way that allows for a symbiotic relationship. Wyman goes hard for pucks, Moore creates turnovers and Vinny is there to generate presence in the offensive zone. If that line can continue to play like it has over the last little while, fans could be in for a treat. One last note on Vinny: When you look at his goals per game ratio compared to other superstars in the league, he’s looking pretty good right now. Is he worth what he’s getting paid? Debatable. Is he producing? Absolutely. Keep up the good work, Vinny.
Now we are onto the next part of the blog which we will call “The Issues”. It’s a fancy title that could serve as a TV segment could that sort of gig ever come my way (just kidding, I’m not pretty enough to be on TV). Every so often, a game really highlights some key issues for a team. In my opinion, tonight’s game did that. Here are the three issues that I noticed.
This isn’t exactly groundbreaking news, but this defense really needs to be re-shaped. Whether it be through a call-up, trade, or even signing, Steve Yzerman needs to put his foot down and say that this is not okay. Of course, this must be tough for a guy who has done nothing but win since childhood, but I digress. Overall, the Lightning don’t have what it takes to keep up with the mobility of most NHL teams. The Lightning defense can neither skate fast enough nor move the puck effectively enough. When it comes down to it, the NHL has turned into a speed league. In order for the Lightning to be successful, they are going to need to play that game.
The Leafs are a good powerplay team. You can’t hide that when you look at their roster. Guys like Phaneuf and Kessel are tailor-made for the man advantage. Still, the Bolts should be able to do a better job than they did tonight. It’s not only the powerplay that is an issue right now; it’s the penalty kill. I don’t feel confident when we send guys out to kill a penalty. The powerplay is a whole different story. This team cannot generate a SINGLE thing against one of the league’s worst penalty killing teams. How is that even remotely possible? Every team in the league knows that if you can draw the Leafs into taking penalties, there’s a good chance that said team will walk out of the arena with two points in hand. The Lightning drew penalties; they just weren’t able to convert.
Steve Yzerman is going to have to make a decision very quickly. With the trade deadline only 55 days away (but who’s counting?), it’s make-or-break decision time for the guy who calls the shots. I’m not necessarily opposed to Garon remaining the number one guy down the stretch. Are there better guys out there? You’d be lying if you said no. That said, Garon has been a true warrior for this team. I feel like he wears the Blue and White on his sleeve every single night. Whether or not Yzerman decides to keep Garon as the number one guy is irrelevant here. The true issue comes into play when you think about Roloson. Rollie is a great goaltender who has had a fantastic NHL career. All that said, the time for him to retire has come (it may have come a wee while back). Steve Yzerman needs to bring in a guy to either compliment Garon or supplant him as the starting guy. You could see that even the players knew the game was lost once Rollie took to the net.
Thanks for reading! I’ll be back with my game preview for Ottawa tomorrow. Enjoy your Wednesday, folks.
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