Thoughts and ramblings…
The Lightning were an overhauled team coming into the new season, and after game #1, they looked like exactly that: an overhauled team. Gone were the defensive miscues (mostly), and power plays that looked like skaters having panic attacks, and gone were the goals against scored on fluttering shots from just inside the blue line. It’s only one game, and it was against a team that was visibly fatigued by the third period, but there’s no denying the Lightning looked good. (For my Floridian readers, I’ll note that Ron MacLean of Hockey Night in Canada made the off-hand remark during last night’s broadcast that the Lightning looked amazing.)
What I was encouraged by wasn’t so much that they looked amazing, but it was that they finally looked like a team. They looked like they had a plan, and contingency plans, and they played a system and were positionally sound. Their power play looked like a power play and not like a series of rushes up the ice by a squad of players desperate to score. So yes, it was a very good night.
Allow me to share with you a series of thoughts I had about the game, most of which were formed as the game progressed.
1. Cory Conacher looks plays like an old pro.
Long before he picked up his first NHL point last night, and long, long before he picked up his first goal, Cory Conacher was already contributing. He fit seamlessly with the team, looking often like a stockier, feistier version of Martin St. Louis, and he appears to have found instant chemistry with Vincent Lecavalier and Teddy Purcell.
The thing you’ll notice immediately about Conacher is his speed. The next thing you’ll notice is he’s fearless. Having watched plenty of Syracuse Crunch hockey this season, it came as no surprise to me, but I was all the same impressed that Conacher’s game appears to have made such a smooth translation, all facets intact, to the NHL level. He drives to the corners, drives to the net, (drives to the arena, I suppose…) and creates offense. If he can keep up last night’s level of play, he’ll be a wonderful asset for the Lightning.
He made one mistake in the defensive zone that I caught (though, it must be said, Vinny Lecavalier should probably share 50% of the blame by passing Conacher a puck he wasn’t ready for). He also got welcomed to the NHL by the one and only Alex Ovechkin, who caught Conacher watching his pass and leveled him at center ice. Conacher, impressively, didn’t miss a beat, and was ultimately one of last night’s best stories.
2. Steven Stamkos needs to figure out how to win face offs.
Stamkos struggled again in the face off circle last night, winning just 7 while losing 11. Face offs aren’t a glamorous statistic, and most of the ones lost turn out to be no big deal, but they add up. A lost power play possession here, a shift in your own end there, and then one day the season is over and you realize a significant number of opportunities were squandered in the face off circle. This has been a common theme in Stamkos’s career, and it’s something he needs to address for the sake of the team. Or maybe he needs to move to the wing (which isn’t a good option, because it limits his ability to roam the ice).
On the whole, it was an uneven performance by Stamkos. He looked lethargic in the first two periods, often taking his time getting into the defensive end. A blundered outlet pass cost the Lightning a goal, and that seemed to snap Stamkos out of his spell. He took the ice in the third period looking more like his usual, explosive self, and later made an incredible second effort to keep a puck in the offensive end that wound up in the back of Washington’s net. Redemption is sweet.
3. Vincent Lecavalier played like a $7.5 million player.
That was the best Vincent Lecavalier we have seen in a long, long time. And it was a different Vincent Lecavalier. He was arguably the most physical player on the ice, throwing his 6’4 frame around with abandon, and wound up being credited for 4 hits. One hit (clean, might I add) ended the night of Jack Hillen. And while it’s never good to see a player hurt, it’s not such a bad thing to have the other team looking nervously for you on the ice.
Better yet, Lecavalier was noticeably more active in the defensive zone, and he might have been the best Lightning forward in that regard. In my mind, his goal and assist were simply a bonus to the way he played. Add to all of this that Lecavalier went 18-6 in the face off circle, and now he’s really earning his money. If this is the Lecavalier we can expect all year (and if that’s the second line we can expect to see), we should be excited. We might finally have the first/second line 1-2 punch we’ve always expected.
3. On the lighter side…
There was a moment after Martin St. Louis’s first goal when he and Corey Conacher embraced in the corner, smiling brightly in their Bolt blue, and I couldn’t help but think: they look for all the world like smurfs. The effect was heightened (pun somewhat intended) when they were promptly engulfed by the long shadow of one 6’4 Vincent Lecavalier.
Can we find a third sub-5’10 forward to create a Smurf Line?
4. Sami Salo does the little things.
He didn’t score, or pick up an assist, and he only had one shot on goal, but Sami Salo had a good night playing the point on the power play. He does the little things. A number of times he held an exiting puck inside the blue line, and then calmly went about resetting.
It’s a marked improvement over last year, when it seemed like every puck had a magnetic force drawing it to center ice. Salo (and Carle deserves some credit for this too) is a calming presence at the point.
The Lightning wound up going 3/7 with the man-advantage last night. But it wouldn’t have mattered if they’d gone 0-for. The goals will come. What matters is they’re doing the right things now, the things that will put them in positions to be successful.
5. Martin St. Louis needs to be more selfish.
It’s hard to fault a guy who scored 2 goals for being too unselfish, but there were a number of times, particularly early in the game, when it appeared St. Louis had a clear scoring opportunity that he opted to give up by passing the puck to Stamkos. Stamkos wound up returning the favor later, when he unexpectedly found himself with a puck between the circles (i.e. his playground) , and fed the puck to St. Louis who had a chance to pick up a hat trick.
That said, St. Louis was spectacular last night. Either he or Lecavalier was Tampa Bay’s best player. It’s also interesting that Tampa now has a diminutive spark plug on each of its first two lines, which should give plenty of defenders fits throughout the season.
Notes from around the league…
Year of the old dogs?
Is it 1997, or did Jaromir Jagr just score 4 points in a single game? But wait, it wasn’t only Jagr – in Florida, Alexei Kovalev scored 3 points. And wait, did Teemu Selanne pick up four points too? Okay, that settles it. It is 1997. What other explanation is there?
League-wide, it seemed like aging star after aging star found the fountain of youth and taught these whipper-snappers a thing or two about post-lockout hockey. Our own Marty St. Louis got in on the action with his 3 points.
Year of the Young Guns?
Not so fast. A number of new NHL’ers (our own Cory Conacher among them) picked up their first NHL goal last night. And many weren’t finished there. Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau added 2 assists to his goal, and in St. Louis, Vladimir Tarasenko scored his first 2 goals. Mikael Granlund scored for Minnesota and Nazem Kadri scored for Toronto.
Who’s the man in Vancouver?
So Cory Schneider lasted all of half a game as Vancouver’s starter. Not that he’s lost that role from one bad game, but no doubt there were plenty of Vancouver fans losing their minds last night as Schneider was pulled in favor of his predecessor, Roberto Luongo. All eyes will be on Luongo tonight, who should be getting the start for Vancouver. If he plays well, this goalie drama will reach levels usually reserved for daytime soap operas.
The Lightning take on the New York Islanders tomorrow. Note the wonky start time: 1:00 pm EST. I would expect the Lightning to start Matthieu Garon for this one, thereby giving Lindback an extra day to rest before Tuesday’s game in Carolina. I also wouldn’t be shocked to see Pierre Cedric Labrie dressed for either of these games, but particularly against Carolina, where the added size and strength might come in handy.
Tags: Tampa Bay Lightning