The Tampa Bay Lightning pulled off a shocker of a win last night when they defeated the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks. There are a number of reasons why it was shocking.
First, the Blackhawks are the Blackhawks, the aforementioned champions, a team that boasted the league’s best record in 2013 and set a record for most games without a loss.
Second, the Lightning offense was spitting blanks for two and a half periods. The Bolts failed to register a shot in the first period and were probably, somehow, even worse in the second.
Third, and finally, they won the game via goaltending, which of course has been their known Achilles heel since Father Time caught up to Dwayne Roloson.
Last night, Ben Bishop stole two points for the Lightning – there’s no way around it. He did it on a night where the offense sputtered and stalled, a night where the Lightning, frankly, didn’t deserve to win. And he did it against the potent offense of the best team in hockey. Oh, how sweet it is.
Bishop went into last night’s game as the 1A to Anders Lindback‘s 1B. I maintain that Lindback was solid on Thursday against the Bruins. But Bishop last night was nothing short of spectacular. Where Lindback gave the Lightning a chance to beat the Bruins, Bishop was the only thread of life the Lightning had against the Blackhawks. And he held on until something finally sparked in the offense (more on that later), and the Lightning came back to win in a shootout, final score: 3-2.
The Blackhawks struck first. They also struck second. The first goal came on a scramble in front of the net after a Lightning defensive miscue, leaving Marian Hossa and Partick Kane wide open. After Bishop made the initial save, Kane picked up the puck and roofed it.
The second Blackhawks goal came after the puck took a freak bounce off the boards and caught Bishop out of net. The puck wound up on the tape of Brandon Saad‘s stick, and Saad made good of the gift and put the Blackhawks up 2-0.
In the third period, Marty St. Louis and Teddy Purcell provided goals for the Lightning. St. Louis scored after Nate Thompson won an offensive zone draw (more on that later too) and Purcell scored on the powerplay. That was enough to get the Lightning to overtime, and eventually a shootout, where Valtteri Filppula beat Corey Crawford and Bishop stopped all three Blackhawks shooters for the win.
Q: Does this mean Ben Bishop is the Lightning’s starter?
A: For the time being, I think it does. Lindback will still get his share of starts, but I don’t see the Lightning goalies splitting time until Lindback either forces the issue or Bishop loses the team’s confidence. As of now, in my opinion, we’re no longer 1A and 1B.
Perhaps you think that’s a little quick. It was only one game apiece, after all. Keep in mind, I don’t think the door is closed for Lindback. But I don’t think they’re on equal footing either. Not anymore. Bishop made a statement last night, and the statement was this: when Ben Bishop brings his A-game, the Lightning have a chance to beat anyone, anyone, including the best team in hockey.
Q: How badly did the Lightning get destroyed in the first period?
Weirdly, it wasn’t all that bad. It was about as good as you could expect from a team that failed to register a shot on goal. The Lightning had the puck a decent amount of time, and they managed to get the puck to dangerous areas, but the Blackhawks filled the shooting lanes with bodies.
In the defensive zone, the Lightning seemed comfortable. The scoring chances for the Hawks were nothing to write home about. If anything, the second period was far more dangerous.
Q: Was Steven Stamkos any better on faceoffs?
A: He was worse. Stamkos managed to win just 22% of his faceoffs. It doesn’t matter who you’re going against – that’s unacceptable. The faceoff problem led to the top line being mostly invisible for 2.5 periods, and an exclamation point was put on it when Nate Thompson took an offenzive-zone draw in Stamkos’s place, and it led quickly to the Lightning’s first goal. Later, Marty St. Louis was seen taking draws for Stamkos.
Here’s a thought: why not replace Ryan Malone on the top line with Nate Thompson? I know, I know, it’s doesn’t look great on paper to see Nate Thompson as your #1 center. But Malone had another bad game on the top line, and Stamkos had another downright terrible game in the circle. Thompson’s presence on the top line could kill two birds with one stone. He provides sandpaper and has better wheels than Malone, and he’d be much better on draws than Stamkos. As of now, the top line is having a big problem getting the puck. It’s a lot easier to get the puck when you’re winning faceoffs. Thompson can do that.
Who would replace Thompson on the fourth line? Tom Pyatt.
Q: Other than Bishop, who was the Lightning’s best player?
A: Hard to say. Martin St. Louis was the most productive, with a goal and an assist, but he didn’t really show up until the third. Stamkos had a pair of assists, but was for the most part invisible. Valtteri Filppula didn’t have any points in regulation, but he was solid throughout the game and scored the shootout winner. Andrej Sustr and Matt Carle each had good games again. Hedman was better than against Boston. Forced to choose, I would probably go with Filppula though.
Q: Did the powerplay improve?
A: Again, it’s difficult to say. The Lightning only had one powerplay in the game, and they scored just 30 seconds into it. On that count alone, I suppose you could call it improved. It definitely looked more composed with Sami Salo back on the point. But it wasn’t a large enough sample to really get a look at it.
The offense as a whole sputtered all night. I credit a large part of that to Steven Stamkos’s faceoff woes. When your best players start every shift without the puck, that means the other team’s top line has the puck, which makes it pretty difficult to get it back.
Q: What was the biggest positive from last night?
A: Undoubtedly the play of Ben Bishop. If Bishop has indeed taken the reigns of the Lightning crease, then suddenly the Bolts find themselves in a pretty good position. Anders Lindback might never prove himself to be a legit NHL starting goalie, but as a backup he’s more than capable.
Q: The biggest negative?
A: Two persistent problems: Stamkos’s faceoffs and Malone’s relative ineffectiveness as a scoring line winger.
The Bolts might keep the same line combinations in Buffalo, but time is running out on the current setup. Stamkos got stronger in the circle last season as the season progressed, but it’s disheartening to see his struggles return. Malone, on the other hand, unfortunately, seems to have lost more than just one step.
Given the new depth on this team, these are easy fixes. Which I suppose is another positive.
Q: How do the Lightning match up against the Sabres?
A: Favorably. The Sabres have struggled mightily to score this season, picking up just two goals in their opening three games.
Ryan Miller, however, did play an absolute gem against the Senators last week, ultimately falling 1-0. Get this: in two games this season, Miller has a save percentage of .963%, a GAA of 1.53, and he’s 0-2.
But on that count, we might be in luck: Miller is listed day-to-day with a lower body injury, meaning the Lightning might be facing Jhonas Enroth on Tuesday.
Of course, if Miller is ready to go by then, the prospect of facing him isn’t exactly pleasing given how bogged down the Lightning offense has fared in the last two games. And Miller snuffed out the Lightning last year with a 1.51 GAA and a .946 save percentage in two games.
But Buffalo looks like one of the weaker teams in the East this season, so it should be a vast contrast to what we’ve seen in the Lightning’s first two games. If Miller plays and stonewalls the Bolts, or even if Enroth provides the stonewall, so be it. It happens. But if the Sabres outplay the Lightning, I’ll be worried. I’m not expecting to be.