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Off the Dot: A Weekend of Shutouts


Off the Dot is an ongoing column of opinions, feelings and thoughts on all things Tampa Bay Lightning.  This is a knee-jerk reaction column for the many things that a fan maybe feels or thinks throughout a hockey season.

This is NOT a stat by stat analysis of the Bolts, but rather a theater of words concerning the Lightning and the many emotions tangled up in supporting your favorite NHL team; a theater for all fans to come to for a more personal take on Tampa Bay hockey.

That’s why I call it “off the dot”.  Because if we were “on the dot”, as in face-off mode, well, things would be decidedly more on-point and specific.  While off the dot, while we’re still just milling around the face-off circle, as I am now, waiting for the whistle to blow, then we’re just being conversational.  We’re just talking about our thoughts on strategy maybe or whatever random concept happens to come to mind, needing to be expressed.  The fun off-key banter of fans before someone (whoever) decides to hunker down, spread out their skates, and get nose-deep over the dot for the real face-off, and maybe say, statistically speaking, what happened in a win or loss in their more researched opinion.  And we have those articles all over Bolts by the Bay, and I very much encourage you to check out those articles too.

These are just my opinions, my feelings, and my thoughts – while we’re off the dot.

 

It started on a Saturday in New Jersey, and ended in Detroit on Sunday evening.

Two shutouts:  one in the favor of the New Jersey Devils, and the other very much in favor of the Bolts – both 3-0 decisions.

Wow.

What a whip-lash weekend of polar opposite results (numerical and emotional) from our Tampa Bay Lightning.  They walked into the weekend having just beat the Detroit Red Wings at home on Thursday in a 2-1 white-knuckler of a shootout decision (the second such win over our new Atlantic Division rivals, having defeated the Wings in overtime on Nov. 9 as well) and things were rather cuddly warm after that victory (if I do say so myself, and I did) before hitting the road for three games, starting in Jersey.

Now the Bolts stumbled against the Devils in their first meeting on Oct. 29, losing 2-1 in a very low-scoring, defensive-minded game.  And Saturday’s match-up wasn’t much different as the whole first period went by without hearing any sirens.

But that wouldn’t last for too long.

The Devils opened up the scoring in the second frame and then twice more in the final period to clamp down tightly on a shutout win at the Prudential Center.  Martin Brodeur earned the shutout for the Devils (his 124th) off 33 saves.

You can’t say the Bolts didn’t try to match New Jersey’s offensive momentum as the Lightning out shot the Devils 33-19 in the game (the Devils out shot the Bolts 22-17 in their first meeting) and starting net minder Anders Lindback was more or less stellar in goal with 19 strong saves.

Lindback is looking a lot more confident and capable with every start he’s getting as the season progresses, so I’m not laying any blame at his doorstep.  He’s becoming more and more clutch for the Lightning from my point of view, and that’s what you want from a back-up goaltender.

I just saw a lot of sloppy play at the blue line and lazy turnovers by the defense that cost the Bolts big-time.  And of course, a lot more of “nothing really clicking” on offense (which I thought was old news after last week but apparently I was wrong); plenty of shots and opportunities, as usual (per last week), but nothing was finding room in net for the Lightning.

Too many Lightning poke checks in their end zone opposed to getting on top of the puck against the boards to disrupt excellent puck cycling by the Devils late in the game.  Too many failed attempts at interrupting that kind of play gave the waiting Devils the chances they needed to set up in the Tampa Bay zone and pepper the net, and eventually draw first blood, which they did.

So after that rather glum result in New Jersey, the Lightning traveled to Detroit through too much snow and many plane delays (no morning skate and very little sleep) to play against the Red Wings for the second time in four days in a back-to-back game (the fifth of twelve scheduled in 2013-14), looking to keep the win-streak against the Original Six team alive, as well as an impressive back-to-back game record of 3-0-1 this year (tied for second best in the league with the Chicago Blackhawks).

And of course they did, who was worried?  Not me (ahem).  I swear.  Cough.  *looks around nervously*

It appears that the Lightning have the Red Wings’ number this year.  The Bolts have already won the season series with their third straight win on Sunday (they meet again two more times on Feb. 8 and Mar. 30) and they did it by the inverted score of the previous night’s loss against the Devils.

Nuts.  My neck still hurts from such a rapid turnaround of fortune, especially after two full periods of scoreless hockey (is it just me or is this happening more and more often of late?) against Detroit.

Ben Bishop earned his third shutout of the year against the Red Wings off 28 shots.  The Bolts put 26 shots of their own on net (the Wings had 28) while blocking 15 shots and winning 28 face-offs (tying the Wings).

Tyler Johnson (8) opened up the scoring in the game off a deflection at 3:13 in the third period, followed by J.T. Brown (2) off a tip-in at 9:16 and Alex Killorn’s empty-netter at 18:45 to close out the game.

Martin St. Louis, Ondrej Palat, Nate Thompson, Valtteri Filppula, and Eric Brewer collectively recorded assists on the three Lightning goals.

I’d also love to point out the amazing defensive work done by rookie Andrej Sustr who played well on the blue line against the Wings while putting a few unexpected shots on goaltender Petr Mrazek (26 saves), one of which he nearly capitalized on, chasing after his elusive first NHL goal.

Sustr has continued to step up and impress (from my point of view) as the solid prospect he looked to be last year; stepping up ever since the Lightning’s defensive corps has been severely depleted by injuries over the past few weeks and he has been forced to take on a more substantive role on the team.

No question that the Detroit game was the more complete game of the two weekend match-ups; not unlike how the Bolts looked on Thursday.

But what was up with that game in New Jersey?

Maybe the Devils have the Lightning’s number this year just as the Bolts have the Red Wings?  I sure hope not.  The Lightning doesn’t need any more teams in the East with their number (read:  Boston, Pittsburgh).

The Lightning faces the Devils just one more time this season on Mar. 15 in Tampa Bay.

Maybe by then we’ll have Steven Stamkos back on the ice; showing the young talent on this rookie-deep Tampa Bay roster how to set up some killer goals.  Show them how to really sink those opportunities.  Because that’s another aspect that I believe this Lightning team lost with Stammer’s absence; sure he scores a ton of goals on his own, but Stamkos also sets up a ton of goals by using the same set of goal-scoring skills to the advantage of everyone on his line.

That seems to be one of the key elements missing from the Lightning’s current goal-scoring lines (opportunities galore, no cashing in) and can’t return soon enough; as I’m sure we can all agree.

Next up the Bolts are tangling with the New York Islanders for the first time this season in Brooklyn tomorrow evening at 7 PM.

The Isles are currently occupying the basement of the Metropolitan Division with 24 points (just behind the seventh place Devils who have 32 points).  Hopefully the Bolts will have the Isles’ number as well.

After Sunday’s win, the Lightning have moved ahead of the Red Wings to regain sole possession of third place in the Atlantic Division with 41 points (the Red Wings are in fourth place with 39 points).  Tampa Bay trails the second place Montreal Canadiens (43) by a game, while the Boston Bruins (46) lead the division.

The Pittsburgh Penguins lead the East and the Metro Division with 47 points, while in the Western Conference, the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks lead the NHL with 53 points.

Not looking forward to any future game series against the West right now.  I’m only interested in seeing the Bolts rack up some much needed Eastern Conference points before anything like that comes up.

The dominate Western Conference can wait for now, one game at a time.

And that’s all for now from Off the Dot.  Catch you at the next face-off, Bolts Nation.

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