Jan 1, 2014; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward David Booth (7) and Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mark Barberio (8) during the first period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Off The Dot: Tampa Bay Lightning Start Canadian Road Trip Off Right With A Big Win In Vancouver

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.

 

What a blissful day of hockey yesterday was.  Got to watch an enjoyable Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs in the afternoon and then be treated to a Tampa Bay Lightning road victory (they’re fourth road win in a row by the way) against the Vancouver Canucks later that night.

Last night’s 4-2 victory over the Canucks was essentially the start I had envisioned for the Lightning’s return to the ice after the Christmas break, but hey, better late than never.  Hopefully this is just the beginning of a very successful four-game Canadian road trip through the Western Conference, as Tampa Bay looks to meet the Calgary Flames on Friday, the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday, and the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday Jan. 7.

The Bolts needed to come out faster and with more urgency in the opening frame against the Canucks, after two lethargic, flat-footed games against the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers last weekend, and I think they did just that.

Though the game remained scoreless through the first period (coming to be the usual Lightning game MO) and they once again neglected to score the first goal (another frustrating consistency), but, despite those near-constant hiccups, the Bolts answered the Canucks’ opening goal in the second period with two quick successive goals (Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat), one right after the other, a mere 20 seconds apart, to draw even and then take the lead.

Though, as it turned out, that lead, at that particular time, was only meant to last a bit longer as Vancouver found its own equalizer about 15 seconds later, but it would be the last time the Canucks really had a chance in the game.

Nikita Kucherov pulled the Bolts back into the lead with three seconds left in the second period with a power play goal, his fourth of the year.

Speaking of power plays, the Lightning successfully killed off two Vancouver power plays while scoring once on three of their own chances on the PP.  Not bad, considering how the Bolts previously allowed three power play goals on three opportunities in their last game against the Rangers, a very uncharacteristic turn for Tampa Bay who is usually pretty good on the PK against teams not called Boston or Pittsburgh.

I thought the Lightning’s ability to keep themselves mostly out of the sin bin, along with a faster, more urgent start to the game were keys to this victory, along with another solid performance by Ben Bishop in net, backstopping any chances the Canucks might have had all game, and especially in the final period, to climb back into the game.

Bishop nabbed his 21st win of the season, tying him for second overall in the NHL with San Jose’s Antti Niemi, and one behind the league leading Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Here are my thoughts on the US Olympic team snub of Bishop, and let’s face it, that’s kind of what it was:  a snub.

But I think Chris Dingman summed it up best last night during the pregame show of the Vancouver game – had Bishop been chosen as one of the top-three goalies on the US team, where would that leave the Lightning?  Is the Lightning a playoff team without Bishop?

Dinger leaned towards the negative and I have to agree with him.  The Bolts are currently (though early still I know) in playoff contention and it’s really just about seeding at this point if they can hang on where they’re at for the other half of the season, and the lion’s share of the credit for such positioning has to go to Bish.  Especially after losing Steven Stamkos not even two months into the season.

Obviously we’ve had some young talent and some cagey veterans jump up and help make up the difference in Stammer’s lost scoring output (Alex Killorn, Johnson, Valtteri Filppula, Kucherov, and captain Martin St. Louis, who currently leads the team in points, assists and goals, just to name a few, even Victor Hedman is having a banner year in the points department with seven goals and 14 assists for 21 points, seventh on the team) but if not for standout performances from Bishop (and Anders Lindback has started to come into his own as well), we might be down in the basement of a much more competitive Atlantic Division, about where the analysts assumed the Lightning would be at the beginning of the 2013-14 season, then near the top and thinking playoffs.

So I guess I consider it a mixed blessing of sorts.  Bishop can show the US team what they’re missing out on while the Bolts Nation continue to benefit from what is shaping up to be one heck of a season for the 27-year old goaltender, uninterrupted.

Maybe he’ll get some of that playoff experience, some of that “big game” chutzpah that I’m assuming the US Hockey team selection committee didn’t think Bishop had enough of, later this year with a run for the Lightning’s second Stanley Cup in April and June.

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