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.
Last night’s shutout win against the Calgary Flames was basically a continuation of efforts, in my eyes, of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s win in Vancouver on Wednesday. The Bolts came out faster in the first period, as they did against the Canucks, with greater overall puck possession then we saw last weekend at home against the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers.
They played on their toes and created solid scoring chances off crisp passes and poised puck handling all over the ice.
The Lightning (25-12-4, 54 points) played a 60-minute, coast-to-coast game, and the score (and the two points) were a direct result of such efforts. As were the two points acquired in Vancouver.
The win extends a road winning streak, started back on Dec. 15 against the Detroit Red Wings, to five in a row.
Ben Bishop once again stood stall in net for Tampa Bay with 19 saves in the Scotiabank Saddledome, earning his fourth shutout of the season (tied with Boston’s Tuukka Rask to lead the league), and his 22 wins off 31 starts are second only to Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury’s 23 wins in the NHL.
Bishop (22-5-3) might have had a bit of extra motivation against the Flames to show his stuff with that whole US Olympic team snub thing happening last Wednesday after the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor.
“Ben’s been the answer through 41 games this year,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “I understand the decision USA hockey made. Ben’s track record has been just this year and he’s going to be the next one, I truly believe it. He made the choice hard on them and I’m really happy with the way he’s responded, all he’s done is elevate his game.”
“Big” Ben is currently tied for the league lead in save percentage (.936) with Cam Talbot of the New York Rangers; while holding down the third spot in the league for goals against average (1.83) behind Talbot (1.72) and the Minnesota Wild’s Josh Harding (1.65).
The first period last night went by, as per the usual Bolts’ fashion it seems of late, scoreless. Both teams were figuring things out and getting comfortable in their respective offensive strategies, though Tampa Bay was clearly dominating the proceedings.
It was Ondrej “the Giant” Palat who got things going for the Lightning in the second period with his game opening goal at 5:23.
Palat went top-shelf on an excellent Tampa Bay rush to put the Bolts on the board first (something that doesn’t happen often enough yet almost always results in a Lightning win when it does), and he also factored in on the second Lightning goal at 10:20 in the second period as Palat’s laser accurate pass to Nikita Kucherov, adjacent to the crease, set up Kucherov’s fifth goal of the season, and the two-goal cushion the Bolts ultimately rode out to the shutout win.
After taking the 2-0 lead, the Bolts did start to get a little too “cute” with the puck and, as Bobby “the Chief” Taylor commented during the broadcast, they started to emulate the Harlem Globetrotters to certain degree.
My theory on this behavior mainly comes down to the Bolts not being particularly accustomed to playing with a lead. More often than not, the Lightning has had to go goal-for-goal in a slug fest of a game, play catch-up, or win in overtime/shootouts to get their points (all helped along by Bishop).
Tampa Bay is not overly accustomed to playing with two-goal leads, in my opinion (remember the Capitals game?), hence the “cuteness” of the puck-handling late in the game when they possibly thought (and probably for good reason) they had the game well in hand against a admittedly weaker Western Conference opponent.
I think after a period of nearly two minutes trapped in their own zone during back-to-back Calgary power plays (speaking of which, the Bolts were phenomenal last night on the PK) the Bolts woke up a bit and got back on point, taking firm control of the game from there on.
In fact, the Lightning even had a few breakaways that almost resulted in more goals late in the game (Martin St. Louis is probably still kicking himself).
Next up for the Bolts are the Edmonton Oilers tomorrow and then the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.
It is my belief that the Lightning has a very good chance of walking away from this four-game Canadian road trip with all eight points against these particular four teams.
They’re currently halfway there. Now let’s get the rest of them.