Jan 18, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Martin St. Louis (26) prepares for a face off during the third period against the San Jose Sharks at Tampa Bay Times Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Off the Dot: Martin St. Louis’ Four Goals Not Enough against San Jose Sharks

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

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.

 

I started today’s matinee game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the visiting San Jose Sharks at 2 PM like everyone did, except at the tail end of the first period I had to leave and go to work.

So as the clock ticked ever closer to the absolute latest time I could leave my house and still make it to my job on time, after Martin St. Louis scored his first of four goals (I’ll get to more of that after bit) to tie the game at 1-1, the Sharks rebounded to score the go-ahead goal shortly after Marty’s, leaving me with several minutes of commute time to dissect a 2-1 San Jose score.

I couldn’t stick around any longer to see how Tampa Bay would answer; because I had to go – I had delayed it long enough.

Never the best way to drive to work, I’ll say, knowing your team is down, even by a goal.

By the time I found the game on the radio (Dave Mishkin welcoming me with his booming voice) I came to find out that Marty had scored another goal to make it 2-2 at some point during my walk to the car and my settling in behind the wheel towards work, fiddling with the tuning knob.

I was ecstatic.

By the time I pulled the car into my job’s parking lot Marty had scored again, his third goal of the period, earning a natural hat trick, all in the first period, and I was right flipping out in the parking slot, radio blaring, Mishkin screaming, as a co-worker looked on in wonder.

The Bolts led the Sharks 3-2 at the first intermission.  What a commute!

“I should really drive to work during the tail end of first periods all the time if stuff like that is going to happen.”  I thought to myself out loud, while simultaneously telling my disinterested co-worker nearby who was still staring at me, like I had suddenly discovered the superstitious secret to the Lightning winning tough games.

But, unfortunately, they didn’t end up winning this particular tough game (and it was tough), despite all of Marty’s efforts (who scored his fourth goal in the second frame); the Sharks came back in the second period to score three unanswered goals of their own, just enough to beat the Lightning 5-4 in regulation.

For Lightning fans it was the worst kind of engineered heartbreak:  wanting to celebrate Marty’s amazing achievement, but denied the full commitment to such joy due to losing another chance at two points, for the second home game in a row – while watching, once again, a chance to lead the Atlantic Division slip away.

Marty’s four goals tied a franchise record, set in the very first Lighting game on Oct. 7, 1992, by Chris Kontos.  The hat trick Marty scored in the first period (the eighth of his career) is the third time he has notched three goals in one period, the first coming during the 2003-4 Stanley Cup winning season against the Carolina Hurricanes (who the Bolts play tomorrow).  His hat trick tonight was also the second-fastest hat trick scored in franchise history, second only to a hat trick he scored in 2006 (against the ‘Canes as it turns out, all in the first period) that was 1:17 faster.

Here’s a link to a video of all of Marty’s goals today; especially loved the second one from behind his back.

Getting back to the game, my ultimate takeaway from the loss is this:  we sure looked a hell of a lot better in this game then we did against the Sharks on Nov. 21, and that’s saying something because the Sharks are easily one of the top-five best teams in the NHL, in my opinion, and they embarrassed us 5-1 in that first game.

I don’t want to think that it took a big night from Marty to keep us close in this game (though some offensive support from the rest of the team would have been nice), I’d really like to believe that the Lightning have just evolved so much since November, despite the result of this game, and showed that they can go toe-to-toe with some of the best teams the league has to offer and be right there for a win, after 60 minutes of hard-nosed hockey, when they play as well as they are capable of playing.

And I think that was something, disregarding a few mistakes or lapses in play in the second period (though I liked, overall, how they played pretty tight with the puck on the blue line this time and weren’t giving away junk penalties, which has been the case lately more often than not). The Lightning showcased today how good a team they are against really good teams when all the working parts are singing.

I’m willing to say that the Bolts can beat any team in this league, in my opinion, when every Lightning player is healthy and plugged in.  That’s how talented I believe the Lightning to be.

Quite a few players were plugged in today (besides just Marty) in many aspects on the ice.  Team defense looked fairly good at eliminating giveaways and takeaways from producing goals and several prolonged posessions deep in Shark territory were nicely maintained by defensemen during the entirey of the game (J.P. Cote, Mark Barberio, Sami Salo, Victor Hedman, Matt Carle, Radko Gudas were all stellar).  It just wasn’t enough to stop a team as good as the Sharks (who are excellent) from capitalizing on all the situations they’re good at spinning gold out of; but the Bolts were pretty close to doing that and that’s a very large positive to take away from this loss.

I also liked the increase in face off wins:  a stat column that hasn’t really looked good for the Bolts throughout this season on the regular.

My takeaway on Ben Bishop in net was that he was playing about as well as expected.  The majority of San Jose’s goals were tough shots to save or he was so well screened that there was little to no chance of him seeing some of the pucks that got past him.

And I’m really hoping that Hedman is alright after taking a puck to the skate (or knee?) and leaving the game early. His presence is vital for the Lightning on the ice, especially with the season he’s having this year (10 goals, 16 assists for 26 points).

It’s a tough loss, no doubt, but it’s also a benchmark for how far the Lighting has come from two months ago, and hopefully it’s further evidence of far they can still yet go, when all the players are plugged in, engines are booming and our captain is on fire.

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Tags: Martin St Louis NHL Tampa Bay Lightning

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