Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Off the Dot: The Battle of Upstarts and Rookies – Colorado vs. Tampa Bay

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 home game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the visiting Colorado Avalanche was more than just a regular season hockey tilt – it was a matchup between two of this year’s surprising (upstart) little franchises at the top of their respective conferences in 2013-14, after only a year ago occupying the basement.  The game also featured two new rookie stars – Tyler Johnson and Nathan MacKinnon - both players are making serious bids for this year’s Calder Trophy, with only a few points separating them at the top of the rookie standings before the game.

Not to mention the bids that Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper and Colorado first year head coach Patrick Roy have in the Jack Adams Award race.

The two teams occupy the first (Col.) and second (TB) place positions at the top of the league for the greatest record percentage turnaround from last season.

It suggested a game of epic proportions.  And on that front, it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Tyler Johnson shared the ice against this past draft’s No. 1 pick, Nathan MacKinnon, and after 60 minutes of play, it was Johnson’s name on everyone’s mind.  Johnson scored his first NHL career hat trick, leading his Tampa Bay team to a 5-2 win in regulation.

Johnson literally led the charge, as he scored his final two goals of the game, in quick succession, to keep a resurging Avalanche from mounting a comeback late in the third period.

It was his fifth game in a row with points.  The three goals last night brought his season total up to 16 on the year (one behind MacKinnon who leads all rookies in goals).  The three goals also tied Johnson with MacKinnon in the rookie point’s race (34).  MacKinnon managed a point last night by assisting on his team’s second goal (Tyson Barrie) in the second period; otherwise, Johnson would have taken sole possession of the lead.

If Johnson were to claim the Calder this year he would be the first Lightning player in the franchise’s 22-year history to win such an honor.

Oh, and who was the only other Lightning rookie to earn his first NHL hat trick during his first season, you might ask?

Well, that’s happens to be our very own Steven Stamkos.

Some very nice company that Johnson finds himself in after last night’s stellar performance.

Overall, I thought the Lightning played very well last night.  They started the game quick on the puck; retrieving it well in the corner and maintaining possession through the neutral zone before entering Colorado territory.  They did a great job of killing penalties while keeping themselves out of the box, for the most part, something I haven’t seen enough of lately and it was nice to see it last night when it really mattered (though the Avalanche didn’t feel overly threatening on the power play).

The hiccup (that’s what I’m calling it) the Lightning had in the second period, after scoring three unanswered goals (the first coming from Johnson to open up the game’s scoring) has been the story of 2014 so far this year as I’ve seen it.  Every time the Bolts look good, take a lead, or seem to be running away with a game they start getting sloppy with the puck, breakdowns on defense, and allow teams to start crawling back into a game with quick goals in no-time at all (took Colorado thirty-seconds last night to draw within a goal before the second intermission).

Luckily, the Bolts started getting their game back online in the third period.  Long enough to keep the Avalanche from getting anything really going off the momentum they gained off their goals in the second period.

And then of course:  Johnson happened.  And that was the game.

Overall, I’m very proud of the team, and the efforts they made to get another two points (third win in-a-row and second at home), and of Johnson, of course, for being the deciding factor late in the game when Tampa Bay really needed him to be.

The Lightning is tied, once again, with the Boston Bruins for the Atlantic Division lead (with 67 points; Toronto and Montreal are starting to drift back into third (60) and fourth (59) place, which I love) and that’s precisely where they should be.  Right there, in the mix.

Just as Johnson, tied for the lead in rookie points, should be, right there, in the mix.

I wouldn’t expect anything less from this team.

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Tags: NHL Tampa Bay Lightning Tyler Johnson

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