Thinking Outside of the Box


Penalties have been the name of the game in the 3 encounters that the Tampa Bay Lightning have had this season. What they need to do now is start thinking outside of the box.

Jan 21, 2013; Uniondale, NY, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ryan Malone (12) checks New York Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDonald (47) into the boards during the second period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

So far this season, the Lightning have spent a total of 50 minutes in the penalty box. This is over two periods of play. In fact, this is almost a game in its entirety. This is the type of penalty play that could make former Lightning forward Steve Downie blush.

In the Home Opener vs. the Washington Capitals the penalties started early with an Interference call on Ryan Malone at :28 in the first period. The next two penalties would come at the hands of Brian Lee; both for holding. These were at 2:51 and 6:37 respectively. The next two periods were fairly calm in comparison. In the second, there was a Holding call on Lightning Defenseman Sami Salo at 17:26 in the second, and a Holding call on Lightning Center Tom Pyatt at 7:04 in the Third.

If you will notice, it wasn’t until the third period, once the penalties had calmed down and we could actually concentrate on something other than the penalty kill, that we were able to kick ice and come surging back to crush the Capitals 6-3.

The penalties intensified in Game 2 vs. the New York Islanders. In fact, they doubled. The Tampa Bay Lightning served a total of 26 minutes in the clash with the Islanders, and just like the game against the caps, the whistle started blowing early. At :01, yes right out of the gate, the Lightning started with a bang. B.J. Crombeen and Pierre-Cedric Labrie served a 5 minute major apiece for fighting, and Ryan Malone sat in the box for 2 minutes on an Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty. Not even a minute later, Eric Brewer was called on a Delaying the Game penalty at :55. As you can imagine, this was the largest amount of penalties in this encounter. However, don’t be fooled, the fun didn’t end there. The second period was pretty much another 20 minutes of the exact same thing. At 2:05 Brian Lee was called on Cross Checking at 2:05 in the first. Three minutes later at 5:14, Cory Conacher was called for 2 minutes for tripping. Before Conacher was even out of the box, Defenseman Eric Brewer was called to the box for 2 minutes for hooking at 6:50 It was this series penalties that opened the scoring for the Islanders with a tip-in from the Isles’ Michael Grabner at 6:50. Finally, we saw a 12 minute break from penalties. Unfortunately, we found ourselves unable to capitalize on the break. Then at 19:07 in the second, Aulie was sent to the box for 2 minutes for Cross Checking. In comparison to the rest of the game, the third period was rather calm. It wasn’t until towards the end of the game that the penalties reared their ugly head again. Once at 17:32 when Nate Thompson was called for 2 minutes for Holding, and less than a minute later, Brian Lee was called for 2 minutes for the same thing. In this encounter, we spent so much time on the penalty kill that it was almost impossible for us to focus on anything else. Unfortunately, this would deliver us our first loss.

Sep 21, 2011; Orlando, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier (4) reacts after a penalty called during the third period against the St. Louis Blues at Amway Center. St. Louis defeated Tampa Bay 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Game 3 against the Carolina Hurricanes brought us back to a slightly calmer game, similar to Game 1 against the Caps. It wasn’t until late in the first that we saw our first Bolt head to the box. At 13:02, B.J. Crombeen was called to the box for 2 minutes for Boarding. This would be the only penalty this period. In the opening minutes of the second period, there was much more Boarding to be had, as Conacher was called for 2 minutes at 1:29, and just as Conacher came out of the box, Malone was called for 2 minutes at 3:15 for the exact same thing. It was during the Malone penalty that Carolina’s Jeff Skinner was to score their lone goal for the night. It was another 8 minutes of play before we saw another penalty. At 11:10, Matthew Carle was called for 2 minutes for tripping. Compared to the 10 minutes in penalties that Carolina would serve in the third, the Lightning had a much better time. Almost like clockwork, within the first two minutes of the period, Dana Tyrell was called for 2 minutes for Holding the Stick at 1:56. It wasn’t until 12:28 that we saw another penalty. This is when our Captain, Vincent Lecavalier, was called for 2 minutes for Delaying the Game at 12:28 when he inadvertently flipped the puck out of play. Less than a minute later, at 13:20, Adam Hall was called for 2 minutes for Elbowing. Thankfully, during this encounter, the Lightning were able to focus their energies more productively and deliver us our first road win with a score of 4-1.

Before the first game of the season, Tampa Bay Lightning Head Coach Guy Boucher was quoted as saying,

"I think we have to come out and make sure that our emotions are under control. That’s what we need to do because then you fall into penalties and lose focus on the task and the systems and where you are supposed to be on the ice, and you’re just over doing everything.”"

Unfortunately, this seems to be the pattern that the team has fallen into. They have GOT to keep their emotions in check, keep their focus on the system they are running, and where they are on the ice. A good number of the goals scored against us turning the Capitals game were from takeaways in the defensive zone that just never should have happened.

Coach Boucher had some good advice before the home opener against the Capitals, as I outlined in the game preview.

"We want to make sure we stay away from that. We want to be strong when we get on, we want to be at an emotional height that you need to be, but once you pass a certain point it’s called a climax; emotional climax. It ain’t good anymore. You fall into anxiety. You’re excitement becomes anxiety and then you don’t play well, you don’t think well, and you don’t react well.”"

Hopefully, when we meet the Ottawa Senators this Friday, we will take that advice to heart. If they can come out strong, keep the emotions under check, and just plain focus on the systems, then I am sure that we can take on all comers this season.

Tampa Bay Lightning Goaltender Anders Lindback warming up during the final practice before the home opener against the Washington Capitals at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Credit: Tasha Meares

It is clear to me that our quest for the right goalie is over. Anders Lindback has shown that he is more than ready to defend the net for the Lightning. Out of 74 shots against in the 2 games he has played this season, he has only allowed 7 of those shots to pass through the net. So now we can no longer play “Let’s Blame the Goalie.”

Again, with a little determination and just plain focus, I feel the Tampa Bay Lightning have what it takes to strike this season, and possibly make another run for the cup. All we have to do is keep our eye on the puck, and our butts out of the box.

What do you think on the matter? What do you think the Lightning need to do to stay on top this season? Let us know in the comments section.