Tampa Bay Lightning forward Yanni Gourde has done what everyone has asked of him and snapped an inexplicably long scoring drought.
Three nights ago Tampa Bay Lightning forward Yanni Gourde finally broke his indescribably long 35-game scoreless streak and he did so in about as dramatic a fashion as anyone could have written. An overtime game-winning goal against one of the best teams in the league. After getting the monkey off his back, Gourde must have figured he has some catching up to do because he scored again the very next game.
After waiting for 35 games to get one goal he was able to net a goal in back to back games. So what gives? Did we just witness a fluky performance from Gourde, who is now bound to go on another long scoring drought? Or was the long scoring drought the anomaly?
In my last article, which was published just hours before Gourde broke his drought (I’m not going to take credit for breaking the curse, but I am okay if you chose to give me credit.) I took a look at what had changed for Gourde during the drought.
When looking at Gourde’s usage, I found he had been playing in a more defensive role during his scoreless streak than before. He had been given more shifts on the penalty kill, virtually no power-play time and his five on five shifts had decreased.
Usually, this isn’t something you would do with a forward who, at the time, was scoring pretty well, but as I said in my previous article transitioning Gourde to a defensive role makes sense if you look at how the Lightning is built and what their trajectory was at that point in the season.
Gourde entered his slump just a few weeks before the Tampa Bay Lightning really began to take off. In mid-December, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Brayden Point all saw their scoring increase, and when that three-headed monster is running wild Coach Jon Cooper doesn’t need much secondary scoring from his middle-six forwards.
It also just so happens that Gourde is one of the best defensive forwards on the team. The second and critical ingredient to the perfect recipe that allowed Gourde to fall into the shadows on the fourth line.
Even Coach Cooper’s famous line blending couldn’t fix Gourde’s scoring drought. In the middle of the drought, Gourde was moved away from his bruising linemates, Cedric Paquette and Pat Maroon and placed on a line with rookie forwards Mitchell Stephens and Carter Verhaeghe.
However, the newly formed line was still playing limited minutes. The young players shared a 3a and 3b style deployment with a line consisting of Paquette, Maroon and twenty goal scorer Alex Killorn. Who dropped down to take Gourde’s place on the old fourth line. Of course, Gourde’s line played in that 3b role most nights.
But this changed on Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins, when the Lightning was seriously short-handed. Stamkos was mysteriously missing during the morning skate and it was announced shortly after that he would not be in the game day line-up. Then Kucherov and Anthony Cirelli left mid-game with injuries.
Down his two best forwards and his Selke contending young gun Cooper leaned on his young 3rd(b) line. Gourde and Stephens both played over 18 minutes. Just the third game all season where Gourde played more than 18 minutes. Yanni even saw some power-play time as he filled in on the second powerplay unit for Tyler Johnson, who had taken Stamkos’s spot on the first powerplay unit.
With more ice-time and higher quality linemates, it was Gourde’s best chance to score a goal since his slump began. And score he did. Then, with Stamkos, Cirelli and Kucherov still out of the lineup on Thursday against the Edmonton Oilers Gourde played over 19 minutes. The most playing time he had seen in a game all season.
Lo-and-behold Gourde scored again. Funny how that works. Give a talented player, who has been doing everything but scoring, the chance to score and he does.
This micro-burst of goals shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has followed Gourde’s season. Yanni has been taking advantage of every opportunity to score he has had this season. He has recorded points in five of the eight games where he played 17 or more minutes this season. For comparison, Tyler Johnson has just one point in seven such games and Ondrej Palat has recorded a point in eleven of the 28 games he has played over 17 minutes.
It’s a crazy concept, but maybe Gourde’s production is highly reflective of the situations in which he has played this season. Playing solid defense with good puck possession when he needs to and not missing the opportunity to score goals when he can.
Maybe the narrative around Yanni Gourde shouldn’t be that of player who has finally ended his long unlucky scoring drought. Instead, we should be viewing Gourde as a player that patiently waited for his opportunity.
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A player that was dropped to the fourth line and didn’t complain. He played his game and played it well by dominating possession, checking hard and making those around him better. Then, when his time came, he delivered for his team.