Friday, October 31, 2008

Lecavalier on headhunting

Time to crack down on headhunters

"...People who never before spoke out are doing so now. Lecavalier is just the latest good man to put his name to the list, and he chose a big town with a big stage and a big head-hunter on an opposing roster as the time and place to do it. In today's NHL, it takes a certain amount of courage do to that.

"Vinny Lecavalier doesn't just need to be heard, he needs to be applauded."

I don't usually read the Canadian sports pages. They're so Canada-centric that pretty much all they report on are the teams based in Canada. Despite the fact that half the team is made up of Canadian players, and despite the fact that all 30 NHL teams have Canadian players on them. Doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but there you go.

I also don't usually read the Canadian sports pages because the Canadian sports media has a clear and distinct bias against the teams in the Southeast Division. I can only take so much of the stuff they dish out about it for so long. It's just better that I avoid it.

However, I do read the Tampa papers online, and this is the first I've heard about this Lecavalier statement - and it's 4 days after the fact. As a matter of fact, now that I'm thinking about it, the reporters in Tampa haven't quoted Lecavalier very much at all this season. That's very strange to me, since the team captain is typically the most quoted individual on the team - including the coaches.

Anyways, good for Lecavalier for taking a stand, speaking his mind, and doing it in a very public manner about something that's wrong with the league. There ought to be more of that, frankly, when unfortunate things occur. Personally, I haven't watched much of Hollweg myself to say whether he's a dirty player or not. But Lecavalier has to play against these guys, so I trust his judgement.

I also happen to agree with him. It's one thing for it to accidentally happen - tall guy hitting a short guy, for instance (Chara hitting St. Louis, maybe?). But I'd have to totally agree that deliberate shots to the head are completely wrong and uncalled for - as are hits from behind. Most of the time, they're avoidable, so when they happen chances are decent that they're not a complete accident. And the only way to deter that kind of playing is to make the penalties very stiff, so people will think twice about it. A slap on the wrist does nothing but make the league look ineffective and mismanaged.

If you can't play according to the rules, then you shouldn't be playing. It's one thing to have talent, but completely another thing to have respect and integrity. If you feel you have to bend the rules in order to keep your position on a team, then maybe you're not talented enough to be playing in the NHL in the first place.

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Game 9: Tampa Bay at Buffalo

The Tampa Bay Lightning won their second straight game in regulation – the second straight road win as well – beating the Buffalo Sabres 5-2. I have to add the “regulation” since Tampa Bay played four straight overtime games in a row this season already.

I thought that it was a good all-around game. They came out flying in the first, and then they settled down into a more steady game after that. Taking six penalties isn’t exactly the best, particularly the too many men on the ice penalty, but it’s more within the realms of normal for most teams. I did notice that only one of those penalties was taken by a defenseman, so good for the defense.

And they outshot Buffalo, too, by quite a bit – 40-31. Both Ranger & Lecavalier had six shots on goal each, while St. Louis & Stamkos had four shots each. Those four players had half of the shots taken for the team. And that’s not a bad thing. Good for Ranger that he was shooting so much.

St. Louis had an outstanding game defensively. Most people probably didn’t notice, but he was right there as good as the defensemen most of the time. Sorry, tho, St. Louis, but had you had that kind of a game before Lecavalier did, then you would’ve been my new hockey god. That’s just nothing but bad timing right there.

Stamkos had a great game with his first and second goals of his NHL career. Sucks that it had to be in Buffalo, tho. But I just have one question. I can understand why Melrose doesn’t usually play Stamkos on the penalty kill, but why put him in the box to serve the too many men on the ice penalty? He was having such a good game, I think that it might’ve been nice if he’d been put on the ice as much as possible for the opportunity to get that hat trick.

Malone had yet another penalty-free game – and he even got a goal – so he’s up to two games without a penalty. Lecavalier was pretty much unstoppable in terms of trying to contain him physically. He was blowing past people left and right. Ryan Miller was the only guy off of the Sabres who had his number. Kolzig had a fantastic game. It’s hard to not want both goalies to have equal time, but it’s really better for the team to have a clear number one goaltender.

Next up is Ottawa at home tomorrow night. Let’s keep this roll going.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Game 8: Tampa Bay at Toronto

First win in regulation for the Tampa Bay Lightning. They hung on to a lead and beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto 3-2. The Lightning are now 2-3-3 on the season.

Lecavalier is now my hockey god. I worship the very ice that he skates upon. Not because of the pretty goals he scored against the Maple Leafs. Oh, no – because he jumped into the net behind Smith in the first period to stop the Leafs from scoring.

I used to be a defenseman, and I totally love to see forwards jump in to help out defensively. And, I’m one of those players who sacrificed my body for the play – I’ve dove for pucks when I had pins in my broken elbow during a scrimmage, for instance – so I totally appreciate that, too. Often, forwards just wait for the pucks to be dished out to them in the defensive zone so they can take it down the ice. So it’s nice to see forwards who can play, and aren’t afraid to play, defense (or goalie?) when they have to.

Of course, Lecavalier’s goals were pretty, too. The first one, which was a one-handed shot, especially. The second goal on the powerplay off the crossbar was very nice as well. But then, there’s a reason why Lecavalier’s one of my favorite hockey players. Stamkos registered his first NHL point, an assist, on Lecavalier’s powerplay goal.

Smith was, as per usual this season, outstanding. The defense, however, needs to start playing with a bit more discipline. They’re the ones that are taking the most penalties. To be fair, though, the deck is stacked against them a little bit. The rule changes have seriously penalized the defense for playing defense. Still, they need to work on that.

Shots allowed were still high, but at least they were under 40, if only barely. And the penalty kills have been good so far, too. Thankfully – particularly due to the number of penalties the Lightning have taken so far this season. Again, that’s due to Smith.

Malone stayed out of the penalty box, so he’s got a one-game streak going.

The first period was great, but the Lightning didn’t take very many shots. The second had a bit of a lull to it, but they managed to pull it out still ahead. The third had a good pace to it. The last couple of times they went into the third when they had the lead, they kind of sat back and ended up losing. This time, they kept attacking and managed to win it. That was really good to finally see.

So this is how the Lightning can play. It was a great team effort; let’s hope that they can keep it up. I’d like to see more of the same.

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Lightning rumor

Tampa Bay owner accused of 'coaching' Bolts by hockey 'insider'

Lecavalier wanting a trade back in February? First I've heard of it. I totally missed that rumor. That's probably for the best, really.

Luckily, Strachan has a dubious reputation. Otherwise, this is pretty darned ugly. Not even I, who hasn't exactly been the biggest supporter of the new Lightning ownership, would think of this. I mean, one of the reasons that Barrie and Koules picked Melrose was because they like him, and presumably trust him.

I wouldn't think that they'd try to undermine him. Accidentally, perhaps, but not intentionally like that. They're like over-enthusiastic big puppies that accidentally break things and knock people down, drooling all over them, when saying hi - but are less predictable. They don't seem to realize that light touch can be better than taking a sledge hammer to something.

Now, I can see them getting into a discussion about hockey in general, and using a white board to illustrate ideas. But that's totally different from dictating coaching policy. It wouldn't be hard to take that the wrong way, I guess. But still.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lightning trophy watch

We're going to give this trophy thing a try. I haven't posted all of the statistical/trophy races. I decided post ones that, in an ideal season, Lightning players may be, or may have been, in contention for. I may abandon it later on, depending on how the season goes.

Then again, maybe I won't. It's good to have some perspective as to how good or how bad the Tampa Bay Lightning are. After all, a team effort is a combination of individual efforts, right?

Lady Byng Memorial Trophy

  • 150+ – 0 PIM
  • Derek Dorsett, Cbs – 39 PIM
  • Ian Leperriere, Col – 35 PIM
  • Sean Avery, Dal – 33 PIM
  • 3 players – 32 PIM
  • Ryan Malone, TB – 24 PIM….

Art Ross Trophy

  • Alexander Semin, Was – 14 pts
  • Evgeni Malkin, Pit – 14 pts
  • Andy McDonald, StL – 12 pts
  • Paul Kariya, StL – 12 pts
  • Sidney Crosby, Pit – 12 pts
  • Vinny Lecavalier, TB – 4 pts….

Maurice Richard Trophy

  • Keith Tkachuk, Stl – 8 g
  • Thomas Vanek, Buf – 8 g
  • Alexander Semin, Was – 7 g
  • Brad Boyes, StL – 7 g
  • 7 players - 6 g
  • Vinny Lecavalier, TB – 3 g….

Calder Trophy

  • Fabian Brunnstrom, Dal – 6 pts
  • Jakub Voracek, Cbs – 6 pts
  • James Neal, Dal – 4 pts
  • Ryan Jones, Nas – 4 pts
  • 7 players – 3 pts
  • Steven Stamkos, TB – 0 pts….

Vezina Trophy


  • Ryan Miller, Buf – 1.60
  • Martin Brodeur, NJ – 1.95
  • Nicklas Backstrom, Min – 1.97
  • Henrik Lundqvist, NYR – 1.99
  • Carey Price, Mon – 2.11
  • Mike Smith, TB – 2.13….


  • Mike Smith, TB – .941
  • Ryan Miller, Buf – .940
  • Marc-Andre Fleury – .933
  • Cary Price, Mon – .931
  • Niklas Backstrom, Min – .930

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Game 7: San Jose at Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the San Jose Sharks 3-0.

It's a sad, sad thing when you're best player - other than Smith, of course - is an 18-year-old rookie who's played only 7 regular season NHL games. Ever. Other guys had their moments of inspiration, but Stamkos was the only one who was consist throughout all three periods. And good for him. It's got to be hard for him to not just sit back a little bit and be a tad starstruck. Although, overall, his line was the best on the ice.

I have no idea what was going on with the top line, though. Prospal and St. Louis had decent games, but Lecavalier might as well not have suited up and played. He was completely invisible. That's strange, too, since it's usually an entire line that doesn't do so well - especially when the center isn't playing very well.

Smith, again, had a great game. The Lightning are lucky to have him - and Kolzig, too. Without those guys, the scores would be pretty ugly. They're giving this team a legitimate chance to win games, if the rest of the team is able to.

Shot on goal were again a problem. Both allowed and taken by Tampa Bay. Again, over 40 shots were allowed, but I would expect that that should go down as the season goes along. However, there's no real excuse to not shoot more. I mean, anyone on the bench can look up and see a shot clock in the arena, so it's not like they don't know. It also says something when the guy leading the game in shots for the Lightning was Artyukhin.

Seven penalties taken, too - including Malone's fight. (Malone's Lady Byng watch goes back to zero games.) Still, for the team, that's not as bad as it was. Any improvement is good at this point.

Boyle and Lukowich both had pretty good games. I thought that it was great that they were doing so well. Unfortunately, they were playing for San Jose. I wonder if the Lightning ownership is having second thoughts about that trade yet or not. Now that I'm thinking about it, probably not. However, I can tell you that Lightning fans are seriously regretting it - most of them from the moment that they found out about it.

So I'm seeing a pattern develop here that I'm not really liking. And, interestingly enough, it's a very similar pattern that was happening at the end of last season. I'm still trying to keep an open mind about things, though. It is very early in the season yet, so there's plenty of time to pull things together.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sloppy Canadian reporting

Sundin edges closer to return after physical

"With forward Jeff Halpern to miss most of, or the entire, season after knee surgery and the possibility of returning rookie Steven Stamkos to junior, the offensively challenged Lightning could use Sundin."


Makes me wonder where this guy is getting his information. Last I'd read, Halpern's expected back sometime in December or possibly as early as late November - and he's been skating for a while now. And I've never read anything even remotely suggesting that Stamkos will be playing anywhere else but in Tampa this season all season.

But I have read that Koules did throw out the offer to Sundin at a charity hockey game they both played in in Toronto back in August - or maybe it was the beginning of September. That part's true enough. And it was to Sundin himself, and not to his agent

If this is the kind of stuff that unsuspecting Canadian hockey fans are reading, then it's no wonder that some people believe that the Tampa Bay Lightning are in the same boat with the Florida Panthers, Atlanta Thrashers, and the Nashville Predators. And that the entire Southeast Division ought to be disbanded. These Canadian reporters don't seem to have a clue as to what's going on in this division, nor do they seem to care.

This is some very, very sloppy work - particularly from a national Canadian newspaper like the Toronto Globe & Mail.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Will Melrose last the season?

Did Barry Melrose save his job last night, and for how long?

There are already rumblings about player unrest in Tampa, some of it directed towards coach Barry Melrose.

Now this doesn’t surprise me. Not because I think poorly of Melrose, but because I’ve seen pictures & video of him with some of the players and the player(s) body language speaks volumes. There are some who obviously don’t care for the guy. Not sure why that is, and I’m not going to speculate on that here, but it’s pretty apparent to anyone who’s paying attention.

This sort of thing is why people are so interested in Tampa Bay this season. It’s the soap opera aspect that’s so appealing. People just can’t wait to see what’s going to happens next. Unfortunately, it’s more like Britney Spears than, say, Angelina Jolie. (Sorry about the reference, guys, but it works.) That is to say, it’s looking like it’ll become more of a train wreck than anything else.

Makes me wonder if some of the guys that are still there from last season are actually longing for the bad (good?) ol’ days of John Tortorella. Can you imagine? Vinny Lecavalier wishing that Torts was still his coach? Who would’ve thunk it if it were actually true? (And I’m not saying that it is true, because I have no idea – it’s just a humorous example.)

The bottom line, tho, is that they're professionals. Everyone works with people they don't like. And everyone has managers they've worked for that they didn't like. That's just part of any job. No, it's the instability that's going to get them in the end.

I can think of a few things that would make this better. Me moving back to Tampa would help. Oh, I meant better for me – sorry. Train wrecks are so much more fun when they're up close and personal – and when you’re not directly involved. Sucks to be a part of them, tho.

The biggest thing that would make things better for the team would be for the ownership to back off and let these guys just play hockey. The way that it’s going now, bringing in someone new every week is just going to prevent them from creating any kind of chemistry. Not to mention create an undercurrent of instability and uncertainty since no one will be sure who’ll be leaving next. Just leave them alone and let them figure things out, then it’ll be alright.

Unfortunately, asking the ownership to leave the team alone is like asking an 8-year-old to keep their hands in their pockets when walking thru a toy aisle at Target.

And so, the drama continues. And, just think, we’re only 6 games into an 82-game season. Lots more can happen between now and April. Wow, I feel sorry for those guys. For everyone – the entire organization, in fact.

Outside of a complete disaster, Melrose is safe. Because he’s the embodiment of the heretical management approach by Oren Koules and Len Barrie, and terminating him would be unavoidably symbolic of its initial failure.

I’d like to agree with Greg Wyshynski (quoted above), but the fact is, no one’s quite sure what this ownership team is capable of. They appear to be pretty ruthless, and that means no one is really safe. Guess we’ll find out eventually.

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Game 6 - Atlanta at Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay Lightning played their 4th – yes, 4th – overtime game in a row last night. Happily, they actually won this one. It’s their first win of the season, and first win for Barry Melrose as head coach. They beat the Atlanta Thrashers 3-2 in overtime.

They came out flying in the first period. And then they all but disappeared in the second. The third was better, but still quiet as compared to the first. It was kind of a weird game that way. I think they were lucky to win this game since they didn’t seem to have a lot of momentum going into overtime. But, as the saying goes, it’s better to be lucky than good sometimes.

Only three players really stood out as being consistently good all game. Stamkos had a great night, I think. He seemed to really be on top of everything. I think the awe of playing in the NHL is starting to wear off for him. Gratton had a very good night as well, and so did Smith.

They still need to work on how to play when they have a lead. They've blown two leads in the last two games. And also need to come up with a team-wide consistent effort for three periods. Not one of their best games so far, but Lecavalier's winning powerplay goal in overtime saved them this time around. Not that he had a spectacular game himself after the first, but he came through when it counted.

On a lighter note, the guys over on the Barry Melrose Rocks blog (started during Melrose's ESPN days) has downgraded Melrose’s chances for being fired on the Coach-O-Meter 3000 from “Richards” to “Stamkos.” They felt he didn’t deserve to be downgraded to “Lecavalier” just yet, so they had to create a new category. It’s still a work in progress, I think.

Oh, and, Malone didn’t commit any penalties last night, so he’s got one game on his penalty watch.

And, in keeping with the Malone penalty watch, which I’m going to rename the Malone Lady Byng watch, I’m also going to institute a Lecavalier Art Ross watch and a Stamkos Calder watch. I’m still tossing around the idea of a Smith Vezina watch. I won’t bother with the Jack Adams watch for Melrose since, if these guys manage to win the Southeast, he’ll probably be up for it.

I’d like to do a St. Louis Hart watch, but I can’t come up with any stats to track for that. There’s no one on this team that I can legitimately put up for the Norris, but in a couple of years that will probably change. And I think I’ll be generous and let the Richard Trophy end up with Ovechkin.

I’ll post updates for all that on Sundays, along with the top 5 players in the league for comparison. I’ll keep doing that until it’s out of reach for the players in question to accomplish. Ryan Malone as perhaps the lone exception, since his is more tongue-in-cheek than anything.

Does that cover all of the major awards? Yes? Okay, moving on then….

In other Lightning news, Koci & Ward were put on waivers – and Koci was picked up by the St. Louis Blues. And the Lightning claimed left wing Matt Pettinger from the Vancouver Canucks. That’s all that Tampa Bay needs – yet another forward. How’s a team supposed to gel with all of these roster changes, anyway?

Pettinger, incidentally, happens to be a minority owner with Len Barrie (who’s a majority owner) for a resort on Vancouver Island. Supposedly, tho, there’s not any connection with that. They can deny it all they want but, seriously, who’s actually going to believe it?

Isn’t it nice to know that cronyism is alive and well in Tampa Bay? Sports aren’t the best about that, and hockey itself tends to be pretty bad, so that’s not too surprising. What really bothers me about the ownership team is their complete and total lack of professionalism, tho. But maybe I’ll save that for a future blog.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Lightning Weekly: What's Going On?

What’s going on? The new look Lightning look eerily similar to last season’s worst team in the NHL. With one week in the books, the Bolts are languishing in last place in the Southeast with a record of 0-2-3. Is it a matter of personnel, system, player familiarity or what?

First we should look at personnel. The Lightning went into the offseason with gaping holes in defense and a huge need for second line scoring. At the onset of free agency the Blots we very active, acquiring the likes of Roberts, Malone and Recchi. With the drafting of Center Steven Stamkos, the second line scoring, as well as some grit seemed to have been addressed. The Bolts also added top tier defenseman Andrej Meszaros and goalie Olaf Kolzig to the stable.
Problem is, that as the Bolts were busy adding new faces to the roster, they began mak-ing some questionable moves. One that has come under the greatest scrutiny is the trade of Dan Boyle to San Jose. This was what I believe to be the red herring in the new regime’s player philosophy. With the trade of Boyle for Matt Carle, they gave up a proven commodity for “potential”. If inexpensive potential is what they wanted, then they needed to look no further than their own Alex Picard. Inexpensive, he was picked up at the trade deadline from Philly last season. Potential, he came into the lineup like a man possessed. At the end of last season he played solid positional defense, threw the body around and never seemed out of energy. But alas, he too was traded away. The Lightning brass seem intent in putting their “stamp” on the team, period. In doing so, the Lightning defense has subjected its netminders to an average of 40 shots per game over the first four games. It squandered a 3-0 lead to Carolina. It has looked less like a defense with potential and more like a defense with problems.

But are the problems purely personnel related, or are they systematic. The “new look” Lightning have a completely different style on the ice. Barry Melrose has brought in an attacking style of play that asks his defensemen to step up into to the play when any opportunity to do so presents itself. Against the Islanders last night, this seemed to be the Bolts achilles heel. As defensemen pinched, the Islanders forced turnovers, took control of the puck and caught the defense out of position. The forwards were late ro-tating back to cover time and again, leading to multiple 2 on 1 breakaways, and ulti-mately Islander goals. As the new players get more acclimated with each other’s ten-dencies and Melrose figures out the best line parings, this is something that should work itself out over time. But how long will it actually take, and how long can the team go on like this before you have to start to worry?

I’m not ready to throw in the towel on the season yet. New Captain, Vinny Lecavalier, has picked up where he left off last season. He has 2 goals and 1 assist through 4 games. Marty St, Louis has 1 goal and 1 assist. If these guys keep on doing what they do, and the rest of the team finally “gels”, the ship could turn around in a hurry. But once again, we’re banking on the teams potential, hopefully we won’t end up bankrupt at the end of the season.

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Coaching merry-go-round

How many games before you cut a coach?

This is starting to look a bit ugly for Tampa Bay's Barry Melrose, isn't it?

Personally, I'd give a coach 20 games (out of the 82 in an NHL season). I think that's fairly reasonable. Which, typically, is mid- to late-November. If a team isn't going to get it by then, then they probably won't. I think that's a fair amount of time to try to get something going and still have time to maybe not sacrifice an entire season to do it.

While I did say that I thought it'd be a little rough at first, I didn't think it'd be like this. But then, that was really a more of a off the top of my head kind of comment since I haven't sat down and thought my way thru it at all. And it's not as if I've had any extended conversations about it with anyone, either, which might've been helpful for me.

The big question for the Lightning is, will the team be able to pull it together in time to save Barry Melrose's job? He doesn't seem like a bad coach, but it certainly hasn't been easy. While it's been mentioned that the schedule has worked against them, I'd have to disagree. Team chemistry is created by familiarity, and not always under stressful situations. And I think the same goes with learning a new system - it's about familiarity and knowing where you need to be.

So how much time do you give a new coach to establish himself?

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Edmonton censoring bloggers?

Edmonton Oilers get a blogger beat-down after censorship

Is blogging about a sport equal to that of writing a newspaper article? I would guess that it depends entirely upon the writers involved. Or, as my friend Aparna likes to say, it's all relative.

Ultimately, what it comes down to is respect. Not only of the medium of blogging itself, but of the people who contribute. Would the mainstream media personnel accept me as an equal? I have no idea. It would probably depend entirely upon the person. Still, I'd bet that I probably wouldn't be invited into the press box by the team, tho. Not because they have something against bloggers - although, I suppose they could - but because they probably wouldn't think about it.

Would the coaches and/or players themselves accept me as a actual reporter there to ask questions? That's even more of a question mark. I would guess that, ultimately, they would go along with whatever the team's media people decided. Still, I doubt that I would be allowed into the locker room after a game or practice to do interviews.

So is blogging legitimate reporting? If it is, then I think a team has a right to determine which bloggers they allow into the press box. And if those people usually have favorable team blogs, then that's their decision - and it only makes sense for them from a marketing perspective. However, that is a form censorship, whether they like it or not, and they should be prepared to deal with that backlash.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Game 5: Minnesota at Tampa Bay

So in how many ways can the Tampa Bay Lightning lose in overtime? Yes, they went into overtime for the third game in a row against the Minnesota Wild. Although, at least this one went to a shootout.

I’m one of those people who happen to enjoy shootouts. I’ve always hated ties. What’s the point of playing a game if nobody wins? My only problem with them is that teams get points in the standings for overtime and shootouts, even if they lose. Why should a losing team get any points in the standings? I’ve never understood that. It’s like rewarding mediocrity or something. If you win, you get points; and if you lose you don’t. Why can’t it be that simple?

Besides, shootouts are a great way to showcase the skills of your best shooters and your goaltenders. Goalies are quickly blamed for losing a game, but are rarely praised for winning them – the praise almost always goes to the goal scorers. I think the goalies deserve a little bit of visibility for all of the hard work they do – which is why I make it a point to praise them even when the team loses. If they played well, that is. And Smith played well tonight.

Some people find shootouts to be gimmicky, thinking that it’s not a team thing and that it’s just a entertainment gag. Frankly, they’re not any different from a coast-to-coast breakaway during a game. And, well, sorry to break it to you, but sports are entertainment. Fans pay big money to watch their teams, after all. They deserve to be entertained.

I wish people wouldn’t take sports so seriously sometimes. It takes all the fun out of it. Killjoys.

Malone got yet another penalty tonight. I think I ought to start a Malone penalty watch – just because I can. You know, keep count of the games between penalties. Keeping track of minutes or periods played between penalties is just going too far, I think. If he starts playing penalty-free, then I’ll find something else to do, I guess. So, he went one game without, but got one tonight. The clock’s been reset, and we’ll see how Malone does in the next game.

Overall, it was a good effort by the Lightning. The first and third periods were pretty good. They seemed to be just running around and not accomplishing much in second. But maybe that was just me thinking that. They’re still taking too many penalties. Looking at the box score, I noticed that Koci was benched for the game after taking two penalties in the first five minutes of the game.

Good for Melrose. I like to see coaches institute a punishment-reward system. Often, NHL coaches just reward players but don’t punish them for unfortunate acts. I have my own theories as to why that is, but I won’t air those here. It’s a bit old school of Melrose, but I then I tend to be a bit old school myself, so of course I approve.

They kept shots down, which was good. They even managed to outshoot Minnesota, which is even better – although, not so hard considering it’s the Wild, after all. And, again, Prospal has be great. I know I haven’t mentioned him much, but he’s been such a good player for Tampa so far this season. So has Meszaros. I hope they keep it up.

Well, 0-5 on the season thus far. At least there have been some definite improvement going on. Maybe once they start playing more often things will get better for the Lightning. So it’s still a wait and see kind of thing.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Game 4: New York Islanders at Tampa Bay

As I was watching the second period of the Tampa Bay Lightning – New York Islanders game, a thought came to me. And I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone else was thinking the same thing I was. Despite all of the changes over the summer and the beginning of this season, it seemed as if the Lightning just picked up where they left off at the end of last season.

But then Lecavalier scored at the beginning of the third period, and suddenly the entire team just clicked. Everything came together, and everything worked. They came back to tie it, only to lose in overtime, sure, but they still came back to tie it after being down 3-0. For that period, at least, they were an actual team instead of just a bunch of guys that had been thrown together to play a hockey game. Now they just need to do that for an entire game, and at least 70 more.

The first two periods of the game weren’t very good for Tampa Bay. Everyone’s timing seemed off, the players seemed a little unsure of themselves and unsure of their system, and nothing was happening. Except for penalties. There were plenty of penalties for the Lightning all game – 10, in fact, to the Islanders’ 7. I haven’t been paying attention to any other teams, so I do wonder if that’s a league-wide thing or not – more silly penalties being called.

Despite having had 10 penalties called on the Lightning, not a single one was against Malone. Can you even believe it? They were mostly against the defensemen instead.

And finally, they consistently shot all game. Sure, it was still up towards 40 shots again, but at least they gave as much as they got. So that’s promising. They were a little better defensively, which is always a good thing, and good with the face offs. Goaltending was, as usual, very good – despite the goal allowed by Kolzig in overtime. Let’s just hope that that third period wasn’t an aberration and was instead the beginning of a better season.

As a side note, do any of you from the Pacific Northwest smile, smirk, or giggle whenever you hear Freddy Meyer’s name? I do. And then the jingle goes thru my head. Almost every single time the announcers say anything about him. I can’t help it. It’s not his fault, I know, but that’s just the way it goes. I will always associate him with Fred Meyer’s – the store, that is. I’m sure someone’s had to have shared that with him by now, right?

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Game 3: Carolina at Tampa Bay

You know, it's a good thing that the Tampa Bay Lightning have good goaltenders. Because if those guys are going to have to stop 40+ shots a game, they're going to have to be good. And it's starting to look like they'll be taking 40+ shots a game most games this season.

The Lightning lost to the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 in overtime. The obvious is that penalties killed them. The not so obvious is that they're not sure how to deal when the team they're playing comes back and makes it a game. It's almost like they're not mentally prepared to play against a team that fights back.

They played great for the first two periods, and then went back to how they played in Prague for the third period. In the third, they kept passing the puck off to anyone they could, and tried to rush through plays to try to force something. Before that, they were holding on to the puck more and taking the time to set things up - and actually taking shots. It was like they were trying to play catch up in the third in a literal sense.

And 2 shots on goal for the entire third period? While letting Carolina take 20? That's not right. They had as many shots in the just over four and a half minutes of overtime as they did for the entire 20 minutes of the third.

Malone really needs to do something differently. I don't want to say he plays dirty, because he doesn't. And I don't want to say that he needs to be disciplined, but that's not quite it either - although, a little more discipline probably wouldn't hurt. He might just be playing sloppy. Whatever the problem, he's taking far too many penalties. He's had three penalties tonight, and two in each of the previous two games. That's just not going to work.

Lecavalier had a nice pair of goals. Too bad one was deflecting a Staal shot into his own net. If I were in Lecavalier's shoes, especially after seeing how Smith reacted to that goal, I'd be keeping a way low profile for the next couple of days around him. But, other than that, I think that this was Lecavalier's best game yet so far this season. Of course, they've only just played their third regular season game, but considering he's coming off of shoulder surgery, any and all improvement is a good thing. Baby steps, right?

Recchi is just amazing, especially considering he's 40. He's playing like he's at least 5 younger than that - more like 10 years younger. He had a great game, and the Lightning are lucky to have him. But then, he's a Kamloops (BC) guy, so of course he's doing well.

Oh, and I really liked the line combinations. I think that Prospal will help both Vrbata and Stamkos a lot. (Too bad Stamkos didn't see a lot of playing time because of penalties.) And Malone with Lecavalier and St. Louis seemed like it really clicked. Hopefully, that'll all work out as they keep playing together.

At least there was an improvement from those games in Europe. So that's definitely a good thing. And, I'd read somewhere that the Lightning had opened up last season with six wins, and remember how that turned out? (Hey, a lot's happened to me in the last year, so I don't exactly remember myself, okay?) So, really, it's early yet and you just never know.

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Tampa Bay trades Vancouver for defense

Lightning Acquire D Lukas Krajicek, LW Juraj Simek

I had suspected that this was the case, but now I know for sure. The guys who are running the Tampa Bay Lightning have no idea what they're doing when it comes to the defense. Not a clue. It is totally over their heads.

It also confirms for me that they're not talking to their coaching staff, either. Melrose, who used to be a defenseman, would know better and would've suggested someone more experienced, I'm sure. And if they did ask, then nobody listened. So there's that disconnect going on as well.

They've got the forward thing down, at least - even though they keep wanting to stock up on them when they've got plenty. And I guess it doesn't matter at this point if they were just lucky with the goaltending or actually knew what they were doing there. The goalies are pretty good anyways - despite any of that.

It was an even two-fer trade: Ouellet & O'Brien for Simek & Krajicek; a forward and a defenseman for the same back.

Well, that's good to know. It's good to be prepared because I think it might be a long season for the Lightning. Which is too bad, really. They deserve better than that.

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Game 2: Tampa Bay vs. the NY Rangers at Prague, CZ

The Tampa Bay Lightning lost by the same score to the same team as yesterday - 1-2 New York Rangers. After that the adrenaline of the first game of the season had worn off, I can tell that this team doesn't have a lot of chemistry right now. That's understandable since over half the team is new.

If you compared just about any line combination for the Lightning with that of the Naslund-Drury-Dubinsky(?) line, nothing was really clicking. That line for the Rangers was amazing. I'm very happy to see Naslund doing so well in New York, particularly since most people thought he'd quietly blend into the background after he got there.

I liked the Roberts-Gratton-Hall line. And I really liked the St. Louis-Lecavalier-Malone line, although that was only on the ice once. I think that Malone would really push Lecavalier - in a good way. Prospal would be good with Stamkos - and maybe Recchi? It's something to think about, anyway.

Kolzig was not on early in this game. I think it was only because he's played in the league for years that he was able to make it thru the first half of this game unscathed. He was a lot better the second half, though.

For once, the lack of shots by the Lightning didn't really bother me. I know that I've complained about that on occasion, but in this instance, trying to figure out your place on the ice I think is much more important. Guys are still feeling their way, and that to me takes precedence over shooting. If you're not in position, and you're not sure where your position is, then shooting more probably won't make much of a difference.

Again, penalties were a problem. Shots on goal was a problem. Positioning was a problem. There wasn't a lot of forechecking. And no one from the Lightning seemed like they wanted to keep the puck for very long. Everyone was passing instead of holding on to the puck to set up plays. And there were times when guys forgot the first rule of playing hockey - keep it simple - and tried to be overly fancy.

There was a bit more hitting today as compared to yesterday. Faceoffs were good. Communication also seemed better. Passing was good as well, and that was nice to see. It was really sloppy for much of last season. Again, the defense was right about where I expected them to be.

I don't know that these two games in Prague are really a great indication of what's to come for Tampa. Athletes are very much creatures of habit, and it's hard to establish new habits in unfamiliar places. So once they get into a routine in Tampa, I think things will work themselves out. In a week or two, I think we'll see the real Tampa Bay Lightning and know better of what to expect from them.

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Game 1: Tampa Bay vs. the NY Rangers at Prague, CZ

The Tampa Bay Lightning had a great first 10 minutes. And then, well, the adrenaline wore off and they started getting into penalty troubles. I'm wondering if this is how it's just going to be this season, of if they'll settle down after a few games. The New York Rangers won 2-1.

I was expecting a bit more scoring by both teams, but in front of a new crowd and on an unfamiliar rink they both played pretty conservatively.

So, first impressions. One, I think that Lecavalier's shoulder is bothering him more than he would like to admit. He had a great first half of the first period - again with that disgustingly talented thing of passing the puck to himself between his legs and shooting - and then he sort of disappeared after that for most of the rest of the game.

Stamkos is about on par with Crosby when Crosby first broke into the league, I think. Perhaps even a bit better since he doesn't have the entire weight of the NHL on his shoulders from the very beginning. Stamkos will flourish because of that lack of exaggerated expectation and responsibility - and because he's got Lecavalier there to help ease the shocks for him, too.

The defense played about as I expected it would. They really aren't bad - they're just inexperienced. They made mistakes, and that was to be expected. Luckily they have Smith there to back them up. He was just fantastic. I don't know why the Lightning goaltenders aren't getting a lot of credit from the general hockey media. That baffles me.

I was a little disappointed in the forwards, tho. I expected better from them. But it is only the first game of the season, and half the team is new with a new coaching staff. They're still getting used to the system that Melrose has put in place - that much was obvious. There was a lot of miscommunication going on, particularly in the third period. Once they get that all figured out, then they should be fine.

St. Louis and Malone were probably the best guys on the ice for Tampa Bay - other than Smith and Stamkos, of course. Malone, despite his two penalties on the night (Meszaros had two penalties as well), played a good game. He and St. Louis seemed like the only ones out there who not only had it together, but really wanted to win. And Recchi played a pretty solid game as well.

I guess we'll see if the Lightning do a better job as the away team tomorrow.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

NHL Preseason Rankings

So after much deliberation, I’ve come up with my preseason rankings. I decided to give it a go – why not, right? Remember, this is just my personal opinion.

So my statistical methodology was simple. I broke up the teams into three categories – forwards, defense, and goaltending. Then I added a numerical value for how good I thought that component of the team was – 3 points for “good,” 2 points for “decent,” and 1 point for “needs some help.”

So teams are ranked by number of total points, with 9 points being the best. For teams with the same amount of points, or ties, I simply listed the teams alphabetically. I did not figure in coaching styles or injuries, merely strength of position, and all three positions are weighted equally.

If you have any questions, or would like it broken down by division, let me know. Number of points are in parentheses.

Eastern Conference
NY Rangers (9)
Carolina (8)
Ottawa (8)
Philadelphia (8)
Pittsburgh (8)
Boston (7)
Tampa Bay (7)
Washington (7)
Buffalo (6)
Florida (6)
Montréal (6)
NY Islanders (6)
New Jersey (6)
Atlanta (5)
Toronto (3)

Western Conference
San Jose (9)
Anaheim (8)
Calgary (8)
Detroit (8)
Vancouver (8)
Dallas (7)
Minnesota (7)
Chicago (6)
Phoenix (6)
St. Louis (6)
Columbus (5)
Edmonton (5)
Nashville (5)
Colorado (4)
Los Angeles (3)

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Lightning Move Tarnasky, Ouellet Next?

Monday the Bolts traded Tarnasky to the Nashville Preditors for a conditional pick. That move likely means David Koci makes the squad as the teams defacto muscle. According to Melrose, "He's (Koci) been great, he's one of those players you have to have on your team. He lets your star players sleep at night."

Also on Monday the Bolts waived Ouellet, who has now cleared waivers. He has yet to be sent down to Norfolk, perhaps a trade is brewing for him.

Today the Lightning picked up another D-man. Here's the official release:

The Tampa Bay Lightning have acquired the rights to defenseman Michal Sersen from the Pittsburgh Penguins today in exchange for a fifth-round selection in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, executive vice president of hockey operations Brian Lawton announced.

Sersen, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound native of Gelnica, Slovakia, played in 54 games with HC Slovan Bratislava last season, recording nine goals and 18 points. He led all defensemen on the team in goals and was third in points. Sersen also played in 18 playoff games with HC Slovan as they won the Extraliga’s championship. He recorded a goal and three points during the post season. He has played in 96 games with Bratislava during the previous two seasons, recorded 10 goals and 23 points.

The Bolts open the season Saturday in Prague against the Rangers. If you want to check it out with fellow Lightning fans, there are a few organized watch parties around town. Barnacles, located at 926 Providence Rd., and Ker’s Winghouse, located at 34900 U.S. Highway 19 North, will both play host to the first watch parties of the season when the puck drops at noon on Saturday. On Sunday, Barnacles and Ker’s Winghouse, located at 8001 W. Hillsborough Ave., will close out the Bridgestone NHL Premiere.

All watch parties will feature appearances from the Lightning Girls and the Energy Team, as well as Lightning giveaways.

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