Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lightning trade for RW Tukonen

Lightning Acquire Right Wing Lauri Tukonen from Dallas in Exchange for Defenseman Andrew Hutchinson

Oh, look. Another trade. I was thinking that it was about time for that again. And they're trading away another defenseman for yet another forward. Yep, that's pretty much par for the course with this team so far this season.

Looks like that coaching change really didn't change much of anything, huh?

A good sports psychologist couldn't hurt, tho. A friend of mine, who's also a trainer, is qualified as a sports psychologist. So if anyone would like to contact her, let me know.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Game 23: Tampa Bay at Colorado

Well, that was a miserable little game. Tampa Bay lost to Colorado 4-3. Don't be fooled by the score - it wasn't that close a game until about 10 minutes left in the third.

I'd forgotten just how gushy the Colorado announcers were. They take positive spin and run with it for as far as they can. I mean, they can take a criticism and turn it into a compliment. It's really kind of scary. It did make me a bit nostalgic for the Western Conference, annoying as they were and always have been.

Interestingly enough, they were the first guys to not be all over Steven Stamkos, and how wonderful he is. Instead, there was some serious man-crushing on Lecavalier after he scored his goal - who wasn't having his best game. But then, neither was most of the team.

The fact that half the team seemed pretty listless sort of made me wonder if a cold or flu is making the rounds. It's that time of year, after all. Sure, they played in Minnesota yesterday afternoon, and then played tonight. And sure, the time change (9 pm start Eastern time) might've thrown them off. And yeah, Denver - which is in the plains, by the way, and not in the mountains - is a mile above sea level. But I've watched teams play in the Western Conference for nine seasons, who have had much more difficult travel schedules - and usually play at a lot closer to sea level - do much better than the Lightning did tonight.

Kolzig was one who definitely wasn't at his best. Neither, as I'd said, was Lecavalier, nor Eminger, Vrbata, Meszaros, Jokinen, and a couple of others. They all looked seriously out of it to me. Although Lecavalier got a little more focus after getting hit in the face twice - once by a stick during a face off and once by a puck flipped up by St. Louis (I think) within a couple of minutes of each other.

Lecavalier ought to consider a half-shield - to protect his eyes, if nothing else. But he's so tall that probably not a lot of stuff ends up near his eyes most of the time, so I guess it's something of a toss-up. Maybe.

About the only thing that worked for Tampa Bay tonight was their power play. How that happened, I have no idea. But I'm not complaining. It was the only thing that kept them competitve - other than Smith, of course.

Smith ended up with the loss on his record even tho Kolzig started the game and let in 3 of the 4 goals. It's like baseball in that the pitcher (or goalie) of record is the one who gets the game winner scored on them. Smith let in what ended up being the game winning 4th goal.

They don't play for a couple of days, so hopefully they'll have a little down time. If people are sick, sleep is probably the best thing for them. So we'll see how the game goes in Philly on Tuesday.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Game 22: Tampa Bay at Minnesota

Tampa Bay lost to the Minnesota Wild 4-2, but don't let the score fool you. It was actually a really close game. It's an empty netter that makes it look otherwise.

I've heard for years that Jacques Lemaire's teams play a boring style of hockey. And that might normally be true, but this game was anything but boring. It was also a well played 60-minute effort by the Lightning as well.

You know, Lemaire's one of my favorite NHL coaches. I really ought to go watch the Wild play sometime. Probably not this season, but in the next one or two anyways.

The first and second periods were great. I thought that the Lightning forechecked and backchecked really well. And they had a good tempo going. They did look a little tired at the beginning of the third, tho. But they worked thru that and managed a great finish - despite losing.

I think that Lecavalier has started a trend. I noticed that Malone was skating backwards playing defensively, as was another forward - I think it was Prospal, but I'm not sure because of the camera angle. Frankly, I think it's a good trend. But then, I would.

Stats.... 1 for 5 on the powerplay, which was good...taking only 3 penalties was fantastic...outshooting Minnesota and keeping shots allowed down was also good...and winning 29 of 53 faceoffs was great. Lecavalier led all shooters for Tampa Bay with 6 shots, and both St. Louis and Prospal had 4 each.

It was tackle hockey out there. Guys kept diving for loose pucks like they were trying to recover a fumble. A few someones have been watching too much football this weekend already. I'm not sure Lecavalier should've gotten an assist on that Malone goal since I don't think he touched the puck, but it was a beautiful head-first dive into the crease. It was rather baseball-like of him.

On to Colorado tomorrow, and hopefully they can keep up the pace. Luckily, it's a weekend for me, otherwise, I'd have to be cranky about the 9 pm start time. I love hockey, but I also love sleep. It's just not fair to have to choose between the two.

I'm going to have to think long and hard about that upcoming West Coast road trip they've got. 10 or 10:30 start times? That's just not right. It's soo much easier to watch sports when you live on the West Coast!

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

The NHLFA & NHL rules

NHLFA - November 2008 Mini-poll - Results

I thought that this was pretty interesting. It shows some of the differences between American and Canadian hockey fans' thinking. Mostly it isn't that different, but it's interesting all the same. I just wish that they had better questions.

I haven't been to this site in a while. I've known about the NHLFA (National Hockey League Fan Association) for quite a while. I thought it was an interesting concept, and one that perhaps ought to be taken more seriously.

As with any professional sport, you have four parts: the league, the teams, the players, and the fans. You can look at it like a pyramid where the league has the smallest amount of people, then the teams, then the players, and finally the base of the pyramid are the fans. Out of this 4 player system, only the fans don't have a voice in how things go. And yet, they're the ones that support the entire sport. Without the fans, you just have a beer league.

What has always amazed me about the NHL is the fact that they're constantly tweaking the rules. Not a season goes by without some major rule revision. And people wonder why the officiating sucks - it's because the rules are changed all the time. Much of this rule-tweaking is geared towards making the game more exciting for the fans. But has anyone bothered to ask the fans what they think would make the game more exciting? Of course not. Everyone would rather just guess.

The NHL is the most backward of all of the major sports in North America. They really are. They just make things up as they go along and hope for the best. It doesn't even occur to them that there's a more rational and systematic approach to improve just about everything. There's a reason why football and baseball do so much better here. It's because they're very methodical in their approach.

Let's look at baseball, for instance. If they pulled a major rule change, Congress would have to convene. Fans would throw a fit if anyone made any major changes to the game. They want tradition, so they get tradition. They want to be able to look at statistics from the 1920s and compare them to statistics in the 1990s and not have to think about how the game has changed in the meantime.

There has been only one major rule change in baseball between 1975 to now: limited instant replay was added during the 2008 season. That's it - the only rule change in 33 years. In the 132-year history of Major League Baseball (1876-2008), there have been only 76 major rule changes - 42 of which were made before 1900 as the league was getting itself established.

The NHL has had approximately (at least?) 20 major rule changes since the 2004-2005 lockout ended.

Canadian hockey fans talk about tradition, but they're not talking about the rules of the game. The game today doesn't have the same rules as the game did even 10 years ago, let alone 30, 40, or 50 years ago. This tradition of which they speak doesn't exist in terms of how the game is or was played. The basics are still there, but that's about as far as it goes.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Game 21: New York Rangers at Tampa Bay

Yet again with the overtime - and with the shootout. Hmmm. Oh well, what can you do, right?

Tampa Bay lost a very creative and entertaining game to the NY Rangers 3-2 in a shootout - if you hadn't figured that bit out yet from before. I was entertained, at least. I don't know about the rest of you that watched this game.

Two things occurred to me while watching the game. The first one happened during the first period. Lecavalier had been helping out the defense and was skating backwards a couple of times, and that reminded me of a quote by the Lightning general manager from earlier this week.

Lawton was quoted as saying, "I don't like our forwards skating backwards through the neutral zone. I like to see our 'D' continue to be activated more - just to be more aggressive." (Care of Tony Fabrizio at the Tampa Tribune.)

This from the man who put most of the defense together in the first place and has no idea what he's doing. Wow. He should be extremely thankful that they have some versatile forwards that are defensively responsible to help shore up the defense, not criticize them for doing it - and the defense for still trying to find their way.

It was an absolutely ridiculous comment to make. Other teams in the league would trade half their players away if they could for some of these defensive forwards. Not just Lecavalier, but St. Louis, Recchi, Gratton, Halpern, Roberts, and Pettinger as well.

The second thing that occurred to me is that the seven or so remaining guys from last season will be getting a much needed shot of stability (or, at least the appearance of stability) in the form of the return of Mike Sullivan. This was a good move. I wouldn't be surprise if he ends up with the head coaching job next season. Not because Tocchet is a bad coach, but because Sullivan is good. I think he is, anyways.

Smith, again, had a solid game. The defense were pretty good in front of him as well. Ranger had 5 shots for the game, so good for him. It was the most for anyone on the team. Shots for the team weren't bad, but they were great at face offs winning 35 of 59. (Yes, that's actually good for those of you who don't pay too much attention to stats.)

It was a hard fought, hard hitting game. One that you would think usually comes at the end of the season by teams trying to squeak into playoffs. I thought it was a great effort.

And, who knew that Stamkos actually will drop the gloves? I didn't. But then, I don't pay all that much attention to rookie stats from junior hockey. Just because a guy dominates in junior or college hockey doesn't mean that he'll do the same immediately when he hits the NHL, after all.

Oh yeah - and that Naslund guy? He didn't do too bad, either. Unfortunately, it was for the wrong team, tho. It's weird cheering against him after cheering for him for so many years. If you watched this game then you know exactly why I think so highly of him. It's because he really is a great hockey player.

Now if only he still played for the team that I follow....

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lightning Bring Back Sullivan

I heard rumblings of this happening, but didn't think it would. He was still under contract, so there was nothing to do on that front.

Here's the "Official' release from the Lightning:

TAMPA BAY – Former Tampa Bay Lightning Associate Coach Mike Sullivan has returned to the team and will serve as associate coach to Interim Head Coach Rick Tocchet, Executive Vice President & General Manager Brian Lawton announced.

In addition, Assistant Coach Cap Raeder will become goaltending coach and oversee the development of the organization’s netminders in Tampa Bay, Norfolk of the American Hockey League and Augusta of the ECHL, as well as unsigned prospects in the system. Wes Walz remains as an assistant coach on Tocchet’s staff.

“We are excited to add Mike to our coaching staff,” Lawton said. “He’s been here and knows the players well, and he’s an upgrade to the overall quality of our coaching. Mike is highly respected throughout the league and has been successful as a head coach at the NHL, AHL and International levels.”

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Game 20: New Jersey at Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay lost to New Jersey 7-3. And if it hadn't been for Prospal setting up a goal in the middle of the second, and Malone converting a penalty shot, then it would've been a lot uglier score. They were lucky that they weren't shut out, frankly.

The thing I can't quite wrap my head around, tho, is how Prospal and Vrbata both ended up a +1 on the night. All of those seven goals by the Devils were even strength. Malone and Lecavalier both ended up -4 for the game.

+/- has been getting some discussion lately as to whether or not it's a legitimate stat. I sort of think it is, but it's an incomplete stat. There should also be a separate categories of +/- for both power play and shorthanded situations. Only with all three areas covered can you really get a clear picture of how responsible defensively a player truly is. It doesn't tell you a lot just covering the even strength situations. Unless it's a game like this one where all of the goals were even strength - even the Lightning's.

This game was a continuation of the last two periods of the previous game. They all collectively had that deer in the headlights look, and weren't really in the game mentally. That could've been because of the unusual start time for the game, I suppose.

But it makes me wonder if any changes in the dressing room is making them jumpy. Two guys were called up from the minors, and even tho they were Ramo and Heward - both guys who were with the team at training camp - it was still a change. Or maybe it was Smith not suiting up that rattled them. Any way you slice it, it's starting to look like they're a little fragile right now.

They allowed 45 shots on goal, Kolzig got shelled for 5 goals, and Lecavalier, St. Louis, and Prospal had a combined total of 5 shots on goal. The only bright spot was the fact that they only got two penalties - although one was for too many men on the ice. That's still a result of sloppy thinking.

Now, what everyone's waiting for - the third jerseys. Over all, I liked them. I don't really care for the word "Bolts" down the front, since I would've liked to have seen some kind of retro-1930s Lightning logo, but I love the color. But then, you should probably know that the school colors of my university are navy, slate blue, silver, and white so it's pretty close to the Tampa Bay Lightning colors.

I like the third jersey's a lot better than their regular ones, actually. It's not hard to imagine a white version for the road. The blue looks a lot better than the solid black uniform, I think.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Game 19: Nashville at Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Nashville Predators 4-1.

The first period was great. Both of Lecavalier's goals were very nice, and the team had a lot of energy and purpose. And then there was nothing in the last two periods. They coasted really badly but luckily managed to hold on to the lead.

In this particular instance, while penalties were a problem, the officiating was even more of a problem. All of these holding, holding the stick, and hooking penalties were kind of a joke. They should be called, of course, but only when they actually happen.

Do you realize that hockey is the only sport where injuries - or lack thereof - make a difference in the severity of the penalty? In football, a face mask penalty is 15 yards, no matter what happens to the guy whose head was jerked around. But a high stick call in hockey is dependent upon whether or not there's blood. It's no wonder that officiating isn't very consistent. The league allows too much leeway for officials when making calls. There's absolutely no standardization, it's all subjective.

Power plays against them didn't help the Lightning, but they're still getting out shot. Smith was again brilliant. They're so lucky to have this guy.

I don't know. The did win, which was really good. And at least they found a way to hold on to the lead. The last two periods didn't exactly inspire confidence in me, tho.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lecavalier vs. the hockey media

I hate rumors. The thing that I hate about them is the fact that unless you're a part of the situation, you'll never find out the truth. And while the rumor itself can be pretty entertaining, often the truth is even more so.

I really wanted to avoid writing about this. I prefer dealing with facts rather than with speculation. Sure, I've been known to throw speculation out there upon occasion, but I'm always careful to make sure everyone knows that that's what it is - pure speculation. The only reason I'm even going to say anything about this is because people are overlooking one big fact in this entire situation, and I feel that it ought to be pointed out.

So, here is my opinion on the story - again, this is just my opinion: the hockey media versus Lecavalier over the Melrose firing. The whole thing is just silly. It really is. But I believe that they're blaming the wrong guy. You see, I think Melrose was partly right about his situation - that a player was involved in his departure - but I don't think anyone ran to management/ownership over it. They didn't have to. The owners already have a stool pigeon in the locker room.

It's been well documented that left wing Matt Pettinger is a friend and a minority business partner of Lightning owner Len Barrie. It was a brief topic of interest when Pettinger was traded to Tampa Bay, but then forgotten. Somehow, I just can't believe that they never ever talk about hockey away from the rink. Not when Barrie himself used to be a player. And I also can't believe that they don't ever talk when away from the rink, either, since they're business partners.

Let me throw some known facts out there for you. Matt Pettinger was traded to Tampa Bay from Vancouver on October 21st. Pettinger's first game with the Lightning was October 28th. Koules had mentioned in an interview that they had been thinking about letting Melrose go for about two weeks - which would be around October 31st. (It's rather puzzling that they'd be thinking about firing their coach when the team had just won two games in a row on the road (October 28th at Toronto 3-2, and October 30th at Buffalo 5-2), don't you think?) Melrose was then fired on November 14th after coming home from a 1-3-1 road trip.

And what was Lecavalier doing since Pettinger arrived? In the 11 games between Pettinger being traded to the Lightning and Melrose being fired, he had 4 goals & 4 assists for 8 points (half of those points came on the power play), +3, 39 shots on goal, and 4 penalty minutes. Does that sound like a guy who's slacking to you to get his coach fired? Sure, his stats aren't perhaps as good as they could be considering what he's done in the past, but then neither is anybody else's on the team - except, perhaps, the goaltenders - and 8 points in 11 games still isn't bad.

What makes Lecavalier such an easy scapegoat are his well documented problems with Tortorella in the past, the fact that he obviously didn't like Melrose (body language speaks volumes no matter what's being said), and the fact that he's the star of the team. In most sports, star players tend to be spoiled, selfish, self-centered prima donnas used to getting their own way and throwing fits if they don't. Hockey players aren't usually like that, but there have been exceptions. And, let's face it, much of the hockey media does deal with other sports and their athletes during the offseason. So it's not hard to just apply that stereotype to all star athletes, particularly when you're a jaded media drone.

So did Lecavalier get Melrose fired? It's certainly possible, but probably not. I think that it's more likely that Pettinger said something to Barrie away from the rink and that's what started it all. Barrie, you notice, hasn't said anything publicly about the situation. And, he was the primary person involved in the Boyle trade as well. Still, there's no way to tell what the truth is in this situation, and it's unlikely that anyone will ever really know anything for sure.

My only question is why is Lecavalier going to present his side of things on Hockey Night in Canada this weekend when he supposedly doesn't care about his reputation? (I'm pretty sure I read that somewhere....) I can understand it if he's representing the players on the team and not himself. But the fact is, people have already made up their minds about him in this situation. Either they believe him or they don't, and that's based upon what people already think of him. He can't change anyone's minds about anything at this point. To stand up for the guys that you play with, that's one thing. But to try to clear your own name when the verdict has already been handed down is a lesson in futility.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New Jersey vs. New Jersey

I couldn't resist. It's just toooo easy. The Bolts will be wearing this wonderful NEW Jersey on Sunday when they host New Jersery! I'll be here all week, tip your waitresses!

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Game 18: Florida at Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the Florida Panthers 4-3 in a shootout.

This entire game I couldn't help but think that it was a mirror image of the games that they'd been playing. Only the Lightning were in the Panthers' shoes before. They'd be outshot hugely, lose the lead, squeak into overtime, and then the rest was up to chance in the shootout.

Which is really the thing that people hate about the shootout. It's not that it's not a team event, and it's not that it's a gimmick. It's really because success in the shootout is plainly about luck. What they fail to see is that the entirety of any game is a game of chance. The shootout in hockey just lays that fact bare, and most people would rather believe that it's skill, or some kind of master plan, that gets them somewhere than just blind chance. But how many players say that their goals were scored because they threw something on net and the fact that it went in was just pure luck?

Anyways, Stamkos was on a rampage last night. I think that playing with Lecavalier and St. Louis really got him going because it was an indication of faith in his ability. Nine shots on goal - but not one going in - is pretty crazy. As were Lecavalier's seven shots on goal, also with none going in.

I still don't understand what the big fuss is over Stamkos's ice time. I think it's pretty unreasonable to expect any 18-year-old rookie to have anything more than a supporting role on any team in any sport. Would anyone feel completely comfortable about putting a true freshman who was a high school star immediately in at starting quarterback for USC, Ohio State, or Florida? No - in fact, most people would think the head coach was insane for trying that - and that's for a college team, not a big-league professional team. So why expect an 18-year-old NHL rookie to put up All-Star numbers and rack up veteran levels of ice time immediately? There's such a huge double standard going on with that.

52 shots on goal for the Lightning. Yes, that's for Tampa Bay. I'm not sure where that came from. Still, allowing 36 for Florida was about their average this season. So that aspect of their game remains pretty constant. As was five power plays they gave the Panthers which let them back into the game.

I think, in the end, all of these overtime games will really help them get into playoffs. I hate the points system that the NHL has - 2 points for wins, 1 point for overtime, 0 points for loses - but it should work in Tampa Bay's favor this season. They've been in something like nine overtimes now, and have only won two of them. If those had stayed in regulation and they'd kept that record, they'd be out seven points in the standings. So that's beneficial for them - and I say that grudgingly because I think the system is wrong.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Game 17: Tampa Bay at Carolina

Again with the overtime. Sigh…. The Tampa Bay Lightning lose in a shootout to the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2.

Two days for a new coach obviously doesn’t make a new team game. There wasn’t a lot different going on in this one from the 16 games before it. The entire Lightning squad played desperate for most of the game, but other than that the same mistakes kept being made. Anyone who sees this game as being something new and different from before is simply kidding themselves.

Penalties again were a problem, but they were also a problem for Carolina, too. Hooking seemed to be the call of choice for the officials. Makes me wonder if they’d just gotten a memo or something on that before the game because eight of the 11 penalties called (two for too many men) were hooking calls. You’d think that because the call was hooking that it’d be mostly on defensemen, but it was mostly on the forwards.

Shots were a lot better. Both for and allowed were around 30.

Mike Smith was, again, the best player out there. He had a solid game. And Marty St. Louis also was great, both offensively and defensively. The rest of the team was good, but not particularly outstanding. The good part of that, tho, is that no one was bad.

They’ve got some bad habits going on that are going to take a while for them to get past. Dumping and chasing into the offensive zone (which might be what the coaches want them to do, but I’ve always though was a bad idea unless there was no other option), long passes through the neutral zone, passing the puck in front of their own net, trying to rush through plays, and trying to force things to happen (which makes their passing pretty sloppy). It’s just not very good all the way around.

They need to get to a place where they’re forcing the other team to play their game, but first they need to find their game. Or, maybe, they need to have a game to try to adopt before any of that. Any way you slice it, they need to figure themselves out before they can figure out how to win games.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Lightning coaching drama

Tampa Circus Continues

I wonder how it feels to be the joke of the league – but not because they’ve been losing. The Tampa Bay Lightning have turned into the drama queens of the NHL. Not a very inspiring sports title, if you ask me. But, at least, they’re getting themselves noticed, right?

Let me throw some stats out there. Tocchet is the third coach in six months. There are only seven players left on Tampa Bay that were playing for the team back in February – more specifically, since before last year’s Dallas trade that sent Brad Richards to the Stars for Halpern, Jokinen, and Smith. And they have used 11 different defensemen in the first 16 games of the season.

Does any of that sound like the coaches responsibility? I don’t think so. And yet, the coach is the one blamed for it.

While Lawton may have been the one to gived Melrose the news, this wouldn’t have happened without the full cooperation of the ownership. It’s been well documented that Melrose was friends with Koules, and if any part of the ownership is willing to fire a friend after only 16 games into a season, then everyone’s fair game.

The way I see it, there are only two players right now who are probably untouchable: Mike Smith and Steven Stamkos. Smith because he’s a good goalie and those are very difficult to come by, and Stamkos because he’s the first player the ownership team ever got to draft. To get rid of Stamkos would to admit total and complete failure as knowledgeable hockey people.

Everyone else is expendable because everyone else got there thru the result of another person. Even you, Lecavalier – particularly if Sundin decides to sign up. (Although, why Sundin would want to play for this team right now is beyond me.) Despite the contract guards like no-movement clauses, would Vinny really want to stay with a team if they asked him to waive it?

We all saw the example set by Boyle’s leaving, after all. And Brad Richards as well. Lecavalier wants to finish out his career in Tampa, but he might have to go thru another team or two before he gets back there to do that. Of course, that’s just pure speculation on my part.

Frankly, I wouldn’t even count on Lecavalier still being captain by the end of the season, should he finish up with the Lightning. Just about anything could happen at this point. And, as we’ve all already seen, it’s not always the head coach that’s calling the shots.

While everyone shares in the blame of where the team is right now this season, and Melrose’s firing, I blame the ownership the most. Melrose, while perhaps having coaching issues as well, ended up the fall guy for the bad mistakes the ownership has already made. And they’re not thru tinkering with this team yet, either. Just when things were starting to get better and settle down, they traded Carle to the Flyers for Eminger and Downie.

So don’t expect any kind of stability with this team, and don’t expect any guy to be safe just because he is who he is. Because, in the end, nobody is really safe. Nobody.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Melrose Fired

6 weeks into the season, Barry Melrose has been fired. After a 5-7-4 start, the new regime felt it had seen enough. The Bolts showed flashes of what they could be, a great win in Buffalo, another in Philly, but in the end, after 3 straight losses Melrose has gotten the boot. Assistant Rick Tocchet will take the reigns in the interim.

Here's the official word from the Lightning:

TAMPA BAY – Tampa Bay Lightning Head Coach Barry Melrose has been relieved of his duties and Associate Coach Rick Tocchet has been elevated to interim head coach, Executive Vice President & General Manager Brian Lawton announced today. Melrose, 52, was named the sixth head coach in Lightning history on June 24, and compiled a 5-7-4 record this season.

“This was a tough decision to make,” Lawton said. “Barry is a good man and we have a great deal of respect for him. We wish him nothing but success. However, the results were unacceptable and the players have to understand that we need to be better. Hopefully this change helps push them.

“As for Rick Tocchet, we think this is a great opportunity for him and we believe he’s the type of coach who can take the team to the next level. Our players have a great deal of respect for him.”

Tocchet is in his 25th year in the NHL as either a player or a coach. He played 18 seasons with Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington and Phoenix, appearing in 1,144 career games and recording 440 goals, 952 points and 2,972 penalty minutes. He also appeared in 145 playoff games and netted 52 goals with 112 points and 471 penalty minutes.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Game 16: Detroit at Tampa Bay

This is the Tampa Bay Lightning team I think we all want to watch. Sure, there was that lapse during the second period. And sure, they gave Detroit back-to-back 5-on-3's which let them back into the game. And, sure, they lost 4-3. But that almost - almost - doesn't even matter. They came out to play, and that was a great thing to see.

This game mattered to the players. They wanted to win, and they wanted to work hard for that. Hopefully, they don't only play this way at home and against the better teams in the league.

Recchi was fantastic. He was the best player out there. St. Louis was great defensively. Ranger and Meszaros played like 30-year-old veteran defensemen. Kolzig was the spark that gave the team the energy to try for that comeback in the third when he argued with the officials about their non-calls in front of the net. Lecavalier's split lip at the end of the game just underlined the effort that they gave. That is how you play hockey.

The second period they seemed a little lost - or a little tired. And that's when they took most of their penalties - mostly the forwards this time. And puck possession wasn't exactly the best for most of the game either. Shots, well, near 40 allowed and near 20 taken. They'd been doing well with the faceoffs until the third period.

Lecavalier looked much more comfortable covering for the defense and skating backwards. I honestly think he's almost as good a defenseman as he is a forward. Not that any coach in his right might would play him anywhere but center, tho. Vinny has a couple of weak spots in his game, but nobody's perfect. Just shows that he's human is all. St. Louis could work on his backward skating, but at least he makes the effort - which is more than most forwards can say.

I happen to like well-rounded players, okay? Defensemen who jump into offensive plays aren't all that unusual. But forwards who can competently play like defensemen are.

The Lightning need to try to play like this more often. With passion, intelligence, and intensity. We'll ignore the second period for now, and concentrate on the fact that they actually played for each other. Now they just need to stop with the long passes and go with the more accurate short passes. That would definitely help them thru the neutral zone, as well as the offensive zone.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Game 15: Tampa Bay at Florida

The Tampa Bay Lightning lost tonight to the Florida Panthers 4-0.

I thought that this was a better game than the last one they played. They seemed steadier and more consistent. I think that the leadership was pulling thru a bit more tonight. Still, there was that lack of shots and penalty trouble again.

They’ve been a little sloppy lately. Passes keep getting picked off or are off-target, for instance. And they’re backing up too far into their defensive zone. And why are they dumping and chasing the puck into the offensive zone when they’re having problems with recovering loose pucks? That’s what I want to know.

Smith played well – particularly in the second and third periods. Gratton and Recchi both had pretty good games, as did St. Louis again. No one really stood out for the Lightning after those guys, tho.

I’ve accepted the fact that they’re going to have slow starts. I’ve accepted the fact that they’re probably going to allow 35-40+ shots a game. And I’ve almost accepted that they’re not going to shoot as much as the team they’re playing – almost, but not quite. But I just can’t quite wrap my head around their lack of competitiveness.

I’m a very competitive person, and the only thing I like less than losing are ties. The more of a challenge there is, the harder I work for it. It’s very difficult for me to walk away from a challenge. In fact, the only time I do walk away from something is when I feel that there’s no other option left to me; that I just can’t win no matter how hard I try. Doesn’t mean I like it, tho.

So I don’t get the Lightning. I’m not even playing for this team, and I want to go into their locker room, get in their faces, and rip on them. (And believe me when I say that I would – I am not easily intimidated.) I mean, how can it be that not a single one of them doesn’t get angry and then go out and try to lead by example – at the very least?

Don’t these guys have any kind of passion in them? They just stand around, kind of shrug their shoulders, and go thru the motions. If you really want something, then you have to put in the time and effort and work for it. Everyone knows that. And most recently, I’ve seen no one who’s been willing to go out and fight for the things that they want on a consistent basis. Not for pucks, not for positioning, not even for ice time.

There’s just no fire in this team. It’s as if they’re little boys who have lost their dog, and just want to sit and pout about it instead of going out and looking for it. Well, I say that they need to go out and look for the darned dog. Stop being passive and do something constructive. It’s an upsetting thing to watch these guys who are life-long athletes be ambivalent about something they supposedly love.

Especially when it seems like I care more about it than they do.

Having said that, I still do think that this game was an improvement over the last one or two. And they’re actually doing alright in the Eastern Conference standings, believe it or not. However, I really do believe that the fundamental problem with this team is the ownership/management. That doesn’t excuse the players from not putting in the effort for 60 minutes and playing tho. They need to create their own internal stability somehow, because no one else is going to do it for them.

A stat was thrown out there during the game by the announcers that was both unbelievable and disturbing – at least to me. Meszaros is the only defenseman for the Lightning to have been on the team since they played the NY Rangers in Prague. The only one. If you don’t think that ownership/management isn’t a problem, then you’re living in denial.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Game 14: Tampa Bay at Washington

Tampa Bay lost to the Washington Capitals – in Olaf Kolzig’s first ever return in another uniform – by a score of 4-2.

Normally, I’d give you my thoughts and opinions about the game. But let’s forget that. There’s something that was getting to me all game that I just need to get out.

There seems to be a definite lack of leadership on this team. I’m not talking coaches; I’m talking players. No one seems to want the responsibility of being the leader, and it’s costing this team some wins.

Let’s start with the captain, Vinny Lecavalier. He wanted to be captain – again – but he hasn’t really been leading all that much the past few games. You wanted to be captain? So be captain. Every. Single. Game. Assert your authority, take control of the situation, and just do what needs to be done. No complaining, no waiting, and no questions asked. That’s what leadership is about.

But it’s not entirely Lecavalier’s fault. He hasn’t had too much support from his alternates. Marty St. Louis has been perhaps the best leader on the ice so far this season, but Andrej Meszaros seems to be lost in the shuffle. He hasn’t really stood out and taken that leadership role on.

And then there are the older veterans – some of whom have been captain themselves. Where was Gary Roberts before tonight’s game? Chris Gratton’s been fairly consistent, but he strikes me as being pretty happy to keep a low profile – along with Olaf Kolzig. Mark Recchi has also been willing to take some of that leadership role, but I don’t think he wants to step on anyone’s toes since he’s new.

So when the team’s having an off night, there’s got to be at least one guy who will stand up and say that he’ll lead. Not just on the ice, but in the locker room as well. It doesn’t have to be the same guy every night, but you can’t just have guys looking around at each other and wondering if someone else will step up because they’re not quite feeling up to that. No one’s stepping up to fill in that void.

Seriously, if you can’t get things going for Kolzig on a night when he needs the guys the most – particularly when some of the Caps better players were out – then that’s really saying something.

The bottom line: the buck stops with Lecavalier. He’s the captain, and he needs to lead on a consistent basis. It’s his team, all of the guys look to him to set the tone and to get everyone going, and it’s his responsibility to do that.

That doesn’t excuse anyone else from helping him out, though.

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Lightning trophy watch - Week 6

Lady Byng Memorial Trophy
* Sean Avery, Dal – 58 PIM
* Derek Dorsett, Cbs – 56 PIM
* Ian Laperriere, Col – 50 PIM
* Brandon Prust, Cal – 45 PIM
* 2 players – 44 PIM
* …Ryan Malone, TB – 29 PIM [Acquired 5 PIM in the last week]….

Art Ross Trophy
* Evgeni Malkin, Pit – 22 pts
* Alexander Semin, Was – 21 pts
* Jarome Iginla, Cal – 19 pts
* Ryan Getzlaf, Ana – 19 pts
* 2 players – 17 pts
* …Vinny Lecavalier, TB – 11 pts [Acquired 2 pts in the last week]….

Maurice Richard Trophy
* Thomas Vanek, Buf – 12 g
* Alexander Semin, Was – 11 g
* Zach Parise, NJ – 10 g
* 6 players – 9 g
* …Vinny Lecavalier, TB – 6 g [No change from last week]….

* Alexander Semin, Was – +11
* Nikolai Zherdev, NYR – +10
* Marian Hossa, Det – +9
* Andrew Ference, Bos – +9
* 4 players – +8
* …Vaclav Prospal, TB – +6 [No change from last week]….

Calder Trophy
* Derick Brassard, Cbs – 13 pts
* Mikhail Brabovski, Tor – 10 pts
* Jakub Voracek, Cbs – 10 pts
* Kris Versteeg, Chi – 10 pts
* 3 players – 8 pts
* …Steven Stamkos, TB – 4 pts [No change from last week]….

Vezina Trophy
* Alex Auld, Ott – 1.85
* Tim Thomas, Bos – 1.85
* Erik Ersberg, LA – 1.95
* Henrik Lundqvist, NYR – 2.00
* Ryan Miller, Buf – 2.04
* …Mike Smith, TB – 2.32 [Up from 2.07 last week]….

* Tim Thomas, Bos – .944
* Alex Auld, Ott – .936
* Mike Smith, TB – .934 [Down from .941 last week]
* Niklas Backstrom, Min – .931
* 2 players – .929

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Saturday, November 8, 2008

Game 13: Tampa Bay at Philadelphia

The good news: Tampa Bay broke their losing streak, beating the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1. The bad news is that they're still rather inconsistent. But, hey, at least they're learning to hold on to leads now, right?

Overall, I liked this game. The first period was a little slow, but that's been the case for most of the season so far. It's like they all have to work themselves up to actually playing hockey or something. The pre-game mental preparation just doesn't seem to be quite there. It's as if they start the game and then think to themselves, "Oh yeah. Hockey game. Yeah, I can do that." Some are worse than others.

Penalties are still a problem. Seems as if that's going to be the case for much of the season. But what can you expect from a team that doesn't have a set roster?

A thought on the Carle/Eminger-Downie trade is that I guess they ("they" being the management/ownership of the Lightning) were far more interested in getting rid of Boyle than actually getting Carle. I mean, if they had really thought so highly of Carle, they would've given him a lot more than just 12 games to get adjusted.

Opening up salary cap space? I hardly think so. Not unless they're clearing room to bring in someone else - probably yet another forward, if that's the case. These guys are clueless when it comes to defensemen - obviously, all these former hockey guys in management/ownership used to be forwards - and they have absolutely no idea, nor do they seem to care, about team chemistry. The defense was actually doing just fine before this trade. They were really coming together and playing pretty well.

So, now, what was the point of that trade again?

Speaking of the defense, the shots allowed were under 40, but still over 35. Can't blame them for that too much, really. The Lightning will be lucky to have any of the same guys on defense that started the season by April at this rate. It's got to be unnerving. Again, most of the penalties in the game for Tampa Bay were against the defensemen.

Smith had a pretty good game. Better than the last two, certainly, but nothing like he'd been playing the few games before those. If goalies not named Brodeur were actually considered for MVP, he should be up for that. Without Smith, and Kolzig for that matter, the Lightning could be winless on the season right now.

Speaking of defensive play - which seems to be the theme here - St. Louis had a fantastic game defensively. Now I understand why he's playing the point during power plays. He was just as good offensively as usual, but his defensive game was just great. He was just all over the ice tonight, and I mean that in a good way.

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Women and the Hockey Hall of Fame

Recently, new members were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame (HHOF) in Toronto. There has been some outrage over the fact that there weren’t – and haven’t been – any women inducted into the HHOF. There have also been a lot of explanations as to why they aren’t.

So, instead, let’s talk about why they should be.

Women’s sports aren’t like men’s sports. But most people wouldn’t be able to tell you that since most people don’t watch women’s sports. There’s this misplaced idea that women’s sports are inferior to men’s, when the reality is that they’re just different. Not better, not worse – just different. Women play just as hard as the men do, are just as talented as men are in their own way, and are just as tough as the men.

And they get zero recognition for it. Women play sports for the shear joy of competing without any expectation of getting anything outside of that – not even acknowledgement. Many men, in the back of their minds and regardless of their own personal level of talent, secretly hope and wish they could get recognized for their athletic achievements. Women don’t do that because there’s no opportunity for it and rarely has been.

Women have male role models when it comes to sports. There aren’t many, if any, female role models. If you ask a female hockey player who her favorite hockey player is, she’ll probably name off a guy in the NHL instead of someone like Manon Rhéaume, Cassie Campbell, Hayley Wickenheiser, Angela Ruggiero, or Cammi Granato. They just don’t get the level of exposure that the men do, no matter how good they are or were.

In women’s basketball, the complaint is that women can’t dunk. In softball, it’s because the long balls aren’t that long, or that they don’t pitch the same or as fast. In women’s hockey, it’s because women don’t body check. Frankly, if you’re going to see any game specifically for one thing, then you’re missing out on a lot of other entertaining things that are going on.

The biggest complaint of all is that the women’s sport is slower than the men’s version. Slightly secondary to that is the skill level isn’t as high as the men’s. And that’s true enough, I suppose, tho I would argue about the skill level part of it. However, if you take the women’s sport on its own merits and not constantly compare it to the men’s, then it’s a far more entertaining game than what the men play.

Not that many people would know that, however, because people can’t get over the fact that while it’s the same sport with pretty much the same rules, it really is a different game. That differentness is what people think is inferiority because they can’t separate the two versions, men’s and women’s, into two different categories. Maybe thinking of it as the same sport with two different styles might be helpful.

Men and women are built differently, so they can’t do the same kinds of things. It’s a fact of life and of biology, and it’s unrealistic to expect otherwise. Elbow, hip, and knee joint angles are vastly different between men and women. In fact, because of that, women are much more susceptible to knee injuries than men are. Once you incorporate that reality into your thinking, then enjoying women’s sports becomes much easier.

USA Hockey inducted four new members into their US Hockey Hall of Fame this year. Brett Hull (who has dual citizenship with Canada), Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, and Cammi Granato – all as equals, and all as players. Hull, Leetch, and Richter all have Stanley Cup rings, while Granato owns the first ever Olympic gold medal for women’s ice hockey that she won Nagano, Japan, in 1998 as captain of Team USA.

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Game 12: Tampa Bay at New York Rangers

The Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the New York Rangers 5-2. They were doing so well, and then they hit this stretch this week. Let’s hope they can snap out of it sooner rather than later.

The first period was pretty generic, but the game got better the longer it went on. The end of the game was great. Right up until they got themselves into penalty trouble.

I don’t know if anyone else had seen this, but Lecavalier was playing defense at the beginning of the second. I saw Ranger, and I think Meszaros just got caught up ice, so being the good centerman that he is, he covered for the defense. Lecavalier did the whole bit from skating backwards from the blue line back to Smith to stick checking guys. It was pretty impressive.

You could tell that Lecavalier wasn’t entirely comfortable skating backwards for so long – probably because he isn’t used to doing that – but he was just as good as Ranger in that particular situation. He has some pretty good defensive instincts, really, and could probably play defense (as in, for an entire game) in a pinch if guys get injured. Most forwards can’t say that. Towards the end of his career, I can see him transitioning to defense, sort of like Fedorov has been doing with the Caps. It does make me wonder why he’s not playing the point on the power play, though, because of that.

Speaking of playing the point on the power play, St. Louis had a great game. I think he was probably the best player on the ice for the Lightning. His goal was very pretty. Prospal also had a very good game as well.

The most underrated guy on the Lightning has to be Chris Gratton. He is such a good player. And he’s so great at winning face offs, too. He definitely doesn’t get nearly enough credit for all of the things that he does.

Malone got into a fight, so the Lady Byng watch is reset back to zero. It was totally understandable, though. The team needed a little spark, and Malone tried to provide it. It didn’t really work out that way, however.

Smith, again, wasn’t having his best game. It’s interesting how the Lightning seem to struggle a lot more when Smith isn’t at his best. Still, he was just as good as any other goaltender. He was rather chippy in this game, and I wonder if that distracted him from his play. Personally, I think he might’ve gone a little too far with the hacking on the people in front of his net.

The Rangers had eight power plays last night. The Lightning had only three. Discipline seems to be something of an issue, and I’m not sure why that is. There’s a fine line between passion and recklessness, and it’s one that much of Tampa Bay hasn’t quite figured out yet. At least, not very consistently. If Artyukhin, who’s had a history of being undisciplined, can have only 6 PIM on the season – yes, you saw that right; only 6 PIM, including the 2 PIM from last night, in 12 games – then the rest of the team ought to be able to figure it out.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Game 11: Tampa Bay at New Jersey

What is with the Tampa Bay Lightning and overtimes this season, anyways? Is this the only way that guys can get themselves some more ice time? Or is there some kind of conspiracy afoot?

Okay – not really a conspiracy theorist. I’m just being funny. But it’s kind of fun to speculate, all the same, isn’t it?

They lost to a Brodeur-less New Jersey Devils team in Newark 4-3.

I thought that this game was pretty lackluster. It was almost as if they were just going through the motions or something. Maybe it was because of the fact that Brodeur wasn’t play, I don’t know. But it was a pretty quiet game all the way around – even the shootout.

The three guys who stood out, to me, were Artyukhin, Jokinen, and Smith. Artyukhin as been the most consistent player for the team in the last 3 or 4 games. Jokinen had 2 of the 3 Lightning goals on the night. As for Smith, it wasn’t his best game, but he still played very well.

Shots, as has been the case, were a problem. Too high for New Jersey – near 40 shots allowed again; and too low for Tampa Bay. The Lightning had a pretty good powerplay, though, converting 2 of 3. Penalties were way down, which was also good. And Malone didn’t have any penalties in this game, so he’s up to a 4-game penalty-free streak now.

Don’t forget, I have a “Lecavalier Needs a Nickname” blog going, so stop by and cast your vote in the comments on the blog. I’ll be wrapping that up on Saturday. Assuming that there are enough people who have voted, of course.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Skills Competition Thought

Why the NHL All-Star Game is now cooler than U.S. elections

You know, I have no real opinion on this. There’s no real way to control the voting once it moves online. But it does make me think of All-Star Weekend, and how the Skills Competition seriously needs to be revamped.

I brought this up last season. I think that the Skills Competition ought to be a real competition – and not this fake one that’s set up just to display the talents of the guys voted or chosen to play in the All-Star Game. We can see what those guys can do during the game, you know?

Instead, I think the Skills Competition ought to be truly a competition among the best of the guys in the entire league. I think all of the teams ought to set up their own individual skills competitions, and the league ought to gather the results of all 30 teams to determine who participates All-Star Weekend’s Skills Competition. I mean, it’s all well and good for Ovechkin to skate against Crosby during the fastest skater competition, but are they really a couple of the fastest skaters in the entire league? Does anyone even know that for sure?

They should open up All-Star Weekend to the entire league – whether they play in the game that weekend or not. It would be like a mini-hockey Olympics where the best in each category would have a chance to go head to head with each other. Chances are, many of the guys playing in the All-Star game would be participating. However, it would give some guys, who would never have a chance to participate in the weekend otherwise, the opportunity to be recognized for their talents as well.

Let’s forget the sham and see who’s really the best.

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Lightning trophy watch - Week 5

By the way, I have a “Lecavalier Needs a Nickname” blog going, so stop by and cast your vote.

Lady Byng Memorial Trophy
* Derek Dorsett, Cbs – 56 PIM
* Sean Avery, Dal – 54 PIM
* Chris Neil, Ott – 43 PIM
* Ian Laperriere, Col - 40 PIM
* 2 players – 37 PIM
* ...Ryan Malone, TB – 24 PIM [No change]....

Art Ross Trophy
* Evgeni Malkin, Pit – 18 pts
* Alexander Semin, Was – 16 pts
* Sidney Crosby, Pit - 15 pts
* Marian Hossa, Det - 15 pts
* Marc Savard, Bos, - 15 pts
* ...Vinny Lecavalier, TB – 9 pts [Acquired 5 pts in the last week]....

Maurice Richard Trophy
* Thomas Vanek, Buf – 11 g
* Zach Parise, NJ – 9 g
* 4 players - 8 g
* ...Vinny Lecavalier, TB – 6 g [Scored 3 g in the last week]....

* Nikolai Zherdev, NYR - +9
* Saku Koivu, Mon - +9
* Niclas Wallin, Car - +8
* Johnny Oduya, NJ - +8
* 9 players - +7
*...Vaclav Prospal, TB - +6....

Calder Trophy
* Jakub Voracek, Cbs – 8 pts
* Fabian Brunnstrom, Dal – 6 pts
* Oscar Moller, LA – 6 pts
* 5 players – 5 pts
* ...Steven Stamkos, TB – 4 pts [Acquired 4 pts in the last week]....

Vezina Trophy
* Ryan Miller, Buf – 1.82
* Tim Thomas, Bos – 1.83
* Henrik Lundqvist, NYR – 1.99
* Mike Smith, TB – 2.07 [Down from 2.13 last week]
* Alex Auld, Ott – 2.15

* Tim Thomas, Bos - .944
* Mike Smith, TB – .941 [No change]
* Ryan Miller, Buf – .936
* Alex Auld, Ott – .931
* 2 players – .928

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Game 10: Ottawa at Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay Lightning came from behind to beat the Ottawa Senators in an 8-round shootout 3-2 for a 3-game win streak.

What would the Lightning do without their excellent goaltenders? They were so lucky to win versus the Senators. The Lightning seemed to be very sloppy and committed a lot of turnovers. Keeping possession of the puck was a big problem for them a lot of the time. But Smith allowed only 2 goals on 34 shots, and kept the team in it so they had a chance to win.

But they managed to make it to their fifth overtime game this season – their second shootout – and it’s only their tenth game of the season. And it was pretty exciting, with probably their best effort of the entire game. It went 8 rounds in the shootout, but the Lightning managed to pull out another win. Why people don’t like the shootout, I will never understand.

What’s up with Tampa Bay wanting to take as many slap shots as they can on the powerplay? I’ve been noticing this for a while now. I mean, sometimes, that’s all you can do. However, why do it all the time? The windup takes up extra time, and no matter how hard the shot is, it won’t go through the goalie.

Malone went penalty-free for the third game in a row now. He had a pretty good game, actually, as did Prospal. Lecavalier has a 4-game point streak going, with 4 goals and 2 assists during that time – his fourth goal scored during this game. And Artyukhin had a great game with 8 shots and a couple of breakaways and the game winning shot in the shootout.

The Lightning are now off on a 5-game road trip through most of the Atlantic Division, with a stop in Washington. It’s going to kill me that I won’t be able to go to the game to watch them play when they come through here. I had hoped to make it up to the game in Philadelphia, but that’s not going to happen – and neither is the game in Washington. So I’ll have to wait until later on this season. Hopefully, anyways. We’ll see how that goes.

By the way, I have a “Lecavalier Needs a Nickname” blog going, so stop by and cast your vote.

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Lecavalier needs a nickname

Hockey has a long tradition of nicknames. Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky. Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion. Bobby “The Golden Jet” Hull. “Burnaby Joe” Sakic. Stu “The Grim Reaper” Grimson. There are lists you can find that cover so many players. That got me to thinking – why doesn’t Vinny Lecavalier have a nickname?

This is Lecavalier’s 10th year in the NHL. It’s commonly agreed upon that he’s one of the top 5 best hockey players in the world right now. He’s won trophies, he’s won a Stanley Cup, he’s captain of his team again – and was previously the youngest player named captain of his team until Sid “The Kid” Crosby was named captain of the Penguins. Still, he has no nickname. It’s like un-hockey or something.

So I put the word out, and got a list of possibly nicknames for people to choose from. We’re putting this up to a vote. The thing is, tho, that you have to use the nickname that’s chosen. There’s no point in doing this if no one’s going to call Lecavalier something other than his name.

So leave a comment with the name you like the best. I’ll give it a week, and we’ll go from there. I’m putting this up on a couple of other blogs, too, so it won’t be just the votes offered here.

(Note: The word “le cavalier,” for those of you who have no background in French, means “horseman” or “knight.”)

Feel free to offer other suggestions. The name liked the best will be the one that wins. Thanks for participating, and good luck!

  1. The Paladin
  2. Vinyl (contraction of Vinny L.)
  3. The Horse
  4. Saint Vincent
  5. Ox
  6. White Knight
  7. Sir Vinny
  8. The Truth
  9. LeCavalry
  10. Big V

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