It's an easy narrative given everything that happened today surrounding Martin St. Louis.
Sometime before 1PM EST: Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager and head architect of Team Canada since the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver Steve Yzerman personally calls the captain of his NHL squad, Martin St. Louis. The phone call is not easy, or pleasant, or productive. He has to tell the 38-year old leader of his team that he has not been selected to represent his country at the Olympics. For the second time on his watch. In likely his last opportunity to play for a "real" medal.
1PM EST: The roster is announced. Martin St. Louis is not on it. It is reported that he will not speak to the media until after the game against the Winnipeg Jets.
A few minutes after 8PM EST: The puck drops, and Martin St. Louis goes to work, same as he has for the past 15+ years and 1,000+ games.
Around 10PM EST: Martin St. Louis scores a beautiful power play go-ahead goal on a tip play in front of the net, off a feed from another snubbed member of the Bolts.
Minutes later: Martin St. Louis, too slow for Canada, beats two younger, "faster" players in a 5v6 situation to a loose puck in the middle of the ice, carries it wide outside the reach of the defender's stick, and pots his second goal of the night, an empty-netter insurance tally with less than 30 seconds remaining in the game.
Just another day at the office, right?
As a team, the Lightning looked better in the first than a few nights ago in Edmonton, though to be perfectly blunt, both the Jets and the Bolts seemed like they were sleepskating for the first twenty minutes or so. Perhaps the Lightning were at least half-awake, as they jumped to a massive 5-2 ([/sarcasm]) lead in shots on goal after the first period. One of those 5 shots was a beautiful wrist shot in the slot from Valterri Filppula on the rush via a nice entry feed from Teddy Purcell, as the Lightning continue to make teams pay for poor transition defense and lazy changes on their own blue line.
Unfortunately, the Lightning PK wasn't as successful, allowing a pair of consecutive power play tallies to the Jets, one in the first period and one in the second period. The first period marker by Olli Jokinen came at 5v3 after Lightning netminder Anders Lindback -- starting in place of the injured Ben Bishop -- cleared the puck over the glass for a delay of game minor while the Bolts were already down a man. The Jets worked a quick cross-slot passing play that Lindback couldn't get over to stop, tying the game at 1-1.
The Jets followed that up with another power play goal in the second to take the lead. Dustin Byfuglien skated in along the right wing and fired a long, unscreened wrist shot from just inside the blue line that somehow eluded Lindback, a textbook soft goal that Lindback has earned heaps of criticism for this year, and rightfully so.
The Jets, however, had almost nothing going for them at 5v5 as the Lightning absolutely dominated control of the puck. Through two periods (40 minutes), Winnipeg had just 9 shots on Lindback, and while the Jets looked disorganized and sloppy, some credit is also due to a Lightning club that is buying into a defensive, shot-suppression, counterattack mentality that has brought them a lot of success and is a good recipe for winning without Bishop and Stamkos in the lineup.
Like the Oilers and Flames before them, the Jets struggled with the quick-strike capability of this Lightning offense, getting burned on the rush with regularity. Ondrej Palat tied the game finishing off what was essentially a 4-on-2 rush, which came just seconds after a failed 3-on-2 rush the other way by the Jets. The Bolts have shown to be quick to collapse into their own zone to break up scoring chances and even quicker to break out and go on the attack when the opportunity presents itself.
Palat's marker to tie the game at 3-3 was a particularly nice play that started with Matt Carle breaking up the Winnipeg rush and Alex Killorn carrying the puck safely out and through neutral ice to Winnipeg's end before the Jets could set up defensively. Killorn found Nikita Kucherov streaking through the middle, who held the puck just long enough to draw all the defensive (and Ondrej Pavelec's) attention, freeing up Palat for a gimme goal from the right side of the net.
- The Lightning held the Winnipeg Jets to just 14 shots on the night. 14 shots in 60 minutes. 14 shots in 60 minutes. That includes 5 power play opportunities for the Jets. They scored on 2/5.
- The low shot totals are indicative at just how good the Lightning were at controlling the puck all night long -- controlling 64.7% of all unblocked shot attempts at 5v5 on the night, a true lambasting in terms of puck possession, on par with what the Chicago Blackhawks did to the Lightning earlier in the season and what's been happening to the Toronto Maple Leafs on a regular basis for two years.
- There were 66 total penalty minutes handed out in this game, 33 for each club, as this once-heated (again, [/sarcasm]) Southeast Division rivalry came to a boiling point. While there were a couple of fights and chippy moments, most of the penalties were really just the result of sloppy, lazy play by both teams, or simple obstruction calls that happen dozens of time in every NHL game and were simply called tonight.
- Anders Lindback played in this game in place of the injured Ben Bishop, and despite only facing 14 shots, actually lowered his season numbers with a .857 save percentage on the evening. That said, the first goal allowed was mostly his fault because of the delay of game penalty and not because he failed to make a save; and while the Byfuglien goal was about as ugly and soft as they come, he stepped up and made a couple of really terrific stops late while essentally ice-cold to preserve the lead for the Bolts.
- Speaking of goaltenders, Cedrick Desjardins, recently recalled from Syracuse of the AHL, dressed as Lindback's backup -- but wielding Al Montoya's gear. Montoya, the backup for the Jets, let Desjardins borrow some equipment for the night after the airline that flew Desjardins to the game after the call-up lost some of his bags.
- As the guys at Bolt Prospects pointed out, the Lightning improved to 12-9 away from the Tampa Bay Times Forum this year with the victory. The Bolts have been atrocious on the road the past two seasons, including an abysmal 6-16-2 mark on the road last year.