Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
When: 7:30 PM EDT | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports, NBC Sports Net (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Winging it in Motown, Abel to Yzerman
Tyler Johnson has proved himself to be "Good at the Hockey" during the Atlantic Division semifinal series with the Detroit Red Wings. Scoring 6 goals in 6 games will do that for you (though he's needed multi-goal games to make up for ones where he and the team failed to reach the score sheet). It's brought up an interesting bit of conversation that's lurked around the web.
Is Johnson, who is playing in only his second NHL season and fourth as a pro, more valuable to the Tampa Bay Lightning than Steven Stamkos?
That question came to life with Stamkos' struggles to post a goal in the playoffs while Johnson leads the team in tallies (and is tied for the league lead in playoff goals with Vladimir Tarasenko who scored 6 before the Blues were ousted from the playoffs by the Minnesota Wild). Yet it also seems like an unfair conversation to have in some ways - for either player.
I don't believe any Lightning fans (or NHL fans) marked Ruslan Fedotenko more valuable to the Bolts than the likes of Martin St. Louis after the 2004 playoffs, where Feds notched 12 goals as to Marty's 9. The more apt comparison might be Brad Richards's value to Tampa Bay as compared to Vincent Lecavalier from the era of the last decade... But it also exposes some of the reasons why not try to compare Johnson and Stamkos.
See, Vinny and Stamkos had something in common - being the top line center. That placement, that threat, tasked opposing teams with having to send out a Grade-A opposition line to stifle the threat Vinny and company created which presented opportunity to Brad Richards on the second line.
Line combinations are another factor that differ Johnson and Stamkos - Steven doesn't have his old pal Martin St. Louis on his wing any more. While there is a chemistry element between him, Alex Killorn and Ryan Callahan, it's Stamkos who is seen as the true goal-scoring threat on that line; it's not a tandem threat. Meanwhile, Tyler Johnson has been playing and performing with Ondrej Palat on his left wing since 2011-12 with the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL (under coach Jon Cooper). While Johnson proves to be pretty good in most any situation he faces, Stamkos has a bulls-eye on his back under the same circumstances (498 points in 492 NHL games, 276 of those points being goals, will get you that).
One other aspect that has been in the conversation at times but hasn't been given the focus by those comparing #9 and #91 is the status of Steven Stamkos; Stamkos himself says he isn't hurt (and let's admit right now that he isn't exactly going to confess this stuff during the playoffs) but only had 13:38 of ice time during game 6 along with 1:22 of time on the power play total.
In this situation, Johnson has been outperforming Stamkos offensively, but you can say that for 2013-14 as well as Johnson had a respectable rookie year that earned him a Calder Award nomination and Stamkos had a broken leg that shortened his season. This is just more evidence how circumstances comparing the value of the two centers just isn't fair. They're both good and I'm damn well glad they play with the Lightning logo on their chest.
The importance of game 7 dominates tonight, as does the suspension of Niklas Kronwall from the game. The reaction is mixed in the bi-polar sense of the term as one grouping of fans see it as something that needed to be done (a message sent to players to cut the crap; action-reaction that's been absent from administrative oversight) while the other perspective sights other hits as justification not to do one simple thing - if you let that go, you ought to let this go too. That leads to the politics of laws and rules and the NHL's mixed implementation of them. Their practice of rule enforcement in that regard is an out-and-out joke in and of itself. If the league has rules, they should be enforced in a consistent. There has been more than one reviewable hit in this series (and elsewhere in the playoffs) and if nothing more the league needs to start making phone calls and reviews part of the process. How hits like Kronwall's get flagged to begin with (while others are skipped) is where questions can be raised, but trying to protect players from each other (and limit headshots) isn't going to happen with a hands-off approach, or with a consistency that resembles oatmeal.
This is the playoffs, rules tend to change to not steal moments form players, but if you do the crime - you do the time. It's only in a corrupt system where the timing of a crime on someone vital is dismissed for the sake of the moment, but that's opening up another can of worms I'd rather stay away from.
Last but not least: It's rare that the Lightning have a close final score in a season series (though I'll admit I haven't scanned full details to compare regular season series results to the opening round of the playoffs) but after 6 games played, they have scored just as many goals (15) as they've given up to the Red Wings. The NHL pointed out in a tweet that the Lightning tend to have game 7's decided by 1 goal, and the Red Wings have had 5 of their last 6 game 7 contests decided by the same one-goal margin.
Other Game Coverage:
- Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview
- Full coverage on SB Nation
- Live stream of Tampa Bay Lightning coverage on Twitter