In his latest “30 Thoughts” column Elliotte Friedman devoted three different thoughts to the Lightning (that’s 10% - who says the Canadian media doesn’t care about sunbelt teams?). Geofitz already tackled Friedman’s talk about Alex Killorn and his new, big, bad, goalscoring stick, so let us dive into the other two thoughts the Sportsnet writer had about Tampa Bay.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Even as fans we tend to overlook the importance of the regular season. When you’re cheering for a good team you want to get to the playoffs as soon as possible because that’s where the real excitement is. And if you’re cheering for a bad team you want the regular season over so you can look forward to the draft (am I right Coyote fans?).
It can’t be much different for the players. After having battled all the way to the finals and given so much that the loss left them in tears, it’s hard to get excited for a mid-December game against the Blue Jackets. It’s kind of like big game fishing. Once you’ve spent an hour battling a 1300 lb. marlin it’s hard to go back to catching trout in a pond.
This isn’t a team of doe-eyed youngsters any longer. With the exception of Brayden Point, everyone on the roster has been through two long playoff runs. So it would be natural to think they are already looking ahead to this season’s playoffs. The good news is that it sounds like they aren’t putting the cart before the horse this year.
“Yeah, you want to start the season right where the playoffs start,” Jason Garrison told the Tampa Bay Times. “But that’s not the way the game works. You can’t look too far ahead. You’ve got to focus on what’s going on now.”
Brian Boyle echoed those comments when he was asked wanting to fast-forward to the playoffs, “If you do that, you won’t be playing in April. There’s work to be done now. This is important.”
Their play has echoed their words. A win on Thursday will have them tied with Edmonton (really? Edmonton?) for the second-most points in the league with 12. It’s only a difference of two games compared to last season’s 4-3 start, but this team just looks a lot better. For one thing they are healthy and more importantly they are scoring. After six games this year they have 24 goals compared to just 20 after seven games last season.
It’s a good thing that they have started off hot, as Detroit and Montreal (the only team not to have lost in regulation yet) have also started well. The Lightning need to keep pace with them if they want any chance of winning the Atlantic this year.
It was about this point in the year last season when the Lightning went into their mini-tailspin that threatened to derail their season. They survived (thanks to the play of Ben Bishop) but it really cost them any chance of winning the division. Could home ice advantage have led to a different outcome in the Eastern Conference Finals? Possibly, but hopefully this season they aren’t leaving that to chance.
If Bishop was truly “stone-faced” he wouldn’t be missing two teeth today. [... - Acha] That being said, there is a long history of leaving the goaltender alone on game day. Being the last line of defense isn’t an easy thing to prepare for. Former goalie Scott Clemmensen described his job as having “to be perfect and with that comes a certain level of stress and concentration. I think the conception that goalies are weird and superstitious all stems from that simple fact.”
When a player is putting that kind of pressure on himself you really don’t want to ask him how he’s doing 10 minutes before the game. Focus and preparation is a more adequate way than superstition to describe a pre-game routine these days. You are more likely to see a goalie go through a Gumby-like stretching routine than to see him talk to his goalposts in order to get ready. According to the New York Times, Bishop stretches for about 10 minutes before all of his starts, but in true Bishop fashion isn’t big on the details:
“I just, uh, stretch my legs. I don’t know the name of the stretches,” he told the Times.
Bishop does try to keep an even keel no matter if he is coming off a win or a loss the game before. That helps him bounce back from big losses in the regular season and especially the post-season (see the Rangers series two seasons ago).
Getting into such an intense zone that your teammates walk away from you and your position coach see the “the steak in his eyes, the knife in his teeth” look before the game is a lot easier on the team janitor than Glenn Hall’s pre-game ritual.
Young backup Andrei Vasilevskiy hasn’t been around long enough to develop any quirks (well any quirks that aren’t normal for a 22-year-old). Unlike Bishop, he is a bit more intense with his day of game preparations. Anytime your workout regime is compared to Martin St. Louis, you know you’re intense.