Where: Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York | When: 7:30 PM EDT
Radio: 970 AM WFLA - Online Stream | Television: NBC Sports Net - Live Extra | Twitter: Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Blueshirt Banter, Blue Collar Blue Shirts, Save by Richter, Ranger Pundit
Last night was bad. Tonight? The fact tonight is on NBC Sports Net alone does not make it a thrill to think about. You mix in how the club played yesterday in Brooklyn and then ponder having to put up with Mike Millbury, Pierre McGuire and the annoyances of a NBCSN broadcast and... I'm not thrilled. I'm not thrilled at all.
Mind you, my reaction is not borne from believing the team is incapable, lacking talent and all that. Anyone who is thinking in that light has paid less attention to the club than they have other aspects of sports and life. Things aren't all that glorious though, this we can agree on. Last night is proof of it.
Ben Bishop starting against the Islanders was a bad logistics call. That's not about talent, that's not about ability, that's not about skill, that's about logistics. Ben Bishop, #1 goaltender of the Tampa Bay Lightning club, a player who is near the top of all stat categories all-time for the Bolts, is getting the majority of starts. Bish in a workhorse capacity has been done before...overdone before, in fact. The 2013-14 season was a thrill for the Lightning but fell down, went boom in the playoffs when Bishop got hurt. This isn't the playoffs yet, and the Lightning hasn't clinched a playoff spot yet... So, Jon Cooper going workhorse until that's attained might seem wise.
The thing is, Bishop was going to start either Monday's game against the Islanders or Tuesday's game against the New York Rangers and the fact he started the game not in the national spotlight makes me curious.. Actually, that's putting it nicely. Confused is a valid word, agitated also seems applicable. A Vezina Trophy viable candidate going against a wild card team instead of the higher-level (but struggling in their own right) playoff bound team? The Islanders are more competitive right now because they haven't clinched a playoff spot either but... Why did Bishop start yesterday? Why does Andrei Vasilevskiy start today?
None of this is an attempt to sully Vasy, but he is the backup goalie at this point and hasn't gotten enough playing time in the past month - he started three games total in March, in a irregularity of 8 - 11 days. It was also mused about earlier in this season that Vasy is at his sharpest when he has had playing time...
Playing time, though, is what Vasilevskiy's lacking and now likely starts with the club in the spotlight and in a very famous venue against the #3 team in the Metro Division. The kid is capable, but has he been tasked with another bad situation a-la the Lightning's game against the Florida Panthers on March 26: The flip side of back-to-back games where the previous opponent was, coincidentally, the New York Islanders.
It's not like I want Bishop to have started back-to-back games here, and perhaps this can be seen as an endorsement of Vasy by the powers that be with the Lightning (Jon Cooper, Steve Yzerman, etc)... It just seems like a poor logistics choice. Without the results of yesterday in mind, this was to be a do-over of the Eastern Conference Finals - that's how close we are to the playoffs. If not literally, they figuratively on the TV presentation approach. The drama factor is ramped up because this is a Lightning team seemingly in limbo because of the loss of Steven Stamkos. If that narrative gets driven by media members today, just remember the club is 1-1-0 since it was announced Stammer was going down.
The one factor that does play into this: The Rangers played last night as well, winning 4-2 over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Henrik Lundqvist, the king of the crease, started that game for the Blueshirts, making 27 saves on 29 shots. It's not been revealed if he'll go again at the time of this writing. If Lundqvist doesn't go, it'll be Antii Raanta in net for the NYR. Raanta has played 22 games, posting a solid 2.20 GAA with a .916 save percentage. He's got a 10-6-2 record with one shutout to his name as well. There's an argument here that Raanta should have started yesterday for the Rangers too, but that's something for a Rangers fan or blog to take up.
There's an argument to make that Bishop gets tabbed again for Tampa Bay - he only faced 23 shots yesterday before getting pulled. He may indeed have the resources to go again... But to overuse Bishop is asking for a repeat of Bishop breaking at integral times. He played through limitations in the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals, how would he have fared in full health? The mind boggles... But it also concludes the man shouldn't have started last night; he should have been tabbed for this game before the team ever left Tampa on this road trip.