The Tampa Bay Lightning hit a speed bump, but not until after they swept a grueling three-game West Coast road trip. In the past two weeks, they’ve compiled a decent 5-3-0 record. That included a come-from-behind thriller over the three-time Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks the day before Thanksgiving. They followed that up with back-to-back stinkers though, a trend that cannot continue much longer if they want to remain on top of the Atlantic Division, let alone in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Despite the three losses, the Lightning have gotten contributions from nearly everybody on the ice. The Stamkov line started out sizzling hot, but have since cooled off. Coming off his best week, Brayden Point has also hit a cold spell. Elite teams receive production from their defense. That’s where this team found themselves lately, with opponents focusing on stopping the first and, to a lesser degree, second line.
Knowing this, the Lightning blue line stepped up their game. That’s why two defenseman were selected to be a part of Raw Charge’s Three Stars of this extended two week period. The other is an unheralded member of the top line, who almost single-handedly won the first game out west.
Let’s get started, shall we?
1st star: Vladislav Namestnikov
Playing alongside the NHL’s leading point producers, Namestnikov doesn’t often get the national attention his linemates do. That suits him fine, as he’s turned out to be the straw that makes the Stamkov line stirred on most nights. His tenacity and battle level are what stand out most, for the mere reason that it sets his linemates up with tremendous opportunities to score. He also has a nose for the net and is willing to pay the price, with hopes of the puck finding him. He then deposits the loose change past some unsuspecting goaltender and WA-LA! There’s a goal.
Here is a breakdown of Namestnikov’s production, beginning November 8th:
- @ San Jose Sharks: 2 goals, 1 assist, 3 points, plus-2 rating
- @ Los Angeles Kings: 1 goal, 1 point, plus-1 rating
- @ Anaheim Ducks: 1 goal, 1 point, even rating
- vs. Dallas Stars: 1 assist, 1 point, plus-2 rating
- vs. New York Islanders: 4 shots, no points, minus-1 rating
- vs. Chicago Blackhawks: 1 assist, 1 point, even rating, 62.5 faceoff winning percentage
- @ Washington Capitals: 1 goal, 1 point, minus-2 rating
- @ Pittsburgh Penguins: no points, minus-1 rating
Eight points. That shows how valuable he is to the Lightning, especially when the dynamic duo of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are being shut down. His game against the Sharks served as Namestnikov’s coming out party, as he put his skill on display against a bigger, more physical foe out west.
When the Stars and good buddy Ben Bishop came to town about a week later, he showed that scoring and setting up teammates aren’t the only things he can do. Standing up for teammates is another part of his repertoire, evidenced by his willingness to fight a bigger opponent. That set the tone for his teammates, who dispatched Dallas handily.
Oh, did we mention he recently celebrated a birthday by assisting on the winning goal against the Blackhawks? Not a bad way to celebrate, knocking off the three-time Cup champs in dramatic fashion.
He did struggle a bit against the Capitals and Penguins, but his whole line was off target in those two games.
2nd star: Slater Koekkoek
A young guy fighting for playing time, Koekkoek has made the most of whatever opportunities he receives. He’s solid defensively, while showing off his offensive abilities when the time is right. That was proven in limited ice time.
Koekkoek’s breakdown looks like this:
- @ San Jose Sharks: 1 goal, 1 point, plus-1 rating
- @ Los Angeles Kings: 1 assist, 1 point, plus-1 rating
- vs. New York Islanders: 1 assist, 1 point, plus-2 rating
- @ Washington Capitals: no points, even rating
- @ Pittsburgh Penguins: no points, even rating
Three points. Couple that with a plus-4 rating over five games and it’s a mystery why head coach Jon Cooper elects to play Andrej Sustr ahead of Koekkoek. So much of one that fans, beat writers, etc., are left scratching their heads in an attempt to figure out what is one of the biggest controversies surrounding the Lightning.
3rd star: Victor Hedman
This was a difficult decision. Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed the Lightning to come back from an early two-goal deficit to defeat the Blackhawks. That included denying both Richard Panik point-blank and Patrick Kane on a breakaway. Yanni Gourde also played well, him and Ondrej Palat serving as key penalty killers and providing an offensive spark.
But I chose Hedman because of his contributions at both ends of the ice, plus his leadership and calming influence. He’s helped Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin make smooth transitions from the AHL to NHL.
Hedman’s breakdown looks like this: (Note that he’s had many different partners while averaging nearly 24 minutes of ice time against the opposing teams top lines.)
- @ San Jose Sharks: no points, plus-2 rating
- @ Los Angeles Kings: 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 points, plus-2 rating
- @ Anaheim Ducks: no points, even rating
- vs. Dallas Stars: 2 assists, 2 points, plus-1 rating
- vs. New York Islanders: no points, minus-3 rating
- vs. Chicago Blackhawks: 1 assist, 1 point, plus-1 rating
- @ Washington Capitals: 1 assist, 1 point, minus-2 rating
- @ Pittsburgh Penguins: no points, even rating
While the Islanders and, to a lesser degree, the Capitals games were a couple of his worst in this still young season, he wasn’t the only one that struggled there. His teammates were no better, evidenced by the fact they gave up five goals twice in a week span.
Hedman made up for those rough outings, putting up six points and a plus-1 rating during that eight game stretch. All of that while playing musical partners, as Dotchin was injured toward the end of the home stand.
Now that I’ve given you my three stars, how about you give me yours? Did you choose Vasilevskiy? How about Gourde, Palat or even the grind line, featuring Ryan Callahan and Chris Kunitz? Feel free to leave your thoughts below.