I’ll admit. When that first goal went in against Andrei Vasilevskiy, I was thinking, “Oh No. Here we go again.” The Tampa Bay Lightning had gotten really good goaltending from Vasilevskiy over the last week. But giving up an early goal to what has arguably been the best line in the NHL did not feel like a great start. A lot of people instantly on social media were back to blasting Vasilevskiy for the goal. And they were generally right, even if perhaps a bit too vehement for my tastes.
Vasilevskiy overcommitted to his right to keep Brad Marchand from sneaking one through on the short side. It also got him outside of the right post. When Marchand made his way around the net, Vasilevskiy went to push off the post... except his skate wasn’t on the post. That led to him moving over more awkwardly and leaving a large part of the net exposed for Patrice Bergeron to pop the puck into the net.
But after that, things got a better. The Lightning controlled most of the puck possession for the rest of the first period. The second period started out much the same way until a four-on-four session saw the Bruins control the puck for the entirety of the two minutes. Vasilevskiy was forced to come up with two really big saves on David Pastrnak one-timers. That two minutes seemed to flip a switch for the Lightning. They went on the attack. They drew a penalty and Steven Stamkos scored to tie the game. They continued to press and press and press and put a ton of pressure on Tuukka Rask. By the end of the second period, the Lightning had controlled 71.43% of shots and 78.42% of xGF at 5v5, though they were not rewarded for it.
The third period came and the Lightning started it out with another strong push and a power play that saw Brayden Point take the lead after taking a beauty of a no look pass from Nikita Kucherov. The Lightning were unable to continue the push after scoring the second goal, but were able to keep things even, including killing off a big penalty midway through the period. Steven Stamkos picked up another goal after stealing a puck in the offensive zone. Just a couple minutes before he scored, I tweeted that the Lightning really needed to get an insurance goal because I was afraid of what the Bruins could do with Rask pulled for an extra attacker.
Well, that insurance goal ended up being the difference in the game as the Bruins found a way to score a greasy goal with just over three minutes left in the third period. Rask found his way to the bench shortly after and the Lightning skaters and Vasilevskiy did a great job in holding them off to seal up the win.
“It takes some balls.” -Mikhail Sergachev
During his post game interview on the radio, Sergachev was asked by Brian Engblom and Greg Linelli about the fight between Pat Maroon and Zdeno Chara on the first shift. Sergachev was a bit colorful in his choice of words, but I think we can all understand and agree with the sentiment. It takes some balls to go up against Chara, even when you’re as big of a guy as Maroon.
Maroon has size at 6’3” and 225 pounds. That is well above average for an NHL forward. But he still looks like a small man next to a 6’9”, 250 pound Chara. Maroon did a good job in mitigating Chara’s reach advantage in the fight by immediately grabbing his collar. If Chara gets his hand on your collar first and locks his elbow, there’s no way you’re reaching him while he is free to pummel you with rights. Neither player got off any big shots, just a few jabs here and there, and went to the box for five minutes each.
The Kid Line
Jon Cooper talked about the Kid Line of Carter Verhaeghe, Mitchell Stephens, and Mathieu Joseph during his post game press conference. Most notably he said all three of those guys can “scoot” across the ice. And he’s right. Joseph is easily the fastest of the three, but Stephens and Verhaeghe have plenty of speed of their own.
The team was playing a lot of match up hockey last night so those three didn’t get out on the ice very much and when they did it was generally pretty protected. At 5v5, Stephens got 7:31, Verhaeghe 8:22, and Joseph 8:18. Most of their time on the ice was spent against Charlie Coyle, Danton Heinen, and Anders Bjork.
That’s certainly not the Bruins’ best line, but they are a line with some talent. Bjork has four goals and nine points on the season. Heinen has five goals and 13 points and has a 47 and 34 point season under his belt with the Bruins. Coyle has six goals and 16 points and has been a consistent 30-40 point scorer throughout his career.
Yet, whenever the Kid line was out there, you generally had to look in the offensive zone to find them. They controlled 80% of the shot attempts and 73.71% of the expected goals. As a unit, they also didn’t force Vasilevskiy to make a single save as the one shot attempt the Bruins got on them missed the net while making Rask make three saves on them. On top of that, Stephens went 4-1 in the faceoff dot and is 8-1 overall through his first three games in the NHL.
As good as the line played overall, Stephens is definitely the stand out player on the line over the past three games they’ve been together (though the first game it was Cory Conacher instead of Joseph). He accounted for all three shot attempts among those three players with all three being on goal. Against Florida, the three forwards had more shots with nine between them and Stephens accounting for four with two on net. He was quieter in his first game with just one shot attempt, but Conacher was getting a lot of shots for their line with five attempts overall.
When Tyler Johnson comes back from injury, the coaching staff is going to have a hard decision to make on Stephens. He hasn’t found the scoresheet yet, but you can see the potential that’s there. Over the past couple of seasons with Stephens knocking on the door to the NHL, I’ve thought he would be Cedric Paquette’s eventual replacement. So far, he hasn’t shown me anything that would make me think otherwise. He’s winning faceoffs, using his speed, working hard, and making things happen on the ice. He could also eventually work his way into the penalty kill as the coaches gain more confidence in him and his faceoff skills.
So who is the odd man out? I think Mathieu Joseph is the player on the hot seat now. Verhaeghe has picked up some confidence and has continued to play better. Joseph has taken a step back from last season and was a healthy scratch on Monday. Verhaeghe needs to play with skilled players and I think a line with him, Johnson, and Stephens can be effective as a third line.
We could also see some kind of rotation between Stephens, Joseph, and Verhaeghe on that line with Johnson, as long as the other three lines continue to work as well as they have. What would really help Stephens’ case to stick around is to continue playing the way he has and get a point or two on the scoresheet to show he can produce too with the way he plays.
Steven Stamkos is heating up with Cirelli and Killorn
The past few games, Stamkos has been paired up with Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn. It’s a really interesting dynamic for that line. Cirelli and Killorn have played a ton of minutes together over the past two years — 1166:58 together at 5v5 since Cirelli entered the league, and Cirelli has only been away from him for 330:10. Cirelli’s next most common forward partners are Joseph at 496:52 and J.T. Miller at 301:42. So those two have a lot of chemistry with each other and know how to play together.
While Stamkos doesn’t have much time with Cirelli (just 115:16 up to this point), he does have a good amount of time played with Alex Killorn. Since 2017-18, he only has 258:10 with Killorn, but from 2014-15 to 2016-17, he spent 962:06 with Killorn, his second most common partner after Ryan Callahan over those three seasons. That doesn’t include all of the time they’ve spent together on the power play.
Add all of that chemistry and playing time up, and you have three players that have made it work together. Cirelli and Killorn are incredibly hard working players. They battle hard along the boards. They win and retrieve pucks. They’re not afraid to get dirty and get in around the net. Killorn is a better puck handler and passer than he usually gets credit for. Cirelli has a nose for the net. Together, they’ve made a really nice complement to Stamkos’ All World shooting skill.
The trio got put together for the Islanders game, and while the Lightning didn’t win that game, their line scored the Lightning’s only goal and controlled possession through the game. That continued into the Panthers game and again last night against the Bruins. Over the past three games, this trio has combined for four goals, three assists, and seven points at even strength.
Beyond their play as a line, Stamkos in particular has gone on a hot streak. It’s not uncommon for elite shooters to go through some slumps which Stamkos had with a six game goal less drought. He broke that against the Sharks and his now on a four game goal streak with six goals. You can see the confidence that he has going right now and you can just feel that every time he touches the puck, it seems like the puck is about to go in.
Not only has he gotten the goal scoring going, but in general, he’s getting a lot of shots on net. After having a three game stretch of getting just two shots on net, Stamkos has averaged 4.71 shots on goal over the past seven games, including two games with five, a game with six, and a game with eight. He’s gotten at least three shots on goal in all seven games.
On a side note, is this the season we could finally see Killorn score 20 goals? That is something a few people around social media have harped on for his entire career that he’s never made it to that mark. His career high of 19 goals came in 2016-17 and he is one goal away from having put up double digit goals in seven straight seasons. He’s also currently on pace for his best points total having 24 in 28 games. If he could keep that up (which is unlikely given his history), he’d put up 68 points which would shatter his career high of 47 points from 2017-18.