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Morning After Thoughts: Lightning’s loss to Wild leaves one game left in rough schedule patch

The 13 games in 21 days are almost complete.

Minnesota Wild pick up a win at home over the Tampa Bay Lighting Photo by Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning lost last night to the Minnesota Wild 3-2. They made a run at trying to get back into it in the third period after falling behind 3-1 in the first forty minutes, but it was a no-go. I’m not sure I can say I’m all that surprised, or even disappointed, with the result of this game. Not only have the Lightning been pretty bad in Minnesota for a long time, they’ve also played a lot of games recently.

The Lightning are finally at the end of one of the most brutal stretches of the schedule in the NHL. This was their 12th game in 20 days and tonight will be their 13th game in 21 days. Think about that. Eight days off. Me, a working stiff in an office job, has had seven days off in the same time span. And I’m not bashing myself into other people and hard boards for a few hours when I’m at work. I also haven’t had to get on a plane. But the Lightning have gotten onto a plane 10 times in this run of the games, and it will be 11 when they head back to Tampa tonight to finally get in some rest and recreation.

The Lightning have also played two back to backs and will complete their third tonight. One back to back was at home (the only one of the season) and the other two have required the Lightning to cross the border between the United States and Canada which requires a stop at Customs and Immigration. That easily adds an hour to those trips. When they come home tonight, they’ll have gone through Customs four times since the Christmas break.

And despite that tough schedule, the Lightning have gone 10-2-0. That’s impressive. Their 10-game win streak started with the last game before the Christmas break and they picked it right back up. To be fair though, the schedule has been fairly weak. They’ve played only a handful of playoff teams and playoff contenders. They’ve had some bottom of the league opponents (some of whom have fallen further). But that’s ok. They needed this kind of stretch to gain confidence in their game and that they’ve been playing the right way more often than not since mid-December.

Alex Volkov

I’m feeling like we may have seen the last of Volkov in the NHL for this season. With Pat Maroon out with an injury, he was given a pre-trade deadline audition to see if he could stick, to see if he was ready for the NHL. He’s clearly not. When the Minnesota Wild scored their 4th goal (which was called back for offsides), Volkov was caught out of position, got beat by his man, and was called for a hooking penalty. After he returned from the penalty box, he only played one more shift, early in the third period and did not see the ice again.

For those of you wondering “How can you be called for a penalty during a time of the game doesn’t exist?” By NHL rules, you’re still responsible for penalties committed, even if the clock is wound back. Yes, the play would not have happened and he would not have committed a hooking call if the play had been blown dead. That does not absolve him from the responsibility of playing the game within the bounds of the rules while it is being played, weather it’s going to be erased or not.

Mitchell Stephens

I have the opposite feeling from Volkov when it comes to Mitchell Stephens. He’s not lighting the world on fire offensively, but that’s not what he’s being asked to do. He’s being asked to be a defensively responsible center that wins faceoffs. And he’s continued to do that. His scoring in juniors and the AHL was never elite, so I never really expected him to be an offensive dynamo when he reached the NHL. But what he’s doing right now is exactly my expectation for him.

It reminds me of Cedric Paquette at the end of the 2013-14 season and Anthony Cirelli at the end of 2017-18. Two rookies that played the defensive side of the puck well and were rewarded with games in the postseason. Paquette was a little different since he only came up for a couple games at the end of the season, but the coaches liked what he did. Cirelli had a longer audition, made the most of it, and hasn’t looked back.

He’s been with the Lightning since the beginning of December and has already suited up for 18 games. Through his first 11 games, he only broke the 10 minute mark once, in a 6-1 drubbing of the Florida Panthers that the Lightning lead 5-1 after forty minutes. Cooper rotated the lines nicely in the third and Stephens ended up with 10:56 TOI.

But over the past seven games, he’s picked up some more responsibility and ice time to go with it. He’s been under ten minutes just twice and is now averaging 11:38 TOI with a high of 13:46. He’s also continued his strong play in the faceoff dot. He has been under 50% on faceoffs in just six of his 18 games and currently has a 53.6% faceoff percentage. Another thing I’ve noticed is that he’s been responsible with penalties. He’s only taken two minor penalties thu sfar.

Brayden Point

Speaking of minor penalties, Point recorded only his second minor penalty and third penalty overall this season. Before he had even recorded that first minor penalty, he already had 5 PIMs resulting from a fight in his second game of the season. I asked the question sometime around Thanksgiving of if he could possibly win the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship if he only had a fight or maybe a fight and a minor penalty all season. He’ll certainly have the offensive output to be considered for the award.

Obviously that brought up the question of if anyone had won the Lady Byng while having been given a Major or Misconduct penalty. So I took some time to go through each of the winners and try to answer the question. Turns out, the answer is YES, but you have to look back a long way to find it.

During the 1991-92 season, Wayne Gretzky won the the Lady Byng, the third of the five he won in his career. He had not one, but two ten minute Misconducts on his resume that season. One came from a game against the Vancouver Canucks where he was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (the ultimate irony of him winning the Lady Byng for Sportsmanship, eh?) and a ten minute misconduct when there was a fight in the third period. The other came at the end of the third period in a game against the... Vancouver Canucks, when Gretzky was issued a ten minute misconduct while two other players were given roughing minors. But that wasn’t enough for him to not win the Lady Byng apparently.

As far as having a fight on your record, you have to go back to the 1979-80 Lady Byng winner to find the last time that happened. Can you guess who it was? None other than the Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky! He fought Doug Lecuyer in the third period of a game against the Chicago Blackhawks and still won the Lady Byng.

So can Brayden Point do the same? Well, at this point with 9 PIMs on his stat line, he’s going to have to stay out of the box for the rest of the season to be given consideration. It’s kind of an unspoken rule that for the Lady Byng you have to be a Good Sport while also being a really good offensive player. Defenseman Brian Campbell’s 53 points in 2011-12 are the lowest by a Lady Byng winner since 1957. Generally, especially as a forward, you need to be at least a 0.7 PPG player, and more likely you need to be over a point per game, to be recognized. The are 10 other players with 0.7 PPG scoring and are under 9 PIMs. There’s also another three or four players that fall just short of the PPG mark, but also some defenseman that are close and have low PIMs as well.