After last night’s win against Montreal, the coaches and players seemed unified in expressing that they weren’t happy with the team’s performance. They seemed to think that they still weren’t tight enough defensively.
#tblightning didn’t leave this one completely happy with how they played. Gave up too many chances. Know they’ll have to be better Saturday against Boston.— Joe Smith (@JoeSmithTB) March 6, 2020
The post-game tone
I’m not sure if this is just an example of the team trying not to get complacent and being hard on themselves to maintain focus over the last few weeks of the season but the quotes surprised me. To my eye and by the stats, the team played one of their better games over this recent stretch where they’ve won just two of their last six games.
They’ve played two games that were arguably better against Calgary and Chicago. But the Hawks game featured a nightmarish third period collapse so even if the numbers are better in aggregate, overlooking that finish is tough. The game against Calgary felt scattered at times and Andrei Vasilevskiy had a rough night.
Thursday’s game featured everyone contributing. Vasilevskiy shut down the chances the skaters allowed, which was a big improvement over the win against the Flames. And while the team wasn’t as dominant offensively in front of him, I thought they were much more structured. They shut down the Habs for two full periods after taking the 2-0 lead in the first period. They were opportunistic offensively capitalizing on the chances they created without sacrificing too much defensively.
It might not have been quite to the level they showed when they were at their absolute peak a couple months ago but I thought this looked more like the best version of the Lightning than many of the recent games. So while the coaches and players holding themselves to a higher standard is a good thing, I did think this was a step in the right direction compared to the disorganization we’ve seen on the ice over the last couple weeks.
I’ve held my tongue on Bogosian since the signing. He’s only played five games in Tampa after an extended stretch of inactivity in Buffalo before being released from his contract, so drawing any big conclusions on so few games would be irresponsible. Through the first four games, he was mostly awful and usually the worst player on the ice at any given time. But last night he bounced back and was on the right side of the expected goal share.
Through five games, he’s been pretty much exactly what we billed him as after the signing: a slight upgrade on Luke Schenn but not much more than that. I have no problem with a low-risk signing like this while the team is short on bodies. The move also allowed Cameron Gaunce to return to Syracuse, which was huge for their playoff chances. I will take issue with the decision making if he continues to see the ice when other players return to health.
We’ll find out what the organization thinks of his play when Ryan McDonagh returns, which could be as early as this week. I don’t think Bogosian has shown anything to this point that suggests he should be in the lineup over Braydon Coburn. How the coaches handle that decision will give us a first glimpse at where they think he sits in the depth chart.
The real test will come when Jan Rutta is healthy. While I think Coburn has more to offer than Bogosian at this point in their careers, the difference is hardly enough to get worked up over. If the coaches stick with Bogosian to give him more games in a new system, I wouldn’t like it but it would be a minor disagreement.
But if Bogosian continues to be who he’s been all season and still sticks in the lineup when Rutta returns, that’s when I’ll have some real concerns. Rutta found a home playing next to Victor Hedman putting up great numbers in a limited role. Yes, almost anyone can succeed in that spot as we saw with Jake Dotchin and Dan Girardi. But Rutta has always had nice underlying stats and that’s only improved this year. If Bogosian supplants him and takes those minutes, I’ll have a lot of questions.
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One thing I thought was interesting from last night is that despite adding defensively strong forwards in Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow at the deadline, the line that took half of the defensive zone faceoffs last night was Pat Maroon, Yanni Gourde, and Mitchell Stephens. Goodrow played on the Johnson line and was on the ice for nine offensive zone faceoffs and only one defensive one. Coleman played on the Cirelli line and while their split wasn’t as drastic, they still got more offensive usage.
This is something to keep an eye on as the season continues. It could be that the return of Mitchell Stephens as maybe the team’s best faceoff option without Stamkos has shifted the mindset and made his line the one the coaches want when play starts in the defensive zone. It could also be that this was just a one game anomaly. But either way, this was a shift for both Coleman and Goodrow in terms of usage. Both had been getting more balanced deployment in previous games but last night, the coaches seemed to look elsewhere to take the defensive zone starts.
The Lightning head into a road back-to-back this weekend that starts on Saturday in Boston and finishes Sunday in Detroit. Both games are matinees. The team will obviously want to show well against the Bruins on Saturday after losing at home earlier in this week. Knowing that their playoff path will probably have to go through Boston will add to the atmosphere.
Given that, I expect that Vasilevskiy will get the start on Saturday with Curtis McElhinney coming in on Sunday against the Red Wings. At this point, the division race is pretty much over as the Bruins would have to collapse down the stretch to blow a nine point lead. But every win still matters in terms of playoff seeding in other matchups. Four points this weekend would be great, but even three would be a success considering they’re facing one of the best teams in the league and then traveling to play the next afternoon.