Respects for Naslund on his night; Lightning at Canucks preview

WHERE: Rogers Arena, Vancouver, British Columbia
WHEN: 10:30 PM EST
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), Live online audio streaming (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: 'Nucks Misconduct, Canucks Hockey Blog, Benched Whale

You do realize that Lightning vs. Canucks is a mere sideshow to tonight's event in Vancouver, right?

And why is that? Out of respect for tonight's main event: #19 rises to the rafters tonight in Vancouver and Markus Naslund is further immortalized in Canucks folklore. Lemme link to a few of the homages from around the blogosphere about tonight (and also about Naslund's retirement last season):

There are other sentiments to be had, and Mattias Ohlund's homecoming to Vancouver is also a major storyline... But this is Markus Naslund's night. The entire formal contest of Lightning at Canucks is just background noise... ...

Speaking of noise, with the eastern-centric sports media, as well as following an Eastern Conference franchise full-time, it's easy to lose focus on just what is going on with Western Conference teams.

I asked our friend, Alix Wright of Canucks Hockey Blog for a quick summary of what the Canucks have been doing this season, as well as the importance of tonight to Vancouver fans... Not just with Naslund, but Mattias Ohlund's return as well.

The Canucks got a lot of press to start the season about being major Cup contenders. In true Canucks fashion, they started out looking nothing like the sort. They had no goals from anyone that wasn't named Sedin, their defence was either injured or an adventure in their own zone, and the goaltending varied from magical to frightening. They have started to hit their stride in the last month with more balanced scoring and stronger defence. With captain Hank Sedin leading the NHL in assists and Roberto Luongo showing flashes of the excellent goalie he was a few seasons ago the Canucks should be much more entertaining heading into the all-star break and beyond.

On a personal note, I'm absolutely thrilled to be at the game tonight for two reasons: Markus Naslund and Mattias Ohlund. Naslund is why I'm a hockey fan at all. He turned the Canucks franchise around and put butts in seats and made me a fan for life. 'Classy' gets thrown around so much in hockey circles but Naslund really is. He did so much for the community in Vancouver. Getting to see his number retired will be wonderful. And Mattias Ohlund, well, I own his jersey and two of his t-shirts. And his hockey card is always in my purse. I have a teddy bear in a Canucks hockey outfit called Matty Bearlund. He's been my favourite player for years. I was heartbroken when he left Vancouver for the Lightning and I can't wait to see him back in Rogers Arena.

Huge night for Vancouver fans... Huge. And there's a hockey game too!

I'm not going to bother putting up stats tonight. I don't think that's the issue to discuss. I could talk special teams, but it seems like an empty stat when there are excuses to be made.

Here's a note on respect: You have to earn it. I don't mean it in the light that a player can't come into the league and be cocky in a one-on-one situation. What I do mean is that a player has to earn respect by going out, doing your job, and doing it well enough for people to take notice.

Linus Omark did his job well last night. The objective of the shootout is to score a goal, and he did just that. Dan Ellis, on the other hand, had the job to stop opponents shots. Going 1 for 3 during shootout save opportunities and then remarking Linus "embarrassed himself" is a convenient distraction and excuse from those basic rules of the shootout: Score (or stop) a goal.

The lesson to take from last night's shootout is not to keep it simple on the one-on-one. It's that you're supposed to score. The Lightning are, since the inception of the shootout in 2005-06, 25-26 in the shootout. The past three seasons (2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11) the Lightning are 7-19. With all the remarks about offensive firepower, with all the skill this team has, they are scoreless in 6 attempts this season, and managed to score only 6 times on 36 opportunities last season.

That's where complaints should be post-game from last night. Not with Linus Omark, but the Lightning's shootout weakness of recent years.

Other Previews

Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview

Lightning Hockey Blog

Bolts 2 Cup

Full game coverage on SB Nation

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