Tampa Bay Lightning Game 13: at the Toronto Maple Leafs

The Tampa Bay Lightning won their first road game of the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs – in overtime, no less – 2-1.

It was difficult to tell if this game was better for the Lightning or not. It’s no secret that the Leafs are struggling, so it may have been a game between two equal teams in the midst of their struggles as opposed to anybody actually playing better. But whatever the case, Tampa Bay pulled out the win.

Vincent Lecavalier scored his second goal of the season (as one person said on the game thread last night, he’s finally caught up to Todd Fedoruk). He also had six shots on goal as well as two hits. However, don’t be fooled by his seemingly better play. The Detroit Red Wings’ Steve Yzerman, the Hockey Canada Olympic team general manager, was in the crowd scouting. Interestingly enough, Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis were rather quiet, despite that. St. Louis did have four steals on the night, though.

It was an opportunity for Vinny to show Yzerman how he can play in person. Which isn’t to say that Lecavalier isn’t on the start of something good, and perhaps I’m being a bit cynical about this, but only time will tell if Vinny’s starting to work out of his mental slump or not. Still, any little bit helps – and you just never know what it might take to snap Lecavalier out of his funk. Hopefully, Yzerman’s presence did that.

Ryan Malone netted the game winner on a questionable play. He really should’ve gotten called for goaltender interference on the goal he scored in overtime. I’m not sure why they allowed that goal to stand, quite frankly – but I’ll take it. He had six shots on goal, as well as five hits. Jeff Halpern also had a pretty good night. But, again, that’s not so surprising when you consider that USA Hockey’s Olympic team general manager – and head coach – were in the building. Toronto’s Brian Burke and Ron Wilson are still deciding on Team USA’s roster as well.

In my opinion, the other stars of the night – besides Lecavalier – were Antero Niittymaki and Mattias Ohlund. I don’t think anyone can question that Niittymaki has quietly stolen the number one job away from Mike Smith. It’s just a matter of time before the coaching staff accepts that. Again, he was the best player on the ice for the Lightning. He made very few mistakes, was calm and competent, and was always where he needed to be.

And THAT was the Ohlund that I remember from the Vancouver Canucks. That’s how Mattias plays during playoffs, though. He’s not quite so intense, physical, and edgy during the regular season, so don’t expect that every game from him. But that’s how Ohlund can play while at the top of his game. I’ve been expecting a more toned down version of that all along, so it’s nice to see that from him.

The constant parade to the penalty box by the Lightning defensemen was not good to see. (Andrej Meszaros and David Hale were the only defensemen to not have a penalty called on them.) But even the Maple Leafs fans that I encountered afterward agreed that some of those calls against the Lightning weren’t necessary. Even though they lost the game, they were complaining about the officiating against Tampa Bay – and the fact that they only converted on one of the eight power plays that they were awarded (as compared to the three that the Lightning had).

So everyone knew and agreed that the officiating was definitely questionable. However, you shouldn’t have to depend on officiating to win a game. Thankfully, the Lightning figured that part out this time.

The Lightning were still outshot 32-41, but at least they managed more shots than they have been recently. Faceoffs were very poor agains the Leafs, with the team only winning a total of 39% all game. However, Zenon Konopka still won 71% of the ones he took (5-2). The team had 24 blocked shots, with Ohlund, Meszaros, and Matt Walker each blocking five. The Lightning also had 30 hits (as compared to the Leafs 13) with Malone and Ohlund each with five.

The next game is at the Ottawa Senators Thursday at 7:30 pm ET, and it will be televised in the Tampa area.