Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Three Things: Lightning @ Devils

Welcome to another season of semi-regular Tampa Bay Lightning coverage here at The Lightning Lounge.  With tonight's game against the New Jersey Devils being the first game of the season that I've had a chance to watch from start to finish, I wanted to launch a new 'recap' blog series: Three Things.

The premise is simple.  I watch the game and write about three things that caught my eye.  This short-form blog type will hopefully allow me to post more frequently during the course of the year.  And, with everyone and their dog watching games live or following along via Twitter, I'm not particularly convinced that there's tremendous demand for a standard play-by-play game recap, anyways.

Without further ado, here are tonight's Three Things.


Thing #1: Mikhail Sergachev belongs.

One of the big questions heading into the 2017-18 campaign was how Sergachev would fit into the defensive equation.  To that end, @loserpoints recently had a great article over at Raw Charge discussing the factors that will play into the decision to either keep him up with the big club or send him back to Junior this year.  If my eye-test analysis of tonight's game is any indication, he belongs with the Lightning.

That eye-test work is largely supported by the numbers.  As per HockeyStats.ca, Sergachev led the team with a 64% Corsi rating at five-on-five, and added two assists on the night as a bonus.  For a guy who has barely taken his first sip of NHL coffee, that's a phenomenal outing.  Heck, it's a phenomenal outing for any defenseman in the league these days.

Zooming in, there was one particular moment in Sergachev's game that stuck out to me this evening.  At 12:21 of the first period, Ondrej Palat scored to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead.  Sergachev was awarded a second assist on the tally, and I'm not convinced that the goal could have been scored without him:
Check out how Sergachev, even at just 19 years of age, commands the respect of the New Jersey penalty killers on that goal.  Quarterbacking things from the point, he draws two New Jersey players north in the zone as soon as he gets the puck.  That opens up the slot for Palat, who has both the time and space to fire home a shot from Main Street.  Without Sergachev's poise and puck-moving ability at the point drawing those New Jersey PKers towards the blue line, Palat likely doesn't have the space to make that goal happen.

Thing #2: Peter Budaj was... a mixed bag.

In all fairness to Budaj, having not played in nearly a month, he was rusty enough to make the Titanic's wreck proud.  It ended up hurting the team tonight, and will continue to hurt the team in the future if things like this keep happening:

He should have had one (or two) more of the Devils' goals, as well.  While he did settle in after a shaky start, Budaj will need to be better in future appearances.  As tonight showcased, the team won't always be able to outscore its problems in goal.  The reality of the situation is that the Lightning re-signed a goaltender who put up an .898 save percentage for them last season.  A two-year contract gives him some security, but if you ask me Budaj should still be on hockey's form of probation.  We can talk all day about big saves he made later in the game, but the fact remains that Budaj let two or three goals past him that shouldn't get past an NHL goaltender.  That was the difference in the game tonight.

Thing #3: Steven Stamkos, Elite Playmaker?

Evgeny Kuznetsov leads the league in assists so far this season.

In second place?  Steven Stamkos, with 10 helpers in seven games this year.  That's the same Steven Stamkos who was once viewed as a one-dimensional guy who didn't know how to do anything except fire one-timers from the circle.  Oh, how times have changed.

Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are so, so dangerous together, because as one gets overloaded with defensive coverage the other gets time and space.  It's what has allowed Stamkos to develop into one of the game's preeminent, well-rounded offensive stars.  A prime example of that relationship came on Kucherov's second period goal:

Stamkos had two assists tonight, and threw in a goal to prove to the masses that the former 60-goal man still knows how to put the puck in the net.


While losing is never fun, it's important to keep things in perspective.  Tonight's 5-4 shootout loss is far from the end of the world:
As always, thanks for reading.

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