The Tampa Bay Lightning kicked off their campaign to defend the Stanley Cup tonight with a convincing 5-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. In their first game action since beating the Dallas Stars in Edmonton, the Bolts delivered just about everything anyone could have hoped for on opening night.
With respect to the recap for tonight’s game, and future games this season, I’m reminded of an observation I made when I started writing about the Ottawa Senators last season:
With Hockey Night in Canada, NHL.tv, NHL Centre Ice, cable television, and good ol’ fashion radio available to dedicated hockey fans from all corners of the world, there is really no point in providing the readership base at this website with a standard, run-of-the-mill game recap. You all either watched the game, listened to the game, or taped the game. A blogger telling you that Auston Matthews scored at 8:02 of the second period adds no value in today’s world.
The substance of that quote holds true for the incredibly dedicated Lightning readership base I’ve come to know here since 2012, which is why I’m going to import my “Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down” game recaps from the Senators blog. I’ve found it to be a fun-to-write style that generates discussion, which is what this place is all about. So, without further ado, here are my thoughts from this Lightning victory:
Thumbs Up: Steven Stamkos is Healthy
The “Trade Stamkos!” crowd was awfully quiet this evening. While drawing conclusions from one game is a risky endeavour, it’s fair to say that the Captain *looked* healthy. Not only was he able to contribute a power play goal and two assists during the evening, but he also showcased the speed and skating ability that has made him such a dominant threat in the NHL over the years. As an example: His burst of speed and rush up ice in the first period, which drew a Calvin de Haan penalty, provided an early answer to a lot of questions about how his skating would be impacted by previous injuries.
And, that power play goal he scored? Classic Stamkos.
Thumbs Up: Cirelli’s Selke Bid
Since making his NHL debut back in 2017-18, Anthony Cirelli has quietly built a resume as one of the league’s elite two-way forwards. Finding players who can play the game so effectively at both ends of the ice is difficult, which is why Julien BriseBois made sure to get Cirelli signed during the offseason. Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy tend to get the headlines, but Cirelli is a vital cog in the Lightning’s machine.
There is perhaps no better exhibit of Cirelli’s vastly underrated ability than his stat line and performance tonight. In just more than 14 minutes of ice time, Cirelli generated a goal, an assist, and a five-on-five expected goal share north of 85% (Natural Stat Trick). And, as impressive as it was, it just felt like another night at the office for the 2015 third-round pick. He should be an almost prohibitive Selke favourite this year.
Thumbs Up: Mathieu Joseph Seizes His Opportunity
Mathieu Joseph’s place on this team is far from set in stone; during Joseph’s tenure with the team, Head Coach Jon Cooper hasn’t been afraid to use him in a variety of spots. Tonight, Joseph had the opportunity to play on the team’s second line, and he made the absolute most of it. He was everywhere. Almost every time his line was on the ice, Joseph was using his speed to move the puck in the right direction. That good work manifested itself in the form of offensive contributions, but more meaningfully almost guarantees that Joseph will get another shot in that prime spot.
Thumbs Up: Cal Foote’s NHL Debut
It’s always special when a homegrown, first-round pick makes the jump to the National Hockey League. Congratulations to Cal Foote on what I’m sure will be a night he’ll never forget.
As far as his performance goes, there was a mix of good and bad. Confidence was offset by first-game jitters. Smart plays were contrasted with rookie mistakes. Basically, he looked like a defender playing his in first NHL game. His underlying stat line doesn’t paint a particularly positive picture, but it’s impossible to give a young player anything but ‘thumbs up’ for his debut.
Thumbs Down: The Fourth Line
With Tyler Johnson finding himself on the taxi squad for salary cap purposes tonight, Cooper’s fourth line was a real smorgasbord of playing styles. Mitchell Stephens, Alex Volkov, and Pat Maroon don’t exactly jump out as a trio that’s going feed off each other. Individually, each player had some decent moments, but collectively the results were less than impressive. If there was a weak link up front for the Bolts tonight, it was this line. It’ll be interesting to see who comes out of the lineup so Johnson can get back in.
Thumbs Up: Andrei Vasilevskiy’s Performance
He didn’t need to be at his best, as the players in front of him did a phenomenal job of limiting high-quality chances, but he needed to give the Lightning a chance to win. Mission accomplished. Aside from a fluke bounce that led to Chicago’s only goal, the Big Cat was perfect.
Thumbs Down: The Chicago Blackhawks Fan Experience
It’s going to be a long year for you.
Thumbs Up: The Banner Unveiling
Unveiling the banner, but choosing to wait until fans are in the building before raising it to the rafters? Having Rick Peckham host the event? The organization nailed it.
All in all, the Lightning did what they needed to do tonight against a team that they should beat. That’s enough to get the ball rolling with a 1-0-0 record, which is as good as anyone else on this January night. Welcome to the 2021 season.
As always, thanks for reading.