Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down: McElhinney, Team Defence Lead Lightning to Victory
It was far from a sure thing until basically the final buzzer, but the Tampa Bay Lightning secured a 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night. Here are tonight’s thumbs:
Thumbs Up: The Enigma that is Curtis McElhinney
Curtis McElhinney has been left wearing the dunce cap after a Lightning game on more than a few occasions this season, but that doesn’t stop him from pitching a gem every once in a while. Tonight was one of those latter games, as McElhinney was excellent. The shot totals may not suggest a particularly impressive performance, but they don’t tell the full story. With Tampa Bay holding on to the thinnest of one-goal leads, McElhinney made numerous key stops as the game moved towards the finish line. He was really quite good in the crease.
Considering many fans have (perhaps unfairly) resigned to calling McElhinney starts “scheduled losses,” a bonus victory like this is great for the Lightning.
Thumbs Up: Team Defence
As good as McElhinney was, the Lightning did a great job of limiting opportunities that got to him. The Blue Jackets were kept largely to the perimeter for the majority of the night, only breaking through on a small handful of occasions.
Thumbs Up: The Gourde / Coleman Connection
When you’ve been as good as Yanni Gourde and Blake Coleman have been together basically since the latter’s arrival in Tampa, sometimes you get lucky. Tonight, that luck came in the form of Coleman’s opening goal, which Elvis Merzlikins will undoubtedly want back. It counted just the same, and put the Lightning on the right path to victory.
Even if their underlying numbers weren’t as other-worldly as they’ve been on many nights this season, Gourde and Coleman played a big part in this win. Along with Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman has to be an offseason priority for Julien BriseBois and the Lightning. The cap will be incredibly tight, but it’s hard to find two more important “third line” players in the National Hockey League today.
Thumbs Up: Ondrej Palat Snaps His Slump
Ondrej Palat does a lot of the “little things” right for the Lightning regardless of whether he’s scoring or not (though, tonight his underlying numbers were among the worst on the team), but it still had to feel good for Number-18 to snap what had essentially become a month-long scoring slump. Fed by a really quick/slick pass from Alex Killorn, Palat popped the puck past an unprepared Merzlikins. Palat getting hot again would go a long way in helping this Lightning team look more competitive than it has recently.
Thumbs Down: The Blue Jackets
I don’t know how else to describe it: I’m really tired of seeing the Blue Jackets. Games against them always seem to drag on in an uneventful way, lacking the entertainment value that ordinarily keeps me glued to the television. Arguably the most frustrating part of these games, though, is the way the rulebook gets ignored with astonishing regularity. Maybe it’s because the Blue Jackets play a gritty, trap-style game to begin with, but it often feels like referees ignore infractions against them that get called against the Lightning and their other divisional opponents.
The Lightning will face the Blue Jackets again on Sunday.
As always, thanks for reading.