Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down: Lightning Bend but Don't Break vs. Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks put up a bit more of a fight on Friday than they did on opening night, but the Tampa Bay Lightning ultimately walked out of the rink with another victory in hand. This time around, the Bolts earned themselves a 5-2 triumph on the backs of timely offence and a wonderful performance from Andrei Vasilevskiy. Tampa Bay will head into a mini break with a perfect record, after having nearly everything go right in these opening two games against Chicago. Here are tonight’s thumbs:
Thumbs Up: The Gourde Line
Anyone who watched the Lightning during the 2020 postseason knows how important the trio of Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman, and Barclay Goodrow was to the team’s success. It looks like they are ready to pick up exactly where they left off.
According to Natural Stat Trick, that line generated a five-on-five expected goal share of 81.40% (!) and a five-on-five shot attempt share of 78.57%. Those numbers are absurdly good, and outpaced the rest of the Lightning team by a material margin. The Blackhawks didn’t really have an answer for the speed, forecheck, or tenacity that the line brought on every shift. Beyond the impressive underlying numbers, each member of the line also earned two points on the evening.
Stellar, stellar performance.
Thumbs Up: Andrei Vasilevskiy’s Night in the Crease
Vasilevskiy was really good in the 5-1 opener on Wednesday, but he didn’t need to be. Vasilevskiy was excellent again tonight, with the difference being that the team needed it. He stopped 35 of 37 shots fired his way. And, it wasn’t just the quantity that was impressive. With the Lightning struggling towards the end of the second period, he made a last-second save that may have quite literally saved the day:
That wasn’t the goaltender’s only highlight-reel stop in this game, but it was undoubtedly the most important. Had Chicago managed to put that one behind him, it’s easy to imagine the third period going in another direction. Vasilevskiy stopped it, and the team didn’t turn back.
Thumbs Up: Steven Stamkos
That’s Steven “Tied for the League Lead in Scoring” Stamkos to you, sir.
Thumbs Up: Ondrej Palat’s Role on the Top Line
It’s no secret that Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point are the big names on the Lightning’s top line. When healthy, both of those players are capable of making MVP cases for themselves. Because those two are so good, it’s easy for people who don’t watch the Lightning all that frequently to discount or miss the impact that Ondrej Palat has on the success of that top line. He’s quite often the straw that stirs the drink.
Palat added a goal and an assist to his season totals tonight, and each of those points tells a story. His goal was a showcase of the benefit that comes with playing alongside elite players like Stamkos and Point; Stamkos did all the work with a quality forecheck, and Palat was able to cash in with the tally. His assist, on the other hand, was a really subtle display of the smarts that make Palat such an effective player for this Tampa Bay team. Having received the puck at the blue line on a two-on-two rush, the instinct for many players would have been to rush the puck deeper into the zone. Palat isn’t “many players,” though. He read the play, slowed things down with a split-second delay, and allowed Stamkos to fly into the slot uncovered. From there, the Captain made no mistake. That’s the kind of difference Palat can make for Stamkos and Point.
Thumbs Down: The Fourth Line
Once again, the fourth line was a clear weakness for Jon Cooper’s squad. Mitchell Stephens, in particular, played a game that made him look woefully out of his depth at this level. He was losing board battles all evening long, with his role in Chicago’s second goal of the night being particularly noteworthy. The Lightning have enough firepower to get away with their fourth line staying quiet, but ‘quiet’ means keeping things that way at both ends of the rink. That wasn’t the case tonight.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of the fourth line’s lack of traction was that it completely derailed Mathieu Joseph’s chance at building off an inspiring Game 1 performance. His underlying numbers, along with his linemates’, were dreadful.
Thumbs Up: Tyler Johnson’s Redemption
To call Tyler Johnson’s offseason rough would be an understatement. After sitting with the taxi squad on opening night, Johnson returned to the lineup for this game and made an immediate impact. In addition to contributing a beautiful assist on Alex Killorn’s second-period goal, Johnson delivered five-on-five expected goal and shot attempt shares in the 65-70% range (Natural Stat Trick). Outside of the aforementioned Gourde line, no Bolt was better in those categories.
Thumbs Down: Luke Schenn’s Place on the Roster
My view of Luke Schenn’s place on the roster is that he should be treated as an insurance policy. Let’s see Cal Foote get some runway with an extended look instead.
Thumbs Down: Complacency
Some of it was likely Chicago looking to prove a point, but it was hard not to get the sense that the Lightning were a little bit complacent in the first period. The Blackhawks likely deserved better than a 0-0 draw heading into the intermission. The offence finally clicked for the Bolts as the game moved into the middle and final frames, but some of the bad habits remained through the evening; that was especially true late in the second period. The result was that Chicago had a chance to win this game, despite being grossly overmatched on paper. It’s a quick lesson in taking every opponent seriously on every shift.
Thumbs Up: Welcome to Tampa, Dave Randorf
The shoes that Dave Randorf was hired to fill are, in a word, massive; following a Hall of Fame act can’t be an easy task for anyone. In his first game for Fox, though, Randorf delivered a phenomenal call. He brought knowledge, enthusiasm, and a very natural chemistry with Brian Engblom. He's not Rick Peckham, but nobody expects him to be. He's Dave Randorf. Things are off to a good start:
With the Dallas Stars having their start to the season postponed due to COVID-19, the Lightning will now have an extended opportunity to rest with their 2-0-0 record. It’s hard to ask for much more this early on in the 2021 campaign.
As always, thanks for reading.