January 30, 2009

Tampa Bay Game 50: vs Philadelphia

The Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the Philadelphia Flyers 6-1.

50 down, only 32 to go....

Two disallowed goals - one supposed to have been kicked in, the other supposed to have been hit in by a high stick. Then there was a penalty shot that didn't go in. At that point, the Lightning were only down 3-1. Yep, it was one of those games.

This is what I don't get about this team - and I've never gotten about this team this season. In this game, for instance, the Lightning really didn't start kicking it into high gear until they were down 5-1. Why? Why do they do that?

Personally, I really hate losing. Being down in a game just makes me work harder because I want it that much more. And, if I had to, I'd be dragging the rest of the team with me. Not that I was ever a great offensive talent or anything, but I'd be talking teammates up on the bench and on the ice. I mean, that's just how I am.

If this group of guys were a person, I'd say that they don't think very well on their feet. And they don't deal with change very well. So it takes a while for them to work up to sudden momentum changes in the game. Like in this one, they were down three goals in five minutes in the third period before they could react. I suppose that's probably why their transition game isn't as good as it could be, either.

Someone really ought to take Malone aside and tell him to stop. He had two penalties in the game against Carolina, and then he had four penalties in this game - one of which was a fighting major. He's supposed to be one of the leaders on this team, and he should have much better discipline than that. I don't fault him for showing some passion, but he needs to be smarter than that.

You certainly can't accuse Tampa Bay's top line of slacking. Not when those three guys had half the shots for the team. St. Louis had nine shots, Lecavalier eight, and Prospal four. I thought that Prospal had a pretty good game, actually. And St. Louis got a penalty shot attempt, too. Like I'd said, tho, it was one of those games, so they weren't able to put anything in the net.

But let's give Niittymaki some credit. I've always thought that he was one of the more underrated goaltenders in the league. And he definitely shined in this game.

The Lightning's defense weren't helping Smith all that much. And the forwards weren't helping the defense. The only thing that looked good were their special teams. Which was good, I guess, since they were either on a power play or killing a penalty for a good part of the game.

Smith just looked mentally tired. This three-day break ought to do him a world of good. I think he ought to take up some off-ice hobby that has nothing remotely to do with hockey to get his mind off the game off the ice. Because I get the impression that he's a bit burned out with thinking about the game, his game, and the standings. The guy needs to figure out how to pace himself.

Okay, so all was not doom and gloom. But it wasn't all sunshine and light, either. They've managed to pull themselves out the turmoil from the first half of the season. Now they need to figure out how to maintain the mental fortitude needed for this intense stretch run without all of them collectively burning out.

January 29, 2009

Tampa Bay Game 49: at Carolina

The Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2.

This was a close game that, I think, could've gone either way. They were pretty evenly matched, from what I could tell. Unfortunately, it just didn't go Tampa Bay's way.

I'd like to say that penalties were a problem, but they were really a non-issue for once. No one managed to convert any power plays. They did make things a little more interesting, tho.

The atmosphere was electric. Like the game against Montréal, this game also had a playoff atmosphere. You've got to wonder if that's going to impact players after a while if this keeps up. Sure, it helps keep you in the game, but it's also emotionally draining. Exhausted players aren't going to win many games.

Recchi was great. Can you even believe this guy? He must be getting some of whatever keeps Chelios going. He was skating circles around half of the guys on the ice. And that pass he made setting up Malone's goal was very, very pretty. And Malone had a pretty good game, too, despite taking two penalties.

Smith had a great game as well, and it's often easy to overlook the defense when Smith is on. But Meszaros was fantastic. He's really come a long way this season, and the scary thing is that he's only going to get better as his career goes on. He was definitely a force.

The Lightning looked a little jittery to me as the game wore on. It was almost like they couldn't quite believe that they were still in it or something. I don't know, but at least they managed to keep it together until that last Carolina goal. What I think would've helped is if they'd slowed down the pace a little bit so that they could set up thing a little better. They were all so frantic.

As a side note, a friend of mine was at the game sitting in the press box. We were emailing back and forth for the first half of the game. Here's her first message:

"I thought you, of all people, might think this was cool. The 'Canes are playing your Lightning tonight, and I'm covering it for the Indy. I was walking down the steps to press row and I almost ran into this cute, young guy in a suit that looked extremely familiar. He said excuse me and I went and sat down. That's when it hit me..."Holy sh*t, that's Steve Stamkos!!!" He's still sitting out? What a shame. It's not like he's making the team any worse, if you don't mind me saying. He's sitting about 8 seats down from me. I'll try and get a picture if I can do it without being too obvious."

I never got a picture, but that's alright. Kinda fun to get the view from the press box, anyways. Too bad she's a Carolina fan.

January 27, 2009

Tampa Bay Game 48: vs. Montréal

The Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Montréal Canadiens 5-3.

This game has a playoff feel to it from the beginning. Everybody came ready to play. They might not have felt that way in the first period, but mentally they were there and eager to go. Tampa Bay looked like an upper echelon team. And, if they hadn't had a rough first half of the season, they might be.

The initial run on penalties during the first half of the game wasn't the best. But they did manage to keep the puck out of the net. Their penalty kill has been really good for them recently. And they also managed to convert on two of their four power play opportunities as well.

It was a chippy game from the beginning, tho. I'm not exactly sure why that was. It was almost rivalry-like, but there's really no reason for that. I was happy to see Lightning players stand up for their teammate, tho, and being smart about it. You don't see enough of that anymore around the NHL - teammates sticking up for each other. Frankly, I think it's a good thing.

Smith was again great, and Malone had a good game. Lecavalier, St. Louis, and Stamkos all had a bit of extra fire to them and I can't help but think that that was a little carry over from being in Montréal over the weekend. All three had a fantastic game and had five points altogether (two goals and three assists). Lecavalier had eight shots out of the total 23 for the team. I think the rest of the team needs to step up on that.

On an entirely different note, I know that I didn't write anything about All-Star Weekend, but I did that intentionally. The whole weekend seemed to revolve around Lecavalier and trade rumors and I'm not going to discuss any of that. I've said my piece about it, and that's it. I don't like talking about rumors, anyways. But I hope you enjoyed watching All-Star Weekend. I certainly did.

January 26, 2009

Australia Day

Since it's Australia's national day, I thought I'd post a bit about Australian hockey. Yes, it really exists. And yes, on ice.

Hockey in Australia began in 1904 at H. Newman Reid's ice rink in Adelaide. When the Reid family moved to Melbourne, the game followed, and by 1907 the local skaters felt confident enough to challenge the sailors of the USS Baltimore. They lost, of course, the start of a rich tradition of gutsy defeats for outmatched Aussie teams.

In 1909, proper sticks and pucks were imported from far away Canada, and the game moved towards a standard form, instead of whatever rules worked at the time. Players were also able to throw away the frozen tennis balls which had then been in style. The local version of hockey, somewhere between bandy and Canadian hockey, saw six skaters and the goalie on the ice for each team.

Also in 1909, the Goodall Cup, a regular interstate competition, started up. Victoria won the first time, but New South Wales dominated the series for decades until Victoria started using Canadian and European imports in the 1940s.

In 1960, Australia went to Squaw Valley for the Winter Olympics, which was again gutsy, but perhaps unwise. They racked up the following group results:

Czechoslovakia 18, Australia 1
USA 12, Australia 1

This placed them in the consolation pool, fighting for 7th to 9th places. Things didn't improve much:

Finland 14, Australia 1
Japan 13, Australia 2
Finland 19, Australia 2
Japan 11, Australia 3

The boys found their scoring touch towards the end, clearly, but they haven't been back to the Olympics again.

But after many decades at the lower end of hockey's totem pole, and a series of second place finishes in Division II, Australia found glory in 2008. Hosting the Division II, Group B World Championships, the Australians were not favoured - China was thought to be too good. But in front of sold out crowds at Newcastle's HISS Arena (that's _875 people_), the Australians blitzed the field:

Australia 7, Mexico 1
Australia 5, Spain 3
Australia 4, New Zealand 2
Australia 3, Iceland 0
Australia 1, China 0

In 2009, Australia will face Division I opposition in the tournament in Lithuania. As well as the hosts, there will be Kazakhstan, Slovenia, Japan, and Croatia. My money's on a swift return to Division II.

Happy Australia Day, everyone! Throw some shrimp on the barbie before your morning skate...

January 22, 2009

St. Louis to replace injured Crosby at All-Star Game

Martin St. Louis To Replace Injured Crosby In Eastern Conference All-Star Lineup

St. Louis gets to play in his hometown, too, after all. He definitely deserves to go, after all he's done for the team this season. Good for him.

Tampa Bay Game 47: vs. Buffalo

The Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-3.

I felt that the Lightning were a bit inconsistent in their effort, but they managed to pull out the win. Penalties didn't help. But then, I suppose they never do. There were just some big momentum shifts in this game between the two teams.

The defense, as cobbled together as it was, was great. Frankly, if I were one of the coaches, I think I'd keep this crowd together for a while. They seem to have some chemistry. And, they also seem to have something of a scoring touch as well.

The second period was a shooting gallery. Each team had three goals. And out of the total six goals scored, three of those were power play goals. Two of those were for Buffalo, tho. Still, the Lightning did convert on two of their four power plays for the game.

It's always nice to go out on a high note before any kind of break, isn't it?

January 19, 2009

Tampa Bay Game 46: vs. Dallas

The Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Dallas Stars 4-2.

I think that the tone of the game was set when Tampa Bay had two penalties called on them in the first three minutes of the game. Eventually, the Lightning had seven penalties called against them for the game, only one of which was actually converted on by Dallas. The Stars only had two penalties called against them, with their first coming at three minutes left in the second period.

The first Lightning penalty resulted in two goals. There was a shorthanded goal for, and a power play goal against. Lecavalier had a great breakaway that he scored on, while Richards - 20 seconds later - got the power play goal.

It almost seemed like they were trying to one-up the other with that. Much was made about the fact that Lecavalier and Richards were playing against each other for the first time in their lives. They weren't on the ice together much, but when they were, they seemed to avoid each other when they could.

Inevitably, the question that will be asked is who did better. Until Lecavalier scored the game-winner towards the end of the third period, I was thinking that Richards had had a better game. After that goal, I'd say it ended up in a tie.

The other individual competition going on was between Smith and Turco. Looking at shots on, goals allowed, and power plays they had to face, I'd say that Smith one that. Although, Turco didn't have a bad game, either.

Tampa Bay did a fantastic job on the penalty kill, tho. They did only allow one goal - on the first power play of the night, I might add - in seven power plays. So they went six straight penalty kills without letting anything in. That's pretty impressive, really.

The first period, they had a lot of jump coming out. And then that all disappeared in the second. I'm not sure if the adrenaline wore off or if the penalties that were being called on them were taking both a physical or mental toll. They managed to shake it off during the third period, which was really good. And came from behind to win, no less.

January 18, 2009

Why I'm not a "fan"

After my mid-season review of the Tampa Bay Lightning - or, more specifically, after how I'd stated that if they trade Lecavalier that I'm going, too - people have been questioning my dedication to the team. I've decided to clear some of that up. Although, a few people probably won't like it very much.

I have never once said that I was a Tampa Bay Lightning "fan" - not once. Nor have I ever called them "my" team, or referred to what needs to be done using the word "we;" as in "we" need to do something about the defense. I have said that I follow the team, and nothing more.

As for being a "fair-weather" fan, do you really think I would've followed the team for this long if I was just in it for when they were winning? I started following the Lightning at the beginning of last season. You know, the one where they finished last in the league so that they were able to draft Stamkos #1 overall in the 2008 draft. And this season hasn't exactly been all sunshine and roses, either. So, for me, there has never been "fair weather" anything in regards to the Lightning.

So now you're probably wondering why I do follow this team. It's simple, really. I lived in Tampa for a bit, and I believe that you should follow the hometown team. So I did. And while I do currently live in northern Virginia, I don't follow the Washington Capitals since I don't live in DC or the immediate suburbs.

Am I a Lecavalier fan? No, I am not, since I'm not a fan of anybody's. But he is one of my favorite players and I do follow how he's doing. As I do with most guys on this team.

I'm a fan of the game, not of teams - or of players. I have my preferences, as does everyone. But the word "fan" comes from the word "fanatic," and I'm not fanatical about any player or any team, and never have been. I'm only really fantatical about the sport itself.

You see, for as long as I've loved hockey, I've followed players and not teams. Initially it was because I had hockey practice at the same rink as the hometown major junior team. And when some of them were drafted, or signed to pro contracts, I followed their teams to see how they were doing in the AHL, IHL (back in the 1990s), and the NHL. I've never been a dedicated fan of any NHL team since there wasn't one where I grew up. Vancouver was a 3+ hour drive away, and their games weren't broadcasted in the Seattle area.

I've liked other teams, sure. But the players I've followed were on those teams, and that's why I've liked them. And since the player turnover on hockey teams is so huge, sometimes those teams change. For me, it's the players that matter the most, and not the organizations that they play for. Even still, I'm not a fan of any player. I admire what they're able to do, and for the most part, that's pretty much as far as it goes.

Because of that mentality, I have no problems moving on to another team - as I have a few times before - particularly because of this situation. The management/ownership of Tampa Bay have made the sport I love into some big joke, which has been very hard for me to take at times. So that's why, if they follow thru with their biggest punchline of the season, I'm gone. But I'm not going until then.

January 17, 2009

Tampa Bay Game 45: vs. Florida

The Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the Florida Panthers 4-3.

The first period was great. If they'd kept doing the little things that they were doing in the first, then they probably would've won this game. But they didn't.So they lost.

Somehow, it all fell apart on them in the second period. I think it was Florida switching out their goalies that threw them off. Sometimes this team thinks very rigidly, and so the unexpected screws them up. After watching them all season, that's the only thing I can figure, anyways.

And it wasn't even what was going on in the offensive zone that messed them up. The reason that Florida got back into this game was because everyone was standing around when the Panthers got into the defensive zone. At least on two of the Panthers' goals were because of Lightning players - both forwards and defense, I might add - weren't skating but standing around waiting for Florida players to come to them.

If only life actually worked that way, huh?

After that, for the last half of the game after Florida came back to tie it up, there seemed to be this disconnect between the Lightning forwards and their defensemen. It seemed to me like the defense stuck to the game plan while the forwards were completely disorganized. I'm not sure what that was about, exactly, but it didn't work very well.

The sad thing is that the Lightning dominated the game statistically. They out shot the Panthers, won more face offs, had more power play opportunities, and, accordingly, took fewer penalties. By rights, Tampa Bay should've won this game handily. Especially being up 3-1 at the beginning of the second.

January 15, 2009

Tampa Bay Game 44: vs. Philadelphia

The Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1.

So do you suppose that the switched places with the San Jose Sharks? This game really reminded me of the previous game, but with the roles reversed and Philly filling in for San Jose. This is exactly what everyone this summer expected of this team this season.

The Lightning out shot the Flyers, did fairly well with penalties, converted on one of their four power plays, converted on a penalty shot, and had great goaltending. What's not to like? Well, except for the fact that they didn't do so well on face offs. But nobody's perfect.

Including this game, the Lightning have gone 6-4-1 since Christmas. Not bad for a team that's had as many problems as this one has this season. Four of those wins came on the road, no less. So things are definitely looking up in that respect.

Getting a penalty shot was an added bonus. Although, Lecavalier's stick breaking with a simple slash is a great example of why I think they ought to go all wood like baseball. It worked to Tampa Bay's advantage - this time, anyways. And the shot went in, which is what matters. Still, it must be nice to have the coach take the team's one and only time out just for you to catch your breath.

I didn't really want to single out anybody, tho. I think this was a fantastic team effort all the way around. Everybody did what they were supposed to, and made Philadelphia play their game. Which is why they got the well-deserved win.

Hockey and Personality

Screen Shots: Hockey players need to speak their mind, says Roenick
“Then you look at Ovechkin – his heart is on his sleeve, he’s out there smiling all the time, he’s talking during games, he’s jumping in the air after he scores, he’s not afraid to say what he wants to say during interviews.

“Every time he’s out there, he’s showing the people what a joy it is to play hockey. We need as many guys like him as we can get.”
The cliché thing in player interviews has gotten a lot better over the years. A lot better, actually. Sometimes, tho, the cliché thing can be pretty funny. What I'd wish would stop are the announcers and their clichés.

The problem, really, is the fact that these guys have all of the personality of a dead fish during interviews. I mean, you can say a cliché with a sense of humor, and that'd be fine. However, there are some people that just don't really have much in way of a personality, and there's not a lot you can do about that. And it doesn't help that they're interviewing most of these guys when they get off the ice still gasping to catch their breath, either.

That's why people like Ovechkin - he has personality. When you watch him play hockey, you know that he's doing it because he truly enjoys it. There are a few other guys like that in the NHL, but almost none are as exuberant about it as Ovechkin is. Except maybe Prospal.

It isn't so much the culture in hockey, but more that many of the countries that produce hockey players have reserved cultures themselves. Sweden's a classic example of that, as is Canada. It's just not in their nature as a people to be overly demonstrative about much of anything, really. Americans have this distressing tendency to speak their minds, which is why people like Tortorella, Hull (I know - dual citizenship), and Roenick are so popular with the press.

The biggest change has been the difference between the Soviet-era guys and the modern Russian-era guys. Ovechkin vs. Bure, for instance. Pavel Bure came off as being a quiet and reserved guy - as did most of the guys who grew up playing hockey under the Soviet Union. He had big potential to be as firey and passionate as Ovechkin, but that just wasn't the way of things in his country when he came over to play in the NHL. So I think it's as much national character as anything else.

January 14, 2009

Tampa Bay Game 43: at San Jose

The Tampa Bay Lightning lost in a rout to the NHL's first place San Jose Sharks 7-1.

I did watch this game. All of it. Although, part way through the third period I was starting to think about going back to bed. I actually managed to get in a nap yesterday evening before the game, which is highly unusual for me to be able to do.

Nothing really all that exciting happened for Tampa Bay in the first period. It was pretty quiet, actually. Well, except for the two goals that San Jose scored, of course. I kind of got the impression that the players were pretty much done with their road trip and were just going thru the motions - at least for the period. They picked it up later on, though.

In the second period the Lightning came back and scored soon after a disallowed San Jose goal, making them down only 2-1, but that's about as close as they got all night. Penalties really did them in. I was hoping that Ramo would be pulled as a wakeup call for the guys on the bench, but I suppose that giving Smith some rest was probably more important in the long run.

The next five goals were all San Jose. Penalties were probably the biggest issue, giving San Jose eight power plays total, three of which they converted on. Some of the penalties were questionable, but others were the result of sloppy thinking. Like the too many men on the ice penalty, where Artyukhin stepped out of the penalty box when there were already five Lightning players on the ice. Somebody on the bench should've caught that before it happened.

Of course, it didn't help the Lightning that Nabokov was outstanding. He really has been one of the most underrated goaltenders in the NHL. I think it's because most hockey people have a hard time taking San Jose seriously. The only reason hockey people take Tampa Bay seriously now is because they've won a Stanley Cup, so maybe that's what it'll take for San Jose.

That was one of the bigger collapses that I've seen in a while. You can blame the injuries on defense, you can blame it on being the last game of a long road trip, you can blame it on a lot of things. But the bottom line is that they had a weak start, they were undisciplined, there was no serious offensive push, and the collective defensive effort was seriously lacking.

Still, going 3-2 on the road trip was good. Overall, they did fairly well out West. It's just that the last game was pretty ugly.

Back to the regular East Coast grind tomorrow.

January 13, 2009

Tampa Bay Game 42: at Los Angeles

The Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-1.

I did not watch this game. Are you kidding? It was a 10:30 pm start here on the East Coast. Watching sports is so much easier on the West Coast. Sure, you might miss the beginning of the game in the Eastern Time zone, but at least you'll usually get to see the end of it.

Apparently, Lecavalier had a good game. 1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 4 shots on goal and a penalty. St. Louis apparently had a pretty good game, too. As did Smith.

Shots on goal were a little low, and they weren't as good taking face offs as they have been. I'd say that penalties were a problem, but it looks like most of them were coincidental. Looks like a chippy game - sorry I had to miss it.

I want to watch tonight's game, even tho it's also a 10:30 pm ET start (and about a 1 am finish). I wasn't going to do that two nights in a row, and I'd rather see San Jose than LA, anyways. Especially since I have a friend (who's a Sharks' fan) going to that game. Hopefully, I'll be able to stay awake for all of it.

January 11, 2009

Tampa Bay mid-season evaluation

The Tampa Bay Lightning have made it to the halfway point of their '08-'09 NHL season. Thru 41 games, they have a record of 12-19-10. They currently sit in 4th place in the Southeast Division, 12th place in the Eastern Conference, and 27th overall in the NHL.

The debacle that was the first half of the season seems to be past them. At least until they get closer to the trade deadline on March 4th. January, at least, ought to be pretty quiet in terms of personnel changes, I think.

And that's what has gotten the Lightning to where they are now - personnel changes. And I don't mean that in a good way. They have used 14 defensemen so far this season, as well as a total of 38 players on their roster thru 41 games. Only 5 players on the current roster have played in all 41 Lightning games thus far.

Things in that department have settled down ever since Jokinen was put on waivers before Christmas, however. Before that, they hadn't gone longer than 2½ weeks between moving or waiving a player. And then there was the coaching change as well. With that kind of upheaval going on the locker room, there was no way that they'd be able to find any kind of consistency on the ice. It wasn't until that stopped - or, more likely, paused - that things finally settled down for them.

Goaltending has been the highlight of the season so far. Smith is just outstanding. Although, I do think that the needs more breaks between games. He's seemed a bit mentally worn out in recent games. It takes time to build up the focus needed to start so many games in a row. I know that the goalies will tell you that the more they start, the easier it is, but going from 4 consecutive starts to 11 in a row without any buildup has got to take a toll. Kolzig has also been good, and I've always liked Ramo.

The defense has been touch and go. That's not necessarily the defense's fault, however. I know much has been made of their age and their level of experience, but that's also a personnel issue, too. Defense can be a tricky position to play, and if you don't know what your defensive partner is going to do, then that sort of undermines your own play. They've definitely improved over the course of the season, tho, and I'm sure that it helps for them to know that the goalies are there to bail them out of a tough situation.

The forwards have been the most inconsistent of the lot. I suppose that it's because they want to help the defense and they want to score, but they're not sure of what to expect from their own linemates. Athletes are creatures of habit, and if they don't know who they're playing with, or what they'll do, then that can be a problem. They're trying to do too much, and their own jobs suffer from that.

Coaching has gotten better. Bringing Sullivan back was definitely a good move. Tocchet is still finding his way as a head coach, and that kind of thing takes time. Walz is sort of in the same boat as Tocchet. Sullivan as experience, which has really helped the other two out, I think.

Management/ownership has gotten better about leaving everyone alone. That's what I think has contributed the most to the team's improvement. I don't expect that to last, however.

What I said for the last game definitely applies here. The Lightning need to make other teams play their game, and that means ignoring what the other team’s doing, to a degree. And that’s all about puck control, positioning, passing, and all of the little things coming together into one cohesive style. When any team makes their opponent play their game, then most of the time, that team will win. They're moving in the right direction, but they need to start making it a habit.

As for the Lecavalier trade rumors, I wouldn't trust this management/ownership group as far as I can throw them. They happily signed Boyle, only to trade him in the most humiliating way possible. Then they were saying how confident they were in Melrose right up until they fired him. So them saying that they're not going to trade Lecavalier doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

If they do trade him, then I'm declaring myself a free agent. That will be the last straw for me, and I'll go find another team to follow - probably the lucky team that gets him, initially, then I'll re-evaluate things in the summer. If they're stupid enough to trade Lecavalier then I want no part of the Tampa Bay Lightning. I will feel really bad for the rest of the team, tho.

I've always followed players more than teams, anyways, because of how often guys get traded in this league. The biggest reason I became a Lightning fan was that I lived there. And now that I don't, well, I don't feel obligated to stick around for a questionable management/ownership team and watch them completely dismantle the team into the ground.

January 10, 2009

Tampa Bay Game 41: at Anaheim

The Tampa Bay Lightning won the Anaheim Ducks 4-3.

This was night and day from the game in Phoenix. The Lightning were focused on the game from the very beginning, and played pretty consistently throughout. And they were dictating play at times, which isn't something that they've been able to do most of the season.

The Lightning power play didn't look very good, but then Anaheim has some really good defensemen, too. However, their penalty kill looked great. The pass that Lecavalier made up to St. Louis for the short handed goal was very pretty. As was Lecavalier's pass to Prospal later on in the second period. That one almost looked like a shot rather than a pass, but in the replay it was clearly a pass.

Meszaros knocking down the shot when Ramo was out of the net was amazing. He definitely saved a goal on that one. (Who has the best non-goalie save percentage, I wonder?) What is it with Tampa Bay's goalies getting caught out of their nets these days? Normally, that hasn't been a problem. I wonder if it's just a case of bad timing or what.

Malone obviously had a good game with netting two goals. As did Halpern and St. Louis. That was a good line. Between those three, they had 13 of the 19 total shots the Lightning took in this game. Which doesn't speak well for the rest of the team in that department.

They almost let Anaheim back in it, but thankfully didn't. And that's a good sign. Not so long ago, they would've lost a game like that.

Anaheim's been one of the better teams in the Western Conference, and the Lightning were better than they were for long stretches of the game. Particularly at the beginning, I think the Lightning's intensity and drive really threw the Ducks off. It was like they weren't sure how to handle them. And that's good.

The Lightning need to make other teams play their game, and that means ignoring what the other team's doing, to a degree. And that's all about puck control, positioning, passing, and all of the little things coming together into one cohesive style. When any team makes their opponent play their game, then most of the time, that team will win.

This was game 41 of an 82-game season, so I'll post up some kind of Lightning's mid-season report either today or tomorrow.

January 9, 2009

Tampa Bay Game 40: at Phoenix

The Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the Phoenix coyotes 3-2.

I've read the papers online this morning, and everyone's getting down on the Lightning's game last night. Honestly, I thought they did pretty well. The effort was there, but perhaps the only thing missing was the focus, which is understandable with a few days off.

The first period wasn't the best, but like I've said, they lacked focus. They weren't perhaps as mentally prepared as they could've been. We've all been there, tho. After a long weekend, sometimes it takes a bit to get back into the swing of things on Monday morning. Unfortunately, they don't have as much time as the rest of us do at work to readjust their thinking.

Smith had a great game, I thought. He looked pretty sharp - sharper than he has the last couple of games, anyway. I think the time off between games did him a lot of good. I've noticed that he hasn't been out of his net wandering around as much as he had been. But a couple of bad goals is enough to make anyone a little cautious, tho.

Halpern, Malone, and Meszaros had great games, too. Congratulations to Meszaros on finally getting a goal - his first in over 60 games, I guess. And Halpern was just everywhere - but definitely in a good way. Halpern, Malone, Meszaros, & Smith were probably the only ones prepared for the game from the very beginning, while it took the rest of the team until the second period to mentally drag themselves off of the golf course and back onto the ice.

Not that I'm blaming them for that, since they really were in the game until the very end. I mean, the set up for that face off in the last five seconds of the game in the offensive zone was just amazing. I didn't think they'd even get a shot on goal with that, and they did. They almost two shots, in fact.

The third period was by far their best period of the game - and the last half of the third particularly so. I suppose it was Phoenix's third goal that did it. It's that coming from behind thing that really gets them going, I've noticed. Which wouldn't be bad if they were able to win more often.

Speaking of congratulations.... Congratulations to Vinny Lecavalier for being named to the Eastern Conference All-Star reserves. He's just got to be thrilled that he's playing in an All-Star Game in his hometown. Of course, it helps that it's also the Montréal Canadiens' 100th season, too. Good luck and have fun!

January 8, 2009

On other hockey blogs today....

Chris Chelios vs. Scott Stevens: Who was the better player?

This one is just beyond me. I've been going around and around for an hour or so trying to decide, and I can't. I'm leaning towards Chelios at the moment, but that might change. Maybe I'll get back to everyone about that later?

Hockey players are just different

For those of us that follow hockey, we all already know this. That's a big part of the reason we love the sport - because we respect the guys who play it. No, my question is, do you think he'd write blogs for me if I asked him nicely?

I might have to give that a try in the comments and see what happens. The worst he can say is no - or not answer at all - right? Assuming he gets to read my comment, of course. I'm not sure if this page is moderated for him by someone else or not.

January 6, 2009

Hello!

Hockey Hi there! I am new to this website. Cassie invited to this one to get away from the BS going on the other one. I was only flagged once but apparently it has happen quite a few times . Anyway big Tampa Bay fan Yes I am admitting it. But what can you do? You stick by your team right? Hope to make some new hockey friends on this web site. Talk to you later!

January 4, 2009

"Uncle Jack" the Blackhawk


John Leonard "Jack" Dyte was a distant relative of mine, and a much closer relative of my good friends Maggie and Sue from Buffalo. He played in 27 games as a defenseman for the Chicago Blackhawks in 1943-44, the season they lost the Stanley Cup finals to Montreal - although he missed that, having been traded to the AHL's Buffalo Bisons, where he won the Calder Cup instead.

But his history was longer than that. He started with the Barrie Colts, and moved on through Niagara Falls - where he won a Senior B title, Baltimore, Johnstown, and the Montreal Royals, gaining several all star selections, before his time in Chicago. While there he also played a little for Providence in the AHL.

After Buffalo and the 1944 Calder Cup sweep over Cleveland, there were stops in St Louis, New Liskeard - his original home town, North Sydney, and finally Temiscaming. There he was hired as the town's first full time recreation director, and he coached and played for the local Intermediate team, and the senior softball team. He renamed them the Royals from the Papermakers, and they went on to win a bunch of trophies before folding in 1964.

But the Royals live again as a Junior A team. If anyone wants to road trip to tiny Temiscaming for a game, let me know...

After Temiscaming, Jack spent 17 years coaching teams in and around Orillia, Ontario. He was honoured by the Orillia Minor Hockey Association in 1971.

Jack Dyte was inducted, posthumously, into the Barrie Sports Hall of Fame in 1988.

Maggie and Sue remember what a warm, fun guy he was, and always thought it was cool that Uncle Jack had a steel plate in his head from playing hockey. Superstar hockey blogger Dennis Kane remembers him fondly, too:

My midget coach was a man named Jack Dyte. In 1943 he played 27 games with the Chicago Blackhawks, and that was it for his NHL career. He managed one goal and no assists during this stint. But the thing was, he chewed tobacco at our practices and spit the juice on the ice. So the surface had dozens of brown spots all over it. I always wondered how he got away with that.

He might not have been all that in the NHL, but he got there, and he won some trophies including a Calder Cup, and most of all, he gave so much to the game he loved. I'm very proud to be in the same family as Jack Dyte.

Tampa Bay Game 39: at Atlanta

The Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Atlanta Thrashers 4-1.

It's too bad that Smith couldn't keep the shutout, but he did get the win. And winning is more important right now than the shutout. Still, it would've been nice for him to get it.

This was probably one of the best all-around efforts that I've seen from the Lightning yet this season. Other than St. Louis with his two goals, no one really stood out head and shoulders above the rest. They were disciplined, they got plenty of shots on net, they were good defensively, they converted on the power play, they didn't panic when up 3-0, and it was a solid and very no-nonsense kind of effort. The only area that they were a little weak on were face offs, but that didn't seem to hurt them much in the end.

The difference between last night and tonight was like night and day. It was almost as if they were two entirely separate teams that played. Last night, they were very jittery. Tonight, they were as patient as stones - nothing got to them.

Sure, it wasn't exactly the most exciting game I've ever watched. But as I said before, winning is far more important. It's almost halfway thru the season, and Tampa Bay just won their 11th game. The only thing that's giving them any kind of hope for a playoff run at this point is that they've got 10 overtime losses, which gives them those 10 extra points in the standings. It's the only saving grace that came out of the first half of the season.

This win is a great start to their road trip. Hopefully, they can maintain the consistency that they had tonight. Flashy might be more entertaining, but winning is winning. Steady trumps flashy when it gets you to where you want to go.

The New Jersey Devils know all about that kind of philosophy, don't they? And you know what? It's worked well for them. People might complain about how boring it is, but those Stanley Cup championships still look awfully sweet.

How to get drafted

It’s always amazed me how fans can blindly accept that, just because a guy was drafted, that he must be a good player. Particularly since it’s so well known that so many others don’t ever get drafted. The undrafted free agent signee is almost held in awe, and regarded with a lot of skepticism. And it doesn’t matter what sport you’re talking about, since it’s really all about the same.

When I played hockey, my team practiced before the local major junior hockey team, so I knew some of those guys. I also knew a couple of guys on the rival team up the road as well. (This was years and years ago, so I was around the age as a lot of them at the time.) So I got to see how that whole scouting/drafting thing worked from a player perspective.

Natural talent plays only a small part in these things. It really comes down to who you know – but even more importantly, who knows you. Playing for national teams, getting drafted, getting to play up on the major league squad – all those things come down to the individual’s reputation. Assuming he has one. If he doesn’t, then the guy doesn’t usually get very far.

That’s why there are generations families who end up playing the sport at a high level. If the older brother has a good reputation, then that reputation automatically transfers itself to his younger brothers. And if the father played pro had a good reputation, then that reputation transfers itself to his sons. That’s why you see families like the Sutters, the Staals, the Bourques, and the Stastnys playing in the NHL.

I’ve seen guys who were talented enough to play in the NHL only to never make it out of juniors because the right people didn’t know who they were. And I’ve seen mediocre players in junior make it to the NHL. It’s really not about talent at all. It helps, of course, but that’s ultimately not the deciding factor. A guy’s reputation decides his fate, and not everyone has control of their reputation.

When I went to college years later, I was friends with the starting quarterback. Half of the NFL teams were very interested in him, despite being a Division II player. He’d been invited to camps, went to the NFL Combine, and did the whole spiel – but never was picked up by anybody. And he really should’ve been. It was all because the right people didn’t know who he was.

A friend of his, who was a wide receiver at the same university, had the exact same problem. He wasn’t as heavily scouted as the quarterback, but he was just as talented and also did some tryouts and went to the NFL Combine. He never went any further than playing college ball. Again, it was because the right people didn’t know who he was.

So this notion that just because a guy gets drafted it automatically makes him a great player isn’t right. Depending on the athlete, it can be completely wrong, in fact. It’s all about who you know. But mostly, it’s really about who knows you.