The Lightning make franchise history last night with their 11th straight win for an overtime victory against the Avalanche and what a game is was to watch! Both the Lightning and the Avalanche are known for having very skilled players. Nathan MacKinnon is amongst some of the most skilled and fastest skaters in the league, making it no surprise that he got Colorado in the board first thanks to a pass from Mikko Rantanen.
The remainder of the 1st period went without goals due to solid efforts from both goalies. The Bolts controlled most of the 2nd period. Under 5 minutes in, Alex Killorn wraps the puck around the glass in the Avalanche’s offensive zone to Ondrej Palat and Palat feeds it back to Killorn for his 23rd goal of the season and to tie up the game. This out the momentum train in motion as less than 2 minutes after Killorn’s goal, Cameron Gaunce rips a shot off in traffic to put the Bolts in the lead 2-1. Gaunce after the game said, “it’s been something I’ve been working on a lot, when the puck comes off the board, getting that shot, and seeing it go in has a nice feel”.
As the period began winding down, Brayden Point made a fast effort up the ice in attempts to score, but his shot came off the goalie’s pad creating another scoring opportunity the Steven Stamkos maximized on. Diving on to the ice to get the puck in the net, sending the Lightning up 3-1. 1:34 before the 2nd period ended; MacKinnon danced through the Lightning o-zone to hit a top shelf goal and his 2nd goal of the game minimizing the Bolts lead.
The 3rd period opened up with Tampa Bay still in the lead 3-2 and continued scoring attempts up and down the ice. With 7:17 left in the 3rd period Colorado with some quick puck movement causing enough confusion for Cale Makar to come down the center and score a wrist shot, tying the game 3-3. With many “almost” The Bolts and the Avs held each other off from scoring taking the game into overtime. Strong defensive plays continued and one in particular was the game changer. As MacKinnon skated to set up an opportunity to pass or score there was just enough room for Kucherov to steal the puck for a breakaway and score in the goalie’s five hole sealing the Lightning’s 11th straight win, the most consecutive wins in franchise history.
Although an entertaining game non the less, Kucherov had a closer perspective and diagnosis of the game saying “it wasn’t a good game for us. We need to have the puck on our sticks more, and more puck possession in their o-zone”. But it’s that kind of “we can do better” mentality that separates good teams from great teams and the Lightning have all the potential to be a great team!
The Lightning head off to Las Vegas to face the Golden Knights and with the newest addition to Tampa Bay’s defense will officially join them! Blake Coleman, the Bolts recent trade acquire as of Sunday, February 16th will make his Lightning debut. In his initial trade statement Coleman expressed his excitement for this new chapter and how he feels he’ll fit in with this team. Coleman said, he’s familiar with Coach Cooper’s coaching and playbook style after facing him in the USHL. Coleman said” “They’re bringing me in because I have a playoff-type game, a will to compete and a will to win”. Will see how this new chapter unfolds and if Tampa Bay can make it 12 wins on Thursday!
Prior to entering the 25th MLS season, the MLS and MLSPA have reached a 5-year bargaining agreement. If you have been watching soccer in the USA and Canada over the past decade you would have noticed the tremendous growth within the industry. Soccer is finally becoming a must-see sport in North America. Of course, initially the audience was not expected to be where it is today, which played a role in player salaries and benefits. With that said, this 5-year bargaining agreement that the MLS and MLSPA have agreed upon is a step in the right direction for further growth of soccer (futbol) in North America.
The new agreement hit 5 major points:
Increased investment in player spending.
Greater flexibility for clubs to use new resources across the entire roster.
Player spending to include a share of MLS’ new media rights deals in 2023 and 2024.
A substantial increase in charter flights.
Expanded free agency.
The MLS has made some leeway on getting their top 24 rostered players better minimum and maximum salaries. The minimum salary for MLS players started from about $32,500-42,000 and Maximum capped at about $387,000. Come 2024, players maximum with cap at roughly $803,125 with better 401K and benefits. It’s a step in the right direction, but still nothing compared to the European leagues whose contacts are in the millions. It’s going to take a continued audience growth and participation to get North American soccer players on a million-dollar scale. Other key points of this new CBA agreement are salary budget flexibility, meaning $1.2 Million per season has been converted to general allocation money (Reduce the amount that a non-Designated Player costs against the salary cap down to the league minimum salary ($67,500 in 2018). Reduce the amount that a Designated Player costs against the salary cap down to $150,000. Sign players new to MLS) and can be used across the entire roster. Players will share in media revenue for the first time beginning in 2023 and 2024. Spending will be increased to 25% of the increased media revenue generated by the league in addition to $100 Million. Charter flights increase substantially. Clubs will use charter flights for 8 legs of travel starting in the 2020 season and working up to 16 legs come 2024. Lastly, expanded free agency. Free agency will now open up to player 24 years and older and have been in the MLS for at least 5 years. The MLS has 26 active clubs with 4 new teams to become active within the next two years. If the Major Soccer League continues expanding at this rate 2025 should have even more promising re-evaluations for club and player benefits!
The first home game of 2020, the Lightning returned home with a 7-game win streak under their belt and prepped to host the Vancouver Canucks in hopes to extend their streak. The 1st period opened up in a mild manner. Both teams trying to find their footing and both goalies making significant saves. It wasn’t until under the final 2 minutes of the 1st period that a goal was finally scored. Getting on the board first was Vancouver, thanks to Elias Pettersson.
Heading into the 1st intermission down 1-0 to the Canucks, the Bolts must have had a motivating pep talk. The 2nd period opened up and in less than 5 minutes, Hedman found Palat, Palat found Johnson and Johnson found the net for his 10th goal of the season. Tying up the game, fueled up the Lightning. Another five minutes of play in the 2nd period Point set up Stamkos to score his 17th goal of the season. Vancouver’s Eriksson tied up the game in response to Stamkos’s goal, but it was Alex Killorn’s speedy unassisted goal that ignited the Bolts to let off the gas. The Lightning solidified 3 goals in under a minute! Verhaeghe took the Bolts to 4 goals, Then Kucherov knocked the score up to 5-2, and with 1:58 left in the 2nd period Cernak with a slap shot closes the period with a 6-2 lead.
3rd period meant 3 more goals for the Lighting. After the attack the Lightning led against the Canucks goalie in the 2nd, it was clear they got in his head. The Bolts defense and exemplary goalie, Vasy stepped up holding the Canucks off from any scoring opportunities, creating a lot of frustration for Vancouver, which showed. Brayden point relentlessly shooting on goal scored top shelf 4:37 into the 3rd period and then it turned into the Verhaeghe show as Carter Verhaeghe got 2 more goals for the Lightning projecting the score to a 9-2 lead and gifting the audience with his 1st NHL hat trick! The fans began tossing their hats into the rink in celebration of Verhaeghe’s successful night and career milestone.
The playoff conversation is beginning to sing a different tune for Tampa Bay… Now with an 8 game winning streak the Lightning set their eyes and intentions to make the streak 9, as they host the Arizona Coyotes at 7pm Thursday evening!
Adversity is probably the key word for the Tampa Bay Lightning team right now. Coming into the 2019-2020 season with many eyes on them after the way the 2018-2019 season closed out. This team has been a skillful line-up, but what is skill without the right structure. Coach Cooper has been working tirelessly to find what will work for his skilled players to find consistency and win games. Starting off the season on a two-week road trip, the Bolts had a lot on their plate. Weirdly, they were pulling off wins against tough opponents and falling short versus teams they were predicted to beat, struggling to play 60 minutes of hockey. A turning point for the Bolts was their trip to Sweden getting a chance to reset and bond as mentioned previously, we saw a more competitive team return. Sadly as soon as the Lightning began to find a rhythm, many injuries started amongst key players. Two weeks ago, Kucherov was out for thankfully 1 game, but then Stamkos was gone for 3, while as of recent Coburn is out indefinitely, and Killorn is on a day to day basis, counting him out of last night’s match up versus the Nashville Predators. The Lightning called Cory Conacher back up from Syracuse, he’s been the go-to guy to add to the line since October, but Verhaeghe ended up back in the line-up.
Last night Kucherov, Point, Palat, hit the ice as the starting line and McDonagh with Cernak as the starting d-pairing. Both the Lightning and Predators carry a lot of talent on their teams, so the game opened up with fast skating and physicality. Leave to Victor Hedman to get the Bolts on the board first through, Hedman has been relentlessly taking more shots on goal since his 1st of the season on a power play. The Predators tied it up in the 2nd period and if you thought you saw fast pace and hard skating in the 1st period of this game, the 2nd period was way more intense. The game got quite chippy and tense. Many almost fights until Luke Schenn had enough o Tyler—- resulting in a fight. Later in the chippy 2nd period Brayden Point drew a penalty as he went for the puck and got elbowed in the face, after reviewing the play, the referees felt that it was intentional dealing the Bolts a 5-minute power play that they unfortunately couldn’t score in, the Predators did a heck of a job holding the Lightning to center ice.
We saw the d-pairings playing way more up than usual, at this point there isn’t really a “stay at home” defenseman or at least not last night. In the 3rd period Nashville tied up the game yet again and both teams really battled for the win, but overtime was the result. What better duo than Stamkos to Kucherov could you picture to secure the win for the Lightning. The Bolts left Nashville with 2 hard earned points. Last night’s game was played at a playoff pace and intensity as the Lightning sit 5 below the ranking line in the East and Nashville sits 3 below in the West. It’s officially that time of the year where every game counts and there are only so many games left before playoffs are here. Will the Bolts be playoff contenders? A short time will tell. The Lightning head back home to host the Minnesota Wild, tomorrow at 7pm.
An electric 4th line combo and special teams are creating a contagious affect throughout the Bolts team! The Bolts played one of their best games of the season last Thursday versus the Blackhawks and the consistency has remained versus the Ducks Saturday and the Sabres last night. Keep in mind, these step-up performances came without Kucherov and Stamkos, last Thursday, then without Stamkos Saturday and last night. We’re hopeful to see a healthy Stammer back in the line up Wednesday, but it’s up in the air. Kucherov was luckily able to return as of Saturday and has broke his silence collecting 2 goals and 3 points in the last 2 games.
Coach Cooper feels that the guys set the tone for this game in Sweden, which confidence wise could be the case, but it has been the last 2 games before the Sabres rematch that the Lightning have appeared to find their footing. The guys are skating hard and getting better reads off one another. One duo in particular, Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn, opportunities are created when these two are on the ice, they both play very smart, relentless hockey. Some of their similarities may be the cause of their ability to read each other so well.
As we mentioned earlier, the Bolts special teams have begun to look familiar in the sense that this month penalty kills have been getting back to the best in the league. Last night, special teams kicked it up a notch with 2 short-handed goals within 49 seconds!
The Lightning defense have come together well, starting with being ranked 3rd in the league for defensive men point leaders. They have had less gaps in the D-Zone and have been making some fast corrections. The best chance the Sabres had all games is when they were applying pressure to the Bolts along the boards, but that didn’t hold up in the 3rd period, the Lightning made it entirely their game.
The Lightning appeared to have struck up consistency and chemistry within their lines, but that did not stop coach Cooper from still shuffling up his lines and creating some other interesting match ups. Saturday’s lines against the Winnipeg Jets were as is:
Coach Cooper after the game said that he wasn’t too happy with how the first few shifts went in the game, but things started to pick up once the guys found their legs. With that said, the first few shifts were not looking too strong, creating opportunity for Winnipeg to get on the board first and control most of the 1st period. The Jets were predominantly winning faceoffs which they would capitalize throughout the game, but once the 2nd period came about, the Lightning took control of the game.
Although the Bolts SOG (56%) were strong, their finishing percentage struggled. Halfway through the game the Bolts began to pick up some momentum. Their penalty kills were managed quite well through out the game, but there was still an unfortunate amount of penalties accounted for against the Bolts. The costly one being the delay of game penalty, when coach Cooper challenged for a high sticking call on Ehlers seconds before Jack Roslovic connected down the center with Andrew Coop for a goal. Nikolaj Ehlers played at a pretty unstoppable pace, he needed to be marked a bit more aggressively, but Ehlers has consistently produced seeing as he has had 7 goals in 9 games against the Lightning.
Aside from the trouble Ehlers created for the Bolts this game was really won by Winnipeg’s goalie, Hellebuyck and his 31 saves. One of the biggest saves of the night was a shot from Ondrej Palat, that could have swung the game into overtime with Cirelli’s goal 22 seconds before the end of the 3rd period. Statistically the Lightning should have won this match up, but The Jets did just enough to take this win.
On a positive note, Bolt’s captain, Steven Stamkos scored his 400th career goal versus the Jets, making franchise history with the Lightning organization and of course hitting a personal career benchmark. Cooper praised Stamkos’s accomplishment by saying that “many players don’t even get to play 400 games in this league, so to reach 400 goals says a lot”. Tampa Bay will head back on the road to face the St. Louis Blues, Tuesday night at 8pm.
The second meeting of the season between the Rangers and the Lightning takes place this Thursday at Amalie Arena in hopes of better results and less injuries. The first match up took place in New York when the Bolts hit the road for their 2nd road trip. The game didn’t pan out in favor of the Lightning who have struggled to strike consistency in their lines and are at a low percentage in PKs this season after being one of the top teams in the league last season. In press conferences, you can see the frustration from coach Cooper when last season is brought up. The team is dealing with different circumstances this year and continuing to switch up the lines to see what will work out.
When the team got to Sweden, players mentioned that time being an opportunity to reset and refocus. In addition to the ability to reset, the team said that the experience as a whole gave them a chance to bond further as teammates. Mathieu Joseph said, “when you like your teammates you are more willing to sacrifice for them, which helps”. Well Joseph and the guys were on to something because a new focus and respect showed on the ice versus the 9-4-2 Buffalo Sabres as the Bolts closed out the series with back to back victories.
Kucherov got on the board again for the 2nd time since his scoreless 6-game streak. Hedman was in a euphoric state playing in his country and it showed in his game. Although the lines appeared to work in Sweden, more changes came Monday morning. Alex Volkov, whom ended up replacing Luke Witkowski before the NHL Global Series got sent back to Syracuse, which now leaves question as to who will possibly be pulled up to the Bolts roster this week versus the Rangers? The Rangers are beatable and with the talent the Lightning have regardless of their record, they should be capable of taking this win. Although Saturday’s lines appeared to perform well together, the practice lines have shifted. As of yesterday morning, the lines were:
Both the Rangers and the Lightning are 3-2 in their last 5 games, the Bolts’ average of goals allowed per game is at 3.47 in comparison to the Rangers’ 3.25 average, which speaks to the special team issues the Lightning have been having, but if they carry the momentum they found in Sweden into tonight’s match-up, the game should be theirs for the taking. Puck drops at 7pm tonight, stay tuned with Florida National News for more Tampa Bay Lightning updates!