Both the Lightning and Bruins have a lot to work on going into Game 3

10 Comments

A chronic optimist can find reasons for positivity for the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning after Boston’s 6-5 win in Game 2. The Bruins’ perspective is fairly obvious: they tied the series up and witnessed a possible breakthrough night for their talented but struggling rookie Tyler Seguin. It doesn’t take much to find a silver lining for Tampa Bay, either. Ultimately, they earned one win on the road and ended Game 2 with some momentum.

Yet a realist will point out that each team has plenty to work on. Let’s take a look at some of the issues plaguing both teams as the series shifts to Tampa Bay.

Bruins won, but shouldn’t get fat and happy.

Yes, Boston tied things up and looked dominant at times, but there was a lot to worry about. If you ask me, the Lightning’s advantage in foot speed has been painfully apparent at times. Tampa Bay produced a disturbing array of semi-breakaways and full-fledged ones, but Tim Thomas was able to bail his team out on most (if not all) of them. Just watch this montage to see how different this game could have been.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Making big saves like that is what separates the unorthodox Thomas from mere mortals. Still, how many times can Zdeno Chara and lesser Bruins defensemen find themselves flat-footed without dire results? I’m a fan of Dennis “Pain Sponge” Seidenberg, but not enough to justify the 31 minutes of ice time he received in Game 2.

Overall, leaky defense is the biggest concern for the Bruins. They barely managed to hold onto a 6-3 lead in the third period, requiring a desperate Thomas save on a Marc-Andre Bergeron rebound shot to seal things up. After dominating the first, Boston allowed Tampa Bay to out-shoot them 30-17 in the last two periods. They can’t expect Thomas to save them over the long haul, not with Tampa Bay’s talent at the forward position.

Thomas was a big reason why the Bruins won, but he allowed a goal or two he regretted in this game. Perhaps the most stoppable one came when Vincent Lecavalier beat him five-hole to score Tampa Bay’s third goal. In a tighter game, a regrettable goal would be a lot more damaging for Thomas and the Bruins.

Still, the Bruins feel a lot better about life tonight than they did on Saturday night.

Tampa Bay should be concerned, too.

Like I mentioned previously, the Lightning can take some positives into Game 3. They “earned home ice advantage” by winning on of the two games in Boston and put a lot of heat on the Bruins in the third period. They also received goals from star players after winning Game 1 thanks to support players.

That being said, it’s easy to wonder if the Lightning are running out of luck. As I pointed out in PHT’s preview post, the Lightning have been severely out-shot through the first two rounds.

That trend was tolerable when Dwayne Roloson was standing on his head, but he allowed six goals in two periods before getting the hook for Mike Smith in the third period. Many of those tallies weren’t really his fault, but one must wonder if Roloson’s improbable run hit a wall of reality. The Lightning might not need superlative goaltending from Roloson every night, but if he regresses to the point of being average, Tampa Bay could be in trouble.

***

Every NHL team sports some warts, even one that manages to make the final four in the playoffs. Still, the Bruins and Lightning have some major concerns, especially in their own end. Whichever team adjusts and improves will likely find their way to the Stanley Cup finals.

Considering their competition in the West, they better work out the kinks by then.

NHL suspends Tom Wilson two preseason games for interference

Getty
Leave a comment

Capitals forward Tom Wilson has been suspended for two preseason games for interference, after his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas during Friday’s exhibition game.

The incident occurred early in the third period, as Wilson caught Thomas with a heavy and late hit along the boards at the Blues bench.

“Over a full second after Thomas loses control of the puck, well past the point where Thomas is eligible to be checked, Wilson comes in from the side and delivers a forceful body check, knocking Thomas to the ice,” stated a member of the NHL Department of Player Safety in a video explanation of the suspension.

“In addition to the lateness of the hit, what elevates this hit to the level of supplemental discipline is the predatory nature and force of the hit. Wilson tracks Thomas for some time and alters his course to ensure he is able to finish his hit. Then, with the puck long gone from Thomas’ control, Wilson finishes the check with force.”

The Capitals continue their preseason schedule Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. They also play the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.

Letang set to return to Penguins lineup vs. Blues on Sunday

Getty
Leave a comment

For the first time since February, Kris Letang is expected to be in the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup when they face the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.

Letang hasn’t played since Feb. 21. He underwent neck surgery in April and missed the entire Stanley Cup playoffs as a result. Despite the absence of their best defenseman, which is a huge loss in Letang, the Penguins were able to overcome that and emerge as champions over Nashville.

According to Pens Inside Scoop on Saturday, head coach Mike Sullivan said Letang will play in Sunday’s Kraft Hockeyville game between the Penguins and St. Louis Blues.

That wasn’t the only Letang news Saturday:

Getting Letang back into the lineup will provide a huge boost to an already strong Penguins team, with his ability to log heavy minutes and act as a catalyst in Pittsburgh’s offensive attack.

“I want to be the same player I was before. I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be able to do that,” said Letang. “Hopefully everything goes well and I go back to the old way, playing over 25 minutes and in all situations.”

But what is most critical is having Letang healthy, and Sullivan this offseason has stressed to the star defenseman to recognize situations when he should make a simple play rather than risk taking an unnecessary hit.

“When people try to dissect all of that, they make assumptions that they understand, but they don’t,” Letang told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Mike and I have a clear understanding of what he wants me to do. I think I’m tired of hearing people around it because I had a talk with Mike and Jim. It’s just a way of avoiding those unnecessary hits. It’s not going to be reducing ice time or anything like that. It’s taking a different approach on certain plays.”

Related: Letang isn’t interested in getting less ice time now that he’s healthy

Canucks’ Horvat out a week with upper-body injury

Getty
Leave a comment

The Canucks will resume their preseason schedule on Thursday, although it appears right now that Bo Horvat will likely not be in the lineup.

Just prior to puck drop against the L.A. Kings on Saturday, the Canucks announced that Horvat is expected to be out a week with an upper-body injury.

Per Dan Murphy of Sportsnet, the injury occurred on a hit from Drew Doughty during the first game of the two-game exhibition series between the Canucks and Kings in China.

The good news for the Canucks is that their regular season schedule begins on Oct. 7, which would give Horvat two weeks to get fully healthy and ready for the opener against Connor McDavid and the Oilers.

The 22-year-old Horvat enjoyed a 20-goal, 52-point season in 2016-17, emerging as the team’s leading scorer and one of the few bright spots during another disappointing season for the Canucks. As a result, he signed a six-year, $33 million contract extension earlier this month.

Related: Horvat believes he is ‘just scratching the surface’

Report: NHL has already made adjustment on slashing, faceoff calls

Getty
3 Comments

The NHL preseason began with the league trying to crackdown on slashing and faceoff violations.

The early results were a lot of confusion, a ton of penalties, and a lot of griping from players, former referees and media about the confusion and the number of penalties.

Former NHL referee Paul Stewart griped on Twitter that it was taking away from the officials ability to call a game by feel and hockey sense. The Winnipeg Jets brought in retired referee Paul Devorski to work with their players in an effort to help them gain an understanding of what the league was looking for and to cut down on penalties.

It was obvious that something was going to have to give.

Either the players would have to adjust to the new standard implemented by the league, or the league would make its own adjustment and scale things back a bit.

In most matters like this in the NHL, it usually tends to be the latter.

That also seems to be the case here as Sportsnet’s John Shannon Tweeted on Saturday morning that the league has already sent a note to its officials to “dial it back” a bit when it comes slashing and faceoff violation calls.

Well, that was fast.

The enforcement of the faceoff rule seemed like a minor thing that really wasn’t going to make much of a difference, but the emphasis on slashing is one that needs to be kept (and extended to interference, holding, hooking or any other sort of obstruction), especially given the way some of the league’s star players are defended where slashing down on their hands or stick seems to be the preferred way of playing them. Not only from a player safety standpoint to help reduce injuries (getting hit with a stick can break bones … or fingers) but because the drop in power plays over the past decade (the “let them play” mindset) has been one of the many factors in the continued decline in goal scoring across the league.

If the NHL is serious about changing this stuff the onus needs to be on the players to adjust, not the officials. Set the standard. Call it consistently. The players will figure out what they can and can not do.

Anything less than that basically just amounts to the league saying, “hey guys, we would really like you to cut down on the slashes” and hoping that the players listen. But as long as they can get away with it, they will not listen.