Tag: Tampa Bay Lightning

Nikita Nesterov

Lightning dress an extra defenseman once more

Much like in Game 2, the Tampa Bay Lightning are rolling with 11 forwards and seven defensemen against the New York Rangers tonight.

That more or less means that promising blueliner Nikita Nesterov will remain in the mix, while Jonathan Drouin and his questioned defense prowess will not.

Apparently going with an extra defenseman and one fewer forward has worked out quite well for the Bolts:

Coach Cooper explains why Stamkos is a winger now

Tampa Bay Lightning v New York Rangers - Game One

The best thing about playing the wing is that you don’t have the same defensive responsibilities that centers do.

That’s the lazy man’s take, at least. (And coming from a blogger, an appropriate one.)

But it’s also why Steven Stamkos has been shifted to the wing, according to Lightning coach Jon Cooper.

“The one thing I thought, he’s spending too much time in the [defensive] zone, and he’s spending way too much energy down there,” Cooper said this morning ahead of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final versus the Rangers.

“So to free him up a little bit, and let him get out of the zone a little faster and not have to play the whole 200 feet, I thought was something that was going to save his legs and give him a little more time.”

Lately, Stamkos has been centered by Valtteri Filppula, with Alex Killorn on the opposite wing.

“To have a player like Fil who can control the puck the way he does, ” said Cooper, “he sees the ice, he can get those pucks to Stammer. He’s somebody that transports the puck really well.”

Frankly, Stamkos has always struck me more as a winger than a center. The three forwards that had the most shots during the regular season (Alex Ovechkin, Rick Nash, Max Pacioeretty) are all wingers. It’s a position that lends itself to players with good shots, and Stamkos certainly has one of those. He just needs more opportunities to use it.

Related: Stamkos doesn’t mind winging it

‘When Hedman is going, our team’s going,’ says Lightning coach Cooper

Tampa Bay Lightning v Vancouver Canucks

The last time the Tampa Bay Lightning was in an Eastern Conference Final, towering Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman was only a sophomore in the league.

A prized young player at the time, the six-foot-six-inch Hedman has, especially over the last two seasons and now at the age of 24, developed into the top blue liner on the Lightning.

“I’ve been able to learn from that year, and I feel like I want to take responsibility. I want to be a leader. I want to be a difference maker on the ice,” Hedman told reporters Tuesday.

Not only does he lead the Lightning in ice time during these playoffs, he leads all Tampa Bay defensemen in points with eight in 15 games.

He added to his point total in a dominant Game 2 victory over the Rangers on Monday, with a beautiful cross-ice set-up to Alex Killorn for an easy goal into an open net. Hedman, from the left point, faked the shot, then slid a perfect pass to his teammate. The floodgates opened from there.

“Well, Victor, I don’t think you get to this part of the season without having a top, elite-tier defenseman. And he is that for us, I think,” said head coach Jon Cooper.

“You look at the two of them, when he and (Anton Stralman) are paired together, I think it’s as good as you’re going to get in this league. He plays the whole 200 feet. He’s blessed with the size, the skill, the speed. He can make plays like he did last night to Killorn.

“Just can’t say enough. If I look at our year, obviously (Ben Bishop) is the guy that anchors us back there. But when Hedman is going, our team’s going. Sometimes when he’s not, our team isn’t, and that says a lot about a player that he has that much effect on our team.”


Johnson learned ‘there were two nets’ in the AHL; will Drouin be taught the same thing?

Jonathan Drouin

Lightning coach Jon Cooper credits Tyler Johnson’s two seasons in the AHL for producing the playoff scoring sensation that hockey fans are watching today.

What, specifically, did Johnson learn in the minors?

“Johnny learned how to be a pro hockey player,” said Cooper. “He learned that there were two nets on the ice. All these players, regardless who you are, you just don’t — the one thing about the American League is nobody is really watching, and it’s a clear development league. In the NHL, everybody’s watching, and this is a win-now league. So these guys, when they had their ups and downs, they did it in the minors.

“But my experience down there, you watch guys come in and you see guys that come in highly touted and don’t really make it, and you come in and see guys that grind their way out and understand pro hockey and make it. Then you see guys like Johnny that come in with no fanfare at all and become superstars. What he’s doing in the NHL started in the American League. ”

Cooper’s answer is interesting for a number of reasons. From a big-picture perspective, it underscores the importance of proper player development. The NHL may be a young man’s game, but if a prospect isn’t ready, he isn’t ready.

Which brings us to Jonathan Drouin, the third overall pick in the 2013 draft. What was it that Cooper said about why Drouin has been a healthy scratch for most of these playoffs? Oh right, it was this: “There is more than one net in a rink. There’s two. You have to be able to play in front of both.”

In other words, don’t be surprised if Drouin, 20, spends some time in Syracuse next season. It’s unfortunate for his development that he wasn’t allowed to go there full-time this season, but those are the rules.

In case you haven’t noticed, the NHL is a young man’s game


Just for the sake of the discussion — and since everyone’s talking about Tyler Johnson today — here are all the players who have scored at least five goals in these playoffs:

Johnson (11), Corey Perry (7), Patrick Kane (7), Nikita Kucherov (6), Chris Kreider (6), Vladimir Tarasenko (6), Alex Killorn (6), Derek Stepan (5), Alex Ovechkin (5), Derick Brassard (5), Evgeny Kuznetsov (5), Max Pacioretty (5), Matt Beleskey (5), and Colin Wilson (5).

That’s 14 players. Can you pick out the oldest?

The answer is Anaheim’s Perry, who turned 30 on Saturday. Only slightly younger than Perry, Ovechkin will turn 30 in September.

Otherwise, it’s all players who are comfortably in their 20s, their legs still full of burst, their bodies not yet worn down by the grind of taking hundreds of pucks hard to the net, and all the punishment that goes with scoring goals in today’s NHL.

This isn’t to say that once a goal-scorer turns 30 he should be put out to pasture, like the theory about running backs in the NFL. Marian Gaborik, Justin Williams, and Martin St. Louis all had productive postseasons last year. This year is perhaps an extreme case.

But it does show the importance of youth, and how quickly a player — especially a forward — can go from getting drafted to making a significant impact.

True, patience is required when developing prospects. You don’t want to rush them. There’s nothing wrong with learning the game in the AHL. But at the same time, there has to be a sense of urgency in getting prospects ready for the NHL so they can enjoy as many productive seasons as possible, before their peak years (at a relatively low cap hit) are over.

Hence, all the talk surrounding 20-year-old Jonathan Drouin. While it’s not like the Lightning should be hitting the panic button that he hasn’t yet gained the trust of his coach, it’s not unfair to wonder if he’s fallen a bit behind in his development.

In a related story, Capitals GM Brian MacLellan knows “the next three or four years is the window” in Washington. Because, where will Ovechkin’s game be after that? Where will Nicklas Backstrom’s? The Caps have an opportunity over the next few years to get production from both their veterans and their youth. That’s the sweet spot every GM aims for. And those sweet spots don’t last long.