The best player on the ice in Tampa Saturday was a 5-foot-8 forward who couldn’t be stopped.
The Bolts’ Tyler Johnson channeled Martin St-Louis of old, firing in the first goal of the afternoon and putting the game out of reach with a breakaway tally at the end of the second to make it 4-0. The Wings swapped out Petr Mrazek for Jimmy Howard and tried to mount a comeback in the third, but the Lightning held on to win 5-1.
The win evens the series and throws the Red Wings’ goaltending position back into doubt, after Mrazek surrendered four goals on 18 shots in the first two periods.
Heading into the off-season, Dallas Stars management face a difficult decision regarding the state of their goaltending. Depth between the pipes was a serious issue, as the Stars failed to find a suitable backup for struggling starter Kari Lehtonen. As a result, they finished the season 27th in goals against.
In a recent chat with Stars fans, the Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News speculated over Lehtonen’s future. While acknowledging the 31-year-old is a “35-win, .917 goalie” who would be difficult to part with, Heika is wavering on whether Lehtonen can regain his form with the Stars.
Heika’s concern is understandable. While Lehtonen won 34 games for the Stars, his goals-against average (2.94) and save percentage (.903) was among the worst for NHL starting goalies. It didn’t help that Lehtonen’s backups (Jhonas Enroth, Anders Lindback and Jussi Rynnas) fared little better, though Enroth improved in his final games of the season.
Perhaps Lehtonen would benefit from a fresh start, but moving him won’t be easy. In addition to his woeful stats, he’s got three years left on his contract at an annual cap hit of $5.9 million. He also has a no-trade clause, though that becomes a limited one starting in 2015-16. Heika wonders if the Detroit Red Wings would be interested in a swap of Jimmy Howard or if Carolina would want to trade Cam Ward straight up for Lehtonen. Read more
The Red Wings came into their first round series against the Lightning as huge underdogs. And even after Detroit’s Game 1 victory, it wouldn’t be crazy to still consider them such.
Entering the series, from an advanced statistical perspective, the Red Wings were one of the top puck possession teams in the entire Eastern Conference and one of the few teams who kept pace with the Lightning when it came to underlying numbers in the East. After the series’ first game, however, it’s more than evident there’s a huge discrepancy between the two clubs when it comes to ability to control the run of play. If Detroit can’t turn the tides in that respect, this series could be a quick one. Read more
Pavel Datsyuk didn’t suit up for eight of the Red Wings’ final 15 games of the regular season, but if the veteran sniper is feeling any rust, he certainly isn’t showing it.
After Datsyuk put Detroit on the board midway through the first period with an outstanding deflection, it didn’t take long before Tampa Bay equalized to send Game 1 of the first-round series between the clubs to the first intermission as a 1-1 tie. It didn’t take long for Datsyuk to break that tie once the second period started, though, and of course, in typical ‘Magic Man’ fashion, the goal was gorgeous: Read more
HOW THEY WIN
LIGHTNING: The Lightning are the highest-scoring team in the NHL and have the ability to put teams away early with a tsunami of shots and play in the offensive zone. Much of Tampa Bay’s success comes from its roster’s ability to spread out the contributions. No defenseman plays more than 23 minutes a game and, generally speaking, no forward plays more than 20. The fact unheralded Tyler Johnson went into the stretch run of the season battling for the team’s scoring lead with Steven Stamkos tells you all you need to know about the Bolts’ depth of offense. After struggling on the penalty kill in years past, the Lightning have quietly become a top-10 team on the PK and use their quick-strike ability to be a shorthanded scoring threat. They’re also more than big enough to play that “heavy” game that seems to be so successful in the playoffs.
RED WINGS: Prior to the season, Detroit GM Ken Holland said that if the Red Wings could get anything resembling full seasons out of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg and their goaltending held up, they would be fine. All those things have happened and the Red Wings have been much more than fine. When Detroit is healthy, it has a ton of depth in the form of four strong lines that can play in any situation and adapt to almost any style of game. Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist are right there with Datsyuk and Zetterberg when it comes to offensive contributions, and they give the Red Wings danger and depth in scoring. Whether it’s Jimmy Howard or Jonas Gustavsson or Petr Mrazek, they have the kind of goaltending that is very good and can sometimes be great. They can be sure it won’t be a negative deciding factor in a playoff series. Read more
For the past six seasons, Jimmy Howard has been the man between the pipes for Detroit. With Petr Mrazek handed the starting reins for the Red Wings’ first game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, however, Howard’s time as Detroit’s number one might be up.
Howard had been, without a doubt, the Red Wings go-to goaltender heading into the all-star break. Up until Jan. 10, he had backstopped Detroit in 32 games, had the team in contention for top spot in the Atlantic Division and his numbers looked solid – Howard had a 2.11 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. But on Jan. 10, he went down with a groin injury after playing just 1:53 against the Washington Capitals and allowing one goal on three shots.
From there, Mrazek took over. And after being forced to split time with Mrazek once returning from injury, it might be hard for Howard to ever get his job back. Read more
There are many perks that accompany being a hockey writer, and one of them is knowing that, despite not being invested emotionally in any franchise, you will be accused at one point in time or another of having it out for every NHL franchise. And I can assure you that working at an international publication such as THN only enhances the hilarity as the accusations stream in regularly.
Here at hockey’s magazine of record, we receive angry emails and letters screeching at us for virtually every conceivable bias: for some people, we’re part of the swarthy “Toronto media” and anti-Maple-Leafs; and for others – most of who reside (a) in Canada and (b) outside of Southern Ontario – we’re Leafs-obsessed and sleep under blue-and-white sheets every night; we hear from Americans who’d swear on a stack of hockey bibles we’re stridently cheering for Canadians and anything to do with the “Canadian game”, and we receive input from Canadians furious at our “obviously” blind allegiance to NHL Gary Bettman’s U.S. Sunbelt expansion strategy; we’re blasted by those who think we giddily cover Sidney Crosby’s every sneeze, and we’re ripped from others who think every member of our editorial team rues the day No. 87 became a star and do all they can to slight Crosby at every opportunity.
Much like the modern NHL player cannot absorb a clean-but-fair hit without four of his teammates rushing in to pummel the opponent who (I repeat, cleanly) hit him, many modern hockey fans are hypersensitive to any perceived slight. If you’re including a number of of teams in any positive list and you omit a particular franchise from that list for the sake of a palatable word count, you can rest assured you’ll hear from at least one fan from the omitted team pouting about it. And when you release your predictions for the first round of the NHL playoffs, as I did Sunday afternoon: Read more
With interim coach Peter Horachek included in team president Brendan Shanahan’s housecleaning Sunday, the Maple Leafs are going to have their fourth bench boss in three years by the time the 2015-16 season begins. And although it’s tempting for Leafs fans to speculate on and salivate over some of the names expected to be available, Toronto’s next hire doesn’t have to have a familiarity factor with fans in order for it to be right. The next head coach of the Leafs just has to have the right on-ice philosophy – one based on teaching and patience – to put the franchise back on track.
It will be tempting for Shanahan and whomever he hires as GM (if he doesn’t take that role himself) to be dazzled by the slew of accomplished coaches who’ll apply for the position, but the problem with those types of coaches can be they’re far more interested in winning now than they are in developing the young talent Toronto will placing its organizational bets on in the years to come. Read more