In a freaking shootout...
*NOTE* Sadly I will be missing the Sunday game against Vancouver as well...I hate stretches of my schedule like this.
I returned tonight expecting to see that a few things had changed with the team that went out on the road, won a bunch and then came back home and clearly was playing a different brand of hockey. Even though tonight was at many times a strange, bouncy, puck-losing affair, there were a lot of new positives showing on this team tonight, and I'm going to focus on that for much of this report.
The first and the third were not pretty. We lost the puck at, or just inside the opposition blue line many times and that cost us some great chances. Tampa was not very good tonight. They left holes to be exploited by several of our lines.
In the second period we really stepped up our play. It went back and forth with a lot more focus on doing positive things with the puck. It paid off in the end.
The overtime was dominated by one man, who didn't actually get enough playing time from the coach. Hall was standing at the door the whole time ready to rock and roll. He was angry at himself for not closing the deal earlier (though it wasn't really his fault). I was shocked when he didn't score in the SO, but perhaps it was just the hockey gods tonight.
The shootout was truly something. I think we all knew it was possible we'd see something like that. I was so relieved and pumped when I saw little Linus getting ready to hop the boards (you never know whether he'd actually get the call), then the crowd is so loud he can't hear the whistle hasn't gone, and nearly plows into a linesman at full speed. Unlike most guys who would've then gotten meek, forgotten the windup and tried something unplanned, Omark went straight back to his playbook, wound up, spun around, confused the hell out of Ellis (what do you really make of a guy spinning at you from that far away? where's he going? what the hell is he going to do???), then put on a beauty fake that almost broke his stick and finished like a boss. You could tell he didn't whiff even though his shot looked a little odd based on the reaction. The goal, the building going absolutely crazy, his teammates mobbing him...just an incredible experience.
Even though we were outshot severely, we had so many chances to score and so many chances to win that game that tonight's result was justice. It would really have hurt to lose that one. We'll need to be a fair bit better against Vancouver on Sunday, but when our offence gets its speed game going and the passes connect, we are very dangerous. We can put up goals. Consistency is coming slowly, but the rest of the year is going to be a lot of fun!
- He was triple screened by his own players and also an additional player on the first goal, so it's hard to fault him for that one. The second goal was a result of a long rebound kick which he should have controlled better (even though it was a wise shooting choice). The third was mainly a coverage breakdown, which was certainly unfortunate. HUGE save in the overtime period though a massive screen by kicking his leg instinctually to where the shot should be. Deserving of his star, though I thought the quality chances weren't too numerous. A lot of decent chances though.
- The best game I've seen him play live in a LONG time. He skated with confidence when he had the puck and really pushed the offence. He's at his best when this happens. Great read to sneak in and convert after Omark's beauty little play on the PP. He also had a chance that should've ended the game in OT after Hall got a shot on that generated a rebound, but whiffed. I thought he was in much better defensive position, and even got a little mean at times. THIS is the Gilbert we remember and need. He really made a difference tonight.
- There were times tonight when Peckham was REALLY good. He began the game by establishing a physical tone and laid a bunch of hits throughout the game (including making a point of going after Stamkos). I'd agree with the idea that even though St Louis made a pass to Stamkos after going wide on Peckham for the third goal, Theo did a good enough job. He drove Marty wide even though he wasn't in a great position and the trailer should have been picked up. The only thing i'd criticize about Peckham tonight was that his puck movement wasn't quite as good as it usually is.
- Better game because he stepped up his physicality as well. Let a couple real rippers go that could've been goals. He was certainly no tower defensively, but he did enough. I believe it was he that got caught up ice after the first Hall-O'Marra break; NOT good.
- The curse continues after he rang a beauty shot off the post. At this stage I just want him to keep racking up assists and audibly yell for him not to shoot at the game. It ain't going in Ryan! Good news is that his passing game is there, and he was the calm defensive presence we need as per usual. Made one truly horrible giveaway that almost wound up in our net in the third.
- Not the type of game I like to see from Ladislav. He didn't hit enough, only skated the puck into the opposition zone once that I recall, and was an unfortunate part of the puck staying low in our zone several times. He's rarely this shaky defensively. Wonder if something was wrong tonight.
- Kept his nose clean, didn't make big mistakes and didn't get beat wide. Good enough for me!
- He was able to be in position and tip some pucks deep into the Tampa zone, and landed a couple decent hits. That's all I'm able to give him. He's better without the puck than with it, even in the open ice. Please play #46.
- Better than usual in that I actually noticed him doing some positive things. He was deep in the offensive zone and controlled the puck a couple times as well as delivering some hits. He had to play in more crucial moments than usual tonight and managed not to screw up. Low expectations but he beat them for once.
- In some ways I feel bad for GIlbert having to play on this line; he can't really generate anything from here. On the other hand he could have led the line and really didn't. While he did get in on the forecheck and lay some hits, he didn't generate any offence aside from 1 rush where he took the puck to the net. He needs to be better than that no matter where he's playing. In very real danger of losing his spot to a guy like Omark if tonight is any indication. While Brule hits and Omark doesn't, Omark wins more puck battles and never, ever quits (or so it seems).
- I actually quite like the way O'Marra plays the game. He got a decent amount of prime time tonight, including some 4-on-4 that generated two 2-on-1's with Taylor Hall. Hall should've finished the first, O'Marra had a wide open net (twice!) on the second (first forehand, then back), but at least they got their goal and I'm glad O'Marra got his point. He didn't make a great play on the first TB goal, but I think that can be forgiven. He also looked a tad tired in the third. He skates fairly well for a bigger man and often goes to the right place. If he's able to become comfortable with the NHL game flow, I think he can play for us due to our glaring holes in the lineup.
- Here's a man who's had confidence do him a world of good. Every time the puck goes into the offensive zone, including tonight, Jones is just steaming after it. He made hits and intelligent plays with the puck. At least twice he had very nice chances from the slot, and his move to out wait Kubina (I think) and deke Ellis only to be poke-tripped was very good for a grinder. I really like the enthusiasm and confidence this guy is showing on most every shift right now. I can see why he got a shift in OT (and he did generate a chance, even though I put Hall right back out there instead).
- I covered the SO goal above, and it was truly an amazing way to announce your presence in the league. This kid flat out believes in himself. You need players that are cocky as all hell to win hockey games and championships. As we become a more balanced and solid team, a guy like Omark could be very important to provide secondary scoring, a PP presence and some swagger. The most obvious place he can make a difference right now is the PP. The very first time he was out and control was gained at the half boards, he controlled the puck and made a beauty little move just like in preseason, stickhandling through what looked like no space to generate a chance and a goal. It is important to note that this is right after he got DRILLED into the boards, There's no being scared after hits with this guy. While he didn't make a great choice on the first Tbay goal, he did a good job of getting in lanes, having an active stick, and generally being a pain. One thing people might not have noticed on the goal he generated was that not only did he follow up the play, he appeared to snag the Tbay defender and give 77 more time to finish. Beauty! He could be a gamebreaker, especially if used properly. He just never quits on the puck and showed that by winning several corner battles. There is certainly some polishing to do, but at this point it's more of getting the hang of the NHL I think. The confidence, skill and drive are all there. This kid could be an absolute steal. He's already made more difference than #22, #43, and #33. Another thing to watch: the way he dumps and chases; best I've seen in a long time.
- Mean Penner is the best Penner. He was pissed off tonight. He fought Kubina (or at least tried to, Kubina showed off an iron grip that made it a non-fight really), he threw people around, he took solid shots and controlled the puck, he hustled, it was lovely to watch. Dustin made a difference at a time when we clearly needed him to. Loved the fire.
- Third period Andrew was terrible. I don't know what he thought he was doing but he just kept losing the puck. Before that he seemed to be skating really well and moving the puck forward. He took on his responsibility for two periods anyway, and managed to survive the Tampa PP late in the game (though I don't know why he confused everyone by directing traffic and sending a dman out to the point when it was his job). I don't know what's going to help #13...he hasn't played a truly strong game since the night he spent driving to the scoring areas a couple weeks ago.
- He could really be effective on a line with Penner. A big strong guy and a big fast guy can work wonders. 91 spent his night drag racing the opposition and really looked to be in place. I liked the work he did on the PP with Omark, and I think this is a combo we keep together there until #83 gets back at the very least. His goal was interesting. It looked really ripped but I honestly couldn't tell. Great to see him get it. The nice thing about 91, and he showed it again tonight, is that he plays solid D as well. Seriously, train this guy to PK!
- Did what he does. He basically inherited the puck support role from Horcoff and I think he's doing a fine job. While Hall makes plays, he's always right there to pick up a rebound, recover the play or accept a pass. His SO goal was an absolutely sick move; the guy is great at the SO. He made two defensive mistakes tonight that were uncharacteristic of his usual play, but I believe these were both giveaways high in the zone at the end of long shifts.
- I'm a bit confused with regards to Sam; there were times tonight where I thought his reads were oustanding and he generated excellent chances, but others where he looked like he had 10 thumbs. I know he's working himself into the line he's now on, but he needs to be more consistent. I know it's a lot of work for a not-so-fast smaller guy to handle, but I saw a lot of potential in the way he played tonight.
- Now here's the guy who has taken a leap. This is not surprising if you've seen other stars develop before, but the Taylor Hall we sent out on the road is no more. This guy is ready for primetime now. Tonight he was a chance-generating machine. In the second you might as well have just conceded the offensive zone to him. I wish he'd get more selfish and fire the puck but MAN was he dynamic. Should've scored in the first (pass was too deep in his feet), should have scored multiple times in the second (managed the rush goal on sheer force of will after O'Marra was thwarted, just tremendous focus and effort), a quiet third and then in OT it was on like crazy. He could have beat Ellis with his rush shot off the faceoff, then did beat Ellis with another truly sublime backhand (don't think I've seen a better one than he has) only to be stopped by a player (I believe an Oiler) then got another quality shot off as well. The guy was everywhere tonight. He makes people miss. He carries tremendous speed into the offensive zone. He's stopped floating and is picking very disciplined skating lines; I can understand why this took him some time as scoring in the OHL is different but MAN was he skating efficiently tonight. Truly a thing of beauty to watch this kid play. If #35 didn't have to make so many saves, I'd have made Hall first star. Get he and Omark on the same PP and the other team might as well pull the damn goalie before too long.
The excitement is coming back to the building. If we were to add some bit parts right now to hang on until #83 and #10 returned, the rest of this season could be anything really. I have no interest in a high draft pick and truly believe the best thing for these guys is to start winning now. Take the momentum that has arrived, and add some weight to it. Don't let these guys regress. Upward and onward.