Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down: Ghosts of Yanni Gourde
The Tampa Bay Lightning can afford to go 0-82-0 in this 2021-22 campaign without anyone getting too angry or agitated about the state of affairs in the franchise. Back-to-back Stanley Cup wins will do that for a team. If they play the same way they played last night against the Pittsburgh Penguins in every game moving forward, they might have a chance to achieve that feat. Here are last night’s thumbs:
Thumbs Down: The Stanley Cup Hangover
To call the Lightning ‘lifeless’ in yesterday’s game would be to understate things in a significant way. They just had nothing going – from top to bottom and from start to finish. The 6-2 final score looks more lopsided that it otherwise might have been, thanks to an episode of empty net message sending from Jon Cooper, but it was indicative of the kind of performance the Lightning skaters delivered. This looked very much like a team that was still out celebrating as late as Tuesday morning, and it showed in the underlying numbers; the Bolts generated just 33% of the five-on-five expected goals in this game per Natural Stat Trick. Tampa Bay is lucky that Pittsburgh came to town with a shorthanded roster.
Thumbs Up: Andrei Vasilevskiy’s First Period
Things could have been a lot worse had Andrei Vasilevskiy not looked like Andrei Vasilevskiy in the first period. While the skaters in front of him were going through the motions, he was counted upon to make numerous key saves to keep things scoreless.
Thumbs Down: Andrei Vasilevskiy’s Second Period
Things went downhill from there. We’ll choose to forget about it.
Thumbs Down: Ghosts of Yanni Gourde
Drawing any sort of conclusion from a single-game sample size, especially the season opener, would be foolish. Nevertheless, there were a number of times last night when I found myself thinking that Yanni Gourde & Co. could have settled things down or reversed momentum.
No matter what was happening on the ice over the last two seasons or so, Jon Cooper had been able to reliably count on Gourde and his linemates to drive play in the offensive zone. They would wear out opposing defenders, shift things in Tampa’s favour, and even contribute the odd goal or two. Oh, how the Bolts could have used something like that last night. It didn’t come.
The lesson here is that Gourde and his wingers were immensely valuable to the Lightning. You *noticed* their absence last night. Figuring out a way to replace those minutes at even a remotely comparable level of quality is going to be this season’s biggest challenge.
Thumbs Up: Taylor Raddysh’s NHL Debut
It wasn’t the finest performance of his hockey career, but it marked his first in the National Hockey League. For Taylor Raddysh, that deserves thumbs up.
Thumbs Up: The Banner Raising
Regardless of the on-ice result in this game, it had to be a pretty special moment for fans in attendance. After COVID-19 prevented a full-house celebration with last year’s Stanley Cup banner, the Lightning delivered for their faithful prior to puck drop last night. A brilliant and triumphant return from Sonya Bryson-Kirksey. A magical moment as the 2021 banner was raised to the rafters. I’m not convinced that anyone in the building actually cared about the regular season loss that followed.
The Lightning are back in action against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night.
As always, thanks for reading.