I made a name and reputation for myself with 12-and-a-half years of blogging about the Tampa Bay Lightning. I was a pioneer in hockey blogging in general (starting what will be fourteen years ago in a matter of days). Want proof? I’d send you to the archives of Raw Charge but SB Nation complicates the process (read: I’d send you to my profile alone but they don’t list all the articles, Fan Posts and Fan Shots that I’ve posted).
Have I stopped following hockey or the Lightning? Hell no!
The 2017-18 regular season has been one of the greatest in franchise (and Tampa Bay sports) history. The “Russian Mafia” line of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Vladislav Namestnikov have been potent (to say the least!), with the likes of Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Yanni Gourde and (currently injured) Ondrej Palat, as well as others doing what they do – offensively putting in an effort – while Victor Hedman puts on a show that makes him a contender for the Norris Trophy.
I’m taken aback by Mikhail Sergachev. Acquired in the Jonathan Drouin trade during the summer of 2017, this is a defenseman in his first full NHL season (he only had 4 games at the NHL level with Le Bleu, Blanc et Rouge last season) and he’s scored 8 goals and 19 assists in his 49 games played at this time. Folks, that’s a point more than what Drouin has amassed in Montreal (7 goals, 19 assists at the time of this writing). Sergachev also has a plus/minus 11. It’s one season of hockey but good God damn! He has been such an asset on the blue line for the Bolts.
And, of course, the greatest asset at the moment is on the backend and in the crease. Andrei Vasilevskiy is… oh, lordy: 41 game starts, a 29-9-2 record, a 2.18 GAA as of this writing and a save percentage at .931. His 7 shutouts so far this season ties him with Nikolai Khabibulin for the single-season franchise record for shutouts. It also puts him one shy of second place of the all-time franchise record of shutouts by a goaltender in their career with the Lightning. Darren Puppa, who is currently #2, amassed 12 career shutouts with Tampa Bay over seven seasons of game play. Vasy has 11 in four seasons – not always complete seasons – of NHL play. Khabby holds the franchise record with 14 shutouts with the team. Three more than what Vasy currently holds.
I hang around Twitter a lot under my @Johnny_Fonts moniker during game play and I see chatter and disdain about Slate Koekkoek’s lack of playing time as well as Andrej Sustr’s continued playing time. I don’t have an opinion on this – though Koekkoek not seeing more minutes is pretty peculiar. Like Vasilevskiy, Koekkoek was drafted in 2012 and after six years you would think the luster of Tampacuse would make him a mainstay on the blue line. Go back up to what I wrote about Sergachev – he’s played every game (or nearly) this season. Koekkoek has played in only 26 games with 4 goals and is a plus/minus 5. That’s all allotted through 11:288 average time on ice.
- Hedman’s getting 25:36
- Anton Stralman is getting 21:13.
- Brayden Coburn sees 16:43.
- Dan Girardi is seeing 16:47.
- Jake Dotchin, in only his second season of NHL playing time, is drawing 16:52.
- Sergachev draws 16:01.
- Shit, Andrej Sustr gets 12:35! He’s only played in 26 games – the same number as Koekkoek!
A blind reaction to Slater’s playing time puts focus or blame on Lightning head coach Jon Cooper and builds wonderment on the why. Of course, when your roster is carrying 8 defensemen to begin with, playing time does become an issue…especially when you’d have to waive players (read: potentially losing them to the other franchises at no cost) to send them to the AHL.
The focus Jon Cooper deserves right now is on his team’s optimal performance. Guys like Johnson, Palat, Killorn and Cory Conacher have all worked and excelled under Cooper for six seasons at both the AHL and NHL levels and all have found their place and continued to be productive under him. Optimal performances have been wrought from Nikita Kucherov, Vladdy Namestnikov and Steven Stamkos. Tampa Bay is poised (as of this writing) at the top of the NHL as the best-performing team.
Can they hold the line and claim the Presidents Trophy? What will the trade winds of the NHL season bring to the organization? Speaking of such, what place does Edward Pasquale – a career AHL goalie – have with the organization (he was acquired from Edmonton last night)? Is Louis Domingue (acquired earlier this season) or Peter Budaj (who is on IR) going to be flipped or will there be a shuffle that rids the system of goalie depth? The mind boggles…
So… Yeah, Tampa Bay Lightning coverage isn’t getting all that much coverage from the likes of John Fontana on his personal weblog. That doesn’t mean I don’t care or don’t have things to say about the Bolts. I’m not pinned down on the subject here and there are other subjects that get my creative juices flowing and earn a write-up (like the disaster that is Donald Trump). I do touch on the NHL in general at times, but I tend to leave day-to-day coverage and observations to the crews at Raw Charge (my baby), Bolts by the Bay, Erik Erlendsson at Lightning Insider and of course Joe Smith at the Tampa Bay Times. It doesn’t mean I don’t have thoughts. It just means those with the focus on the subject of Tampa Bay Lightning hockey can and should do more of the team coverage.
In the meantime, I might touch on the NHL in broader terms. I always had a thing for going columnist and not focusing on day-to-day team specifics. When, where and what that drives me to write remains to be seen though. We’ll see as time goes by.