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Before the CBJ puck drops: Tampa Bay

By Tom

GAME 28

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

16-9-1

(4-5-1 in last 10 games)

ABOUT OUR OPPONENT

One of the early 1990′s expansion teams as part of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s “Southward Ho” plan for a nationwide league footprint to grab television network attention, the Tampa Bay Lightning have had it all.  Suffering through the expansion blues – yet with a plan to emerge from them as a playoff contender – they won a Stanley Cup in 2004 (with the help of former Columbus Blue Jackets forward and current Central Ohio youth hockey assistant coach Freddy Modin) and, not too much later, scraped the bottom of the NHL barrel.

Bottoming out has its benefits, however, when that means you can draft the likes of Steven Stamkos.  Since being drafted first overall in the 2008 draft, Stamkos has torn up the league.  He has won the Rocket Richard Trophy for the league’s top scorer twice (2010, 2012), participated in the All-Star Game twice (2011, 2012) and made a Young Stars appearance in 2009.  He’s pretty much an all-world talent.

And, CBJ Luck being what it is, we won’t get to see Stamkos tonight.  He broke his leg in spectacular fashion against Boston on November 11 and is recovering.  Fortunately for him, the Lightning and the league, he’s already off crutches:

Photo from FOX 13 Tampa Bay

Doesn’t help for tonight, granted, but still great to see.  Here’s to a speedy recovery.

Back to the Lightning.  The “bottoming out” thing also resulted in the inevitable front office and coaching shakeup.  In this case, however, the shakeup went beyond that to replacing the entertaining yet feckless ownership team with Boston investment banker Jeff Vinik, who went out and snagged Steve Yzerman from the Detroit Red Wings to run the team’s hockey operations.  Yzerman, looking for a coach, caught wind that then-CBJ general manager Scott Howson was at the altar with AHL wunderkind coach Guy Boucher.  A phone call, a flash of Vinik money, a look at Tampa weather (and no Florida income taxes!)…that’s about all it took.  Boucher was coaching the Lightning.  (And Howson went to his Plan B, Scott Arniel.)

Boucher already had built a legend around his 1-3-1 scheme, which clogged the neutral zone and dared the opposition to break through.  All too often the opposition did not break through, and the Lightning forced a turnover and scored.   That worked for a while, until then-Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette called Boucher’s bluff on national television:

Yeah, that went over well.  (And if you ever wonder why I think that Laviolette is an awesome coach, watch that video.  Forget his Stanley Cup ring; he had the guts to pull that move.  Love it.)

Finally exposed for what it was, the 1-3-1 system fell apart almost as quickly as Boucher’s shelf life.  So Yzerman went to his bench and promoted perhaps the most successful AHL coach of the 2000′s – Jon Cooper, who piloted the Lightning’s fam club to an AHL-record 28 straight game winning streak.  Cooper’s in charge now, and while his roster isn’t ideal (especially with the loss of Stamkos), he’s still sitting in playoff position in the Atlantic Division.

Yzerman’s biggest failing, however, was in failing to find an NHL-capable goaltender to start for him.  With all sorts of money thrown at the likes of star forwards Martin St. Louis, Stamkos and the now-departed Vinny Lecavalier, Stevie Y was forced to shop from the bargain bin and saw results commensurate with his goalie quality.  This year, he’s going with former Nashville Predators (a goaltending factory, if you were unawares) goaltender Anders Lindback and the odd man out in St. Louis and Ottawa, Ben Bishop.  Bishop is The Man, and he’s more than holding his own.

Why not run through the top five scorers and goalie numbers?

- St. Louis (10 goals, 14 assists, 24 points)

- Stamkos (14-9-23 — IN ONLY 17 GAMES)

- Forward Valterri Filppulla (9-10-19)

- Forward Teddy Purcell (7-9-16)

- Forward Alex Killorn (6-10-16)

As for goalies:

- Bishop – 20 starts, 14-4-1, .931 save percentage

- Lindback – 8 starts, 2-5-0, .876 S%

The Lightning are 10th in the league in Goals For, and 13th in Goals Against.  Nothing to sneeze at.

Tampa has become a very solid team, to be sure, and will be a strong test for the Blue Jackets tonight.

THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW

The injury cycle is closing.  FINALLY.  Word is that forward Brandon Dubinsky will be back tonight, and Derek Mackenzie will be back on Friday against Minnesota.  Not word on return dates for Jared Boll, Marian Gaborik or Nathan Horton yet.

Past that, the Blue Jackets are still as inconsistent as ever.  They weren’t blown out 7-0 by Boston on Friday night, but the Bruins played like Stanley Cup contenders and the Blue Jackets did not.  If the November yo-yo performance plays out, we’re due for a dominating CBJ performance tonight.  The Lightning aren’t tired, though, as they, too, have not played since Friday.

WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING FOR

One of the benefits of getting a few days off is the chance to circle around to some of my favorite sites and see how they’re looking at our team.  When it comes to statistics and analytics, I don’t think anything compares to a site that just popped up on my radar this year, Extra Skater.  Looking at their Blue Jackets page gives you instant breakdowns of the team’s performance in even strength, power play and penalty kill situations.  They also show how individual players perform in different situations as well as how they are used in their shifts.   Real, real interesting stuff even if you never figure out what a Corsi or Fenwick is.

I’m still working through my advanced statistics understandings, so a fair bit of it is still Greek to me, but the Extra Skater CBJ page stunned me with their presentation of shooting percentages.  Remember, Rick Nash topped out at a 15% shooting percentage in Columbus, and he was down under 10% by the time he left town.

Here’s what I saw from this year’s team:

- Jack Skille, 8 shots, 25%

- Nick Foligno, 30 shots, 20%

- Ryan Murray, 18 shots, 16.7%

- Artem Anisimov, 50 shots, 14%

- Ryan Johansen, 76 shots, 13.2%

- R.J. Umberger, 49 shots, 12.2%

- Marian Gaborik, 42 shots, 11.9%

Let’s put Skille off to the side as he only has 8 shots in Columbus.  The rest of the names above all are (or, with Gaborik, were) shooting more effectively than Nash at the end of his days as a Blue Jacket.  And I note that – Skille aside – five Blue Jackets have better shooting percentages than the team’s high-priced scoring machine, Gaborik.

The name that jumps out at me, however, is Artem Anisimov.  Has he really put 50 shots on goal this season? If so, it’s one of the quietest performances I’ve seen.  He’s clearly proficient, but he needs to be in – or put himself in – position to score more.

So perhaps this CBJ fan will be amending his aversion to the “SHOOT IT” guy who inevitably sits next to me at games.  If any of the names above have the puck and are in shooting range, I might very well join him.

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION

The puck drops at 7PM, so….

- “Blue Jackets Live” with Brian Giesenschlag and Dan Kamal starts at 6:30PM

- The puck drops at 7PM with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge.

- “Blue Jackets Live Postgame” with Brian and Dan starts immediately following.

Enjoy the game!  Go Jackets!

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