It’s a peculiar character trait that, sometimes, after having tempted the Fates only to inexplicably emerge unscathed and victorious, one seeks not only to dare the test again, but to do so confidently, even buoyantly. I first knew this the moment after I went skydiving – solo, there were no tandems back then – and mere moments after touching back to Earth I eagerly began planning the next date to fling myself out of an airplane that was perfectly sound.
Such is my mood today as we head into our second tilt in a week against Tampa Bay. Tuesday’s match was a thriller, to be sure, and one that I’m not so sure we had all that locked up. We played like champs nearly the entire 60 minutes, and hooray, we won and bailamoed. Three in a row and we looked great.
But sometimes greatness is a quirk; or worse, a passing wind that blows in only to melt away into the uncaring ether. So poetry.
Hey, we’re going to the game tonight– for that and more I would lurve to see a repeat performance. But the Bolts are still a really good team– consistently so. They’re really just so infuriatingly consistent that I don’t feel like tempting the Fates further by mocking Tampa Bay as being a city so old that “boarding” nearly always appears next to the word “shuffle.” I mean, the GOP 2012 convention actually lowered the city’s median age for about a week is all I’m saying. But not tempting fate.
First, how long has hockey been in your life, and when did you start really watching the Lightning?
I grew up in Michigan, about 100 miles from Chicago, so I vaguely remember rooting for the Blackhawks in the Bobby Hull days, although my real awareness took root during the mid to late ’70s and I associate more with players like Stan Mikita, Tony Esposito, Darcy Rota, Grant Mulvey and Keith Magnuson. I remember being ridiculously excited when Bobby Orr came to Chicago, even though it was apparent his best days were behind him. Magnuson was my guy on the Blackhawks but Orr was my favorite hockey player of all time.
As far as the Lightning, I was a die-hard fan from day one. At the time, hockey in Florida was such a novelty and the organization at the time did a great job of playing that up — a brand new team playing an established sport in a non-traditional environment– that it was easy to get sucked in.
Growing up in Michigan, hockey always seemed like a north thing. It’s always seemed odd to see teams playing in places with palm trees. How much of a thing are the Bolts in Tampa?
The Bolts are a HUGE thing in Tampa! For one thing, they’re winning and the only team in town that is. I won’t go so far as to say that Tampa Bay is a front-running sports town but winning goes a long way in establishing popularity. For another, since Jeff Vinik bought the team, the overall entertainment experience in the arena has been significantly upgraded to the point where going to Lightning games has become one of the “hip” things to do here.
Third, and this has little to do with the game of hockey, Vinik has really asserted himself as a person of influence in the community, from launching high-profile charitable initiatives like the “Community Heroes” program, to active support of the local arts community, to buying up huge chunks of real estate in downtown Tampa with big development plans. It’s not an overstatement to say the Lightning organization is impacting people’s lives who have never been to a hockey game.
Generally, the Bolts have been a more consistent and better producing team than the Caps this season, but it didn’t look that way Tuesday night? What’s happening with your squad?
You caught us in a mini-slump. Not to say that the Caps aren’t good but for whatever reason, the Lightning were in a stretch of four or five games where they weren’t playing their best hockey for some reason. The sportswriter in me says it was just one of those things that all teams go through during a long season while the fan in me kind of wants to freak out a little bit. We did beat Carolina with a pretty decent overall effort last night so both sides of me are a little more calm now.
The Lightning’s full 5v5 play has been a beautiful thing to watch lately, not just Stamkos. What’s the secret?
I don’t know if it’s as much a secret as it is having that element that every team is constantly seeking: depth. The Lightning have four solid lines that are all capable of producing offense, to the extent that guys can be moved around within those four lines and still produce. It’s actually been something of a problem, albeit a good one, for coach Jon Cooper as he’s had to rotate players like Brenden Morrow, J.T. Brown, and Cedric Paquette as healthy scratches just to make sure everyone gets adequate playing time.
DC and Tampa are oddly related: we’ve got an awesome PP but our 5v5 has been a little flabby, where it seems the reverse for Tampa. Tuesday it worked in our favor– how do you expect coach Cooper to adjust for Saturday?
The power play has been a head-scratcher all season. Because the 5v5 has been so good, it’s kind of mystifying why they struggle when they have a man advantage. I think it’s probably more of a player problem than a coaching problem. Sometimes these guys seem to like to pass more than shoot and maybe the fact that a good power play relies on effective puck movement kind of feeds that “pass, pass, pass” mentality. If that’s the case and it’s just a matter of them getting past a mental block like that, they’re going to be really dangerous eventually.
The Wings have been pouring it on lately. Is there worry they could be racing ahead too far to catch, and how, if at all, do you think Steve Yzerman can help the Bolts with his experience? (We totally have a man-crush on Yzerman!)
Personally, I think Detroit will cool off and re-join the pack, but if there’s one person that’s intimately familiar with the Detroit Red Wings and how they operate, it’s Steve Yzerman. Since the day he came to Tampa, he’s modeled this organization from bottom to top on what he grew up with in Detroit. That’s why a player like Brett Connolly, even with all his obvious skills and great showings in the last couple of training camps, spent most of the previous two seasons in the AHL.
Whatever Yzerman does or doesn’t do, and I’ve reached the point where I don’t guess or second-guess him (because I’m always wrong), he’ll invoke the words “depth” and “patience” and what’s best for the organization “long term”. And let’s be perfectly honest about something here; we all have man-crushes on Steve Yzerman.
Prediction time: how do you see Saturday’s match playing out?
Tampa Bay 54, Washington 0. Although it should be noted that I’m so bad at making predictions that my editor (John Fontana) once actually banned me from making them for a year.
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