The Tampa Bay Lightning advance to the Stanley Cup Final last season before losing in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks. For the Lightning it was their first trip to the Final since 2004, the year they captured their first championship. Tampa’s success in making it to the last round of the post season can be attributed to a better emphasis on defense.
“I think it’s taken a couple of years,” remarked Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper earlier this season. “We’ve had to kind of train the players all over again – and one of our mandates when I took over (he was hired in the 2012-13 season) was to become a better defensive team. When I took over the club the team ranked last in goals allowed. This is something we’ve always wanted to do because when you look at the teams that have won recently, the Kings and Blackhawks have five of the last six Cups, and they have been dominant and were among the best defensive teams.
“Back in 2012 the Kings were near the bottom in offense but when they got in as an eighth seed they were one off the best defensive teams and they end up winning the Cup.
“The flip side of this is you have to score enough to get into the playoffs. Again looking at the Kings they didn’t score a lot last season and they didn’t make it. So there is a balance there. You have to score in the regular season and once you’re in you have to play better defense. The Kings are a great example of this because when they do get into the playoffs they have shown that they know how to win.
“We, here in Tampa Bay, are trying to get to this point. I think we made huge strides last season in our systems, how to defend and being comfortable with each other.”
Beginning with the 2011-12 season, the year before Cooper took over, Tampa was last in the league with a goals against per game at 3.39. Since then the numbers have improved to 3.06 the next season and then 2.55, 2.51 and through the first third of this season the Lightning were allowing 2.25/game to rank fifth in the NHL. Offensively, Tampa led the league last season averaging 3.16 goals a game, however after one-third of this season they were in the bottom third and as of the start of this month were out of a playoff spot in the East.
So the search for the right balance between offense and defense in Tampa Bay is still a work in progress.
The St. Louis Blues may have found a diamond in the rough in defenseman Colton Parayko. The 6-4 blueliner made the Blues opening night roster out of training camp and has been a mainstay on the club’s back-end throughout the first half of this season.
“Parayko is not a surprise from being a good player, he’s a surprise from being a good offensive player,” Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock told us. “We never saw that in his game. There was a little bit of it when he played in the AHL for us; the American League guys in our organization were really supportive of his offensive plat but we didn’t see that in him until he played some NHL pre-season games and he kept getting better and better. Parayko looks like he is the real deal. He’s a guy who can play on the power play, play 20/plus minutes for us and give us some depth. There are going to be some ups and downs in his game and there will be a learning curve that he’ll go through night after night. Right now one of the strengths of our team is on the back end.”
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick now ranks fifth all-time among US born goalies in wins. He passed Tim Thomas back on October 23 with his 215th victory. Next up is Frank Brimsek with 252 wins. If Quick records 41 wins this season he will pass Brimsek. The all-time leader among US born goalies is John Vanbiesbrouk with 374…Sheldon Souray holds the NHL record for power play goals in one season by a defenseman with 19 (2006-07 season with Montreal). This record, though, may be tested this season by Carolina’s Justin Faulk (U.S. Olympic Team in 2014). Through his first 28 games, one third of the season, Faulk had scored 11 goals and all 11 came on the power play. The last defenseman to record at least 15 power play goals in a season was Mike Green of Washington who tallied 18 in 2008-09…Pascal Dupuis was forced to retire in early December due to health concerns. Last season he developed a blood clot in his lung after he underwent knee surgery. Dupuis retires having played 871 NHL games for four different teams. His career totals include 190 goals and 409 points. A versatile player, he played on the power play and killed penalties. He was never drafted and broke in with Minnesota in 2000-01 and had brief stops with the New York Rangers and Atlanta Thrashers before joining Pittsburgh where he played nine seasons…The Edmonton Oilers have had four number one overall selections in the last six Drafts. Players selected first overall include Taylor Hall (2010), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011), Nail Yakipov (2012) and Connor McDavid (2015). However a player who has really opened eyes in the “great white north” is their first round choice from 2014, Leon Draisaitl. After starting this season in the AHL with Bakersfield, Draisaitl was recalled in late October and in his first 19 games this season with the Oilers he had 22 points (9-13=22). He has played both wing and center for coach Todd McClellan…Ex-King Brian Boyle is currently in his second season in Tamp Bay and we caught up with the 6-7 forward back in late November when the Kings and Lightning met and he talked about his role with Tampa Bay. “It’s been a bit different this year than last because of injuries but for the most part it’s a checking center. I need to be hard to play against and be responsible in my own end. I think penalty killing has been a strong part of my game so I continue to work at that. I also realize I’m still a forward and I want to be able to create some offense and I’ve been able to do that so far here in Tampa (Boyle had 15 goals last season).”…So far this season there have been some impressive performances by a number of rookies. In Arizona forwards Max Domi and Anthony DuClair have been productive early on. Domi was Arizona’s first round pick in 2012 and DuClair was acquired last season in a deal with the Rangers that sent veteran defenseman Keith Yandle to Broadway. “They’ve both been very good,” Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett opined. “There’s going to be ups and downs with young players and for us it just hasn’t been Domi and DuClair, Jordan Martinook up front and Klaus Dahlbeck on defense have been good players for us too. This group of young players has helped drive our team with their energy and skill level. Domi and DuClair have been dynamic when they get the puck. They’ve been really good for our organization.” Young players playing well for an organization that has sorely needed an infusion of young talent.
In his 35th season with the Kings, Nick Nickson, the radio “Voice-of-the-Kings,” calls the action of every pre-season, regular season and postseason playoff game on KABC 790 and along the Kings Radio Network.