Each Wednesday throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the game that intrigues him most that night. Weekes also will be assisting fans with three must-watch elements of the game.
As well as the Tampa Bay Lightning have been playing, they had another gear to find. They may have found it in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Montreal Canadiens.
That last game was more indicative of who the Lightning are and how they can play, but it's important to remember they're an inexperienced team. A lot of their players are cutting their teeth and still young at the NHL level, and certainly still young in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And while a lot of them have had success with coach Jon Cooper at the American Hockey League level, which is helpful, the playoffs are a different animal.
The fact that Steven Stamkos didn't score until the last game tells you everything you need to know.
Montreal is in a tough spot in many ways for Game 3 against the Lightning on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; CBC, USA, TVA Sports).
Pluses: The fact that the Canadiens have gotten so many shots is a positive. The quality of the shots could be better, but they have gotten a lot of shots and a lot of good opportunities, so there's something to be said for that.
I don't think it has to be doom-and-gloom for them; all the pressure is on Tampa Bay now at home. Montreal plays a speed game, as does Tampa, so Montreal is going to have to increase their will factor. They can't just take away that they've gotten a lot of shots and a lot of chances.
Minuses: The players might not think they can beat Tampa Bay, and they haven't beaten them all year, so right off the bat they're in a tough place. I would say mentally they're in a similar but even tougher place than the Minnesota Wild are with the Chicago Blackhawks. It's the same thing: Minnesota has the personnel but I don't know if everybody on their team believes they can beat Chicago. With Montreal, I don't think they have Minnesota's personnel and they haven't beaten Tampa all year long. That's difficult to get through.
They just don't have enough offense and that's even more critical when you're playing against the League's highest-scoring team.
Are the Canadiens willing to go to the net? Brendan Gallagher is willing to go there; Dale Weise is willing to go there. Some guys are there, but their forward group isn't always fully committed to paying that price. You have a goalie that's 6-foot-7 in Ben Bishop and I'm sure he's going to get clean looks at most pucks. But Montreal shoots against Carey Price every day and he's 6-foot-3, so they know what they have to do to score on Price in practice. If you shoot on a goalie taller than yours, wouldn't that dictate you have to get there even more?
Pluses: With Tampa Bay, they just have so many weapons. You can see why they were the highest-scoring team in the regular season. They just have so much depth.
When you look at the emergence of Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn, there's so many guys. Even Brian Boyle, who had a terrific season with 15 goals in a fourth-line role and is a very important player to this team. Defenseman Victor Hedman has become a star the last couple of seasons under Cooper.
They're a fun team to watch because they have so much speed and talent and they're still a very unselfish team as well; they're very team-oriented. A lot of those players are very supportive of each other. From the Triplets line of Johnson, Palat and Kucherov on, they're just as happy to see somebody else score as they are to score themselves.
Their power play is great when it's clicking because it attacks from so many different points, and they also have two effective units. When you watch Cooper and his staff, they've empowered their players to make plays. When you watch that power play, especially in the last game, they attacked from somewhere different every time. They were decisive, they moved the puck, they moved their bodies and they shot. They were in motion the whole time and it kept Montreal's penalty killers guessing.
Center - TBL
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 10
SOG: 24 | +/-: 2
Minuses: The biggest thing for the Lightning, and I wouldn't say that it's a negative but it's something that's not a strong suit yet, is experience. It's not an indictment; nobody starts a new job and says, 'Hey, you're experienced.' It takes time and Tampa Bay still is learning.
If there's one thing that I would say is a function of that, it's that Tampa Bay doesn't always accept they have to play a different way to have success. The NHL standings indicate otherwise: The Lightning had the fewest road wins out of any playoff team with 18.
That's not a slight, because they were so good this year, but that's a function of inexperience more than anything. I've spoken to Cooper about it, I've spoken to players about it, and I think the biggest hurdle for them is believing that and understanding that they can play their game, the game we expect them to play on the road, and have success. And also balancing that with learning that you have to play in different ways to have success.
You have to play different styles of hockey and you have to be able to win in different ways.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Can Montreal get grittier?
Montreal can't play an undisciplined game like in Game 2; they have to play smart-gritty. They need to work to get inside of bodies, win battles along the boards, be willing to battle through Hedman or whoever to get to the front of the net and screen Bishop. That kind of gritty.
2. Will Tampa change its game?
We got a glimpse of how good Tampa Bay can be in Game 2, but that's not the team we've seen consistently in the playoffs. Will that Game 2 team show up at Amalie Arena?
3. Can the Canadiens' power play come alive?
They have to start with Subban and Andrei Markov on the power play; they have to. Jeff Petry has been really good as well, and I like having him on the second unit. But I don't understand why you have a Norris Trophy winner in Subban and you're starting him on his strong side. What one-timers is he shooting on his strong side?