The big story in the hockey world today is that Steven Stamkos will not be playing for Team Canada in the Winter Olympics, replaced by Martin St. Louis. A somewhat surprising statistic is that since the start of the 2010-11 season, Martin St. Louis has more points than anybody else in the NHL. Second? Claude Giroux, also a high-profile Canadian Olympic snub. Third is Stamkos, and only one of those players will get to play for its nation at the Olympics.
This is a big loss to Canada, but you feel it more for Stamkos, who is right in his peak scoring years and, given the NHL may not send players to Pyeongchang in 2018, may have missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be an Olympian:
“Today is obviously very disappointing for me,” Stamkos said in a statement Wednesday. “I honestly believe that we did everything possible in order to have my leg ready in time for the Olympics, but I realize you can’t force healing. I know, in the best interest of my long term health, I cannot represent Canada in Sochi, as much as I would like to.”
There had been optimism Stamkos could play for the Lightning in their final game before the Olympic break on Saturday, ending a 40-game stretch out of the lineup.
|Corsi Close %||51.8% (9th)||42.9% (29th)|
|5v5 GF/60||2.37 (11th)||2.34 (13th)|
|5v5 GA/60||1.89 (4th)||2.49 (22nd)|
|5v5 Diff/60||+0.48 (5th)||-0.15 (19th)|
|PDO||100.9 (7th)||101.6 (4th)|
|5v4 GF/60||5.85 (19th)||7.96 (4th)|
|5v4 SF/60||40.6 (30th)||53.5 (9th)|
|4v5 GA/60||7.11 (28th)||6.75 (22nd)|
|4v5 SA/60||55.0 (22nd)||61.4 (30th)|
|Penalty Differential||-7 (20th)||-12 (23rd)|
Of course, there’s the scary aspect of all this: the Lightning are 20-14-5 without the best goal-scorer in the world with them. St. Louis had 2.66 points per 60 minutes on Stamkos’ wing this season, which would put him 11th in the NHL. Without Stamkos, at 2.01 points per 60, he’d be tied for 66th out of 360 forwards with 300+ minutes this season. Even though St. Louis is 17th in the league in scoring and close to a point-a-game, he could shoot back right up those rankings on 91s return. Yikes.
For Canada, you’re replacing one obvious game-breaker with another. Still, in just a six-game tournament, the differences between the two are slim. The thing I like is Canada being deep enough hockey-wise to be able to replace elite scorers with elite scorers and don’t feel the need to toss checkers or role guys into the mix. I feel bad for Stamkos, but I don’t think it really affects Canada’s fortunes in the Olympics. How great would it have been to see Sidney Crosby and Stamkos on the same powerplay unit, though? Crosby can attract a double team close to the net and Stamkos can just find a sweet spot on the ice and just kill pucks. Ugh. Maybe in 2018. Will the NHLPA get on it and do another World Cup?
Anyway, this game: We went over last week how the Lightning were able to replace Stamkos, somewhat, by having a very deep prospects system. Kessel’s not quite as good a scorer as Stamkos, but I’d hate to think of what would happen to Toronto without Kessel. The defence has been scoring a lot recently and it’s off-set the fact that Toronto has really earned nothing from pre-season bottom six players save Nik Kulemin and Mason Raymond.
And hey, while I’m on the strengths of the Lightning, it’s fair to point out the weaknesses. They are where they are in the standings partly because of depth, partly because of Ben Bishop’s Vezina-calibre season from a goalie who probably shouldn’t be in the Vezina discussion every year. Their special teams, as you’ll note above, are brutal. With Stamkos in the lineup all they need to do is set him up for one shot that hits the net every two minutes, but they spend a lot of time with the puck looking for the perfect play and can usually be goaded into making mistakes with the man advantage. Their penalty killing has been atrocious this season as well.
All-in-all, despite being 5th in even strength goal differential, they’re 23rd in special teams goal differential at minus-7. Special teams has cost them at least two points in the standings to this point.
SO WHY DID THEY LOSE TO TORONTO, IDIOT?
Because Jonathan Bernier is part-magician:
This is an interesting test for the Leafs. In an optimist’s world, they’re still within striking distance of the Lightning, three back (though the Bolts have a pair of games in hand) and David Bolland should return to the lineup soon.
LINE A MUP MUP MUPS
It’s an optional skate for the Leafs (wasn’t the game against Florida an optional skate…?) so we may as well assume that the lineup looks the same as last game, barring the odd tweak:
James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul – Nazem Kadri – Nik Kulemin
Mason Raymond – Jay McClement – David Clarkson
Frazer McLaren – Jerred Smithson – Colt Knorr
Carl Gunnarsson – Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner – Cody Franson
Tim Gleason – Morgan Rielly
If you didn’t notice, against the Panthers Gardiner and Gleason were flipped. That could change. Could not change. Why is Smithson in the lineup and not Bodie? Remember, the “Jerred Smithson Tequila Challenge” is still alive: for every shot on goal Smithson records, I will take a shot of tequila and post the video on a game preview or recap, depending on how stocked my liquor cabinet is.
Ondrej Palat – Tyler Johnson – Martin St. Louis
Alex Killorn – Valtteri Filppula* – Teddy Purcell
J.T. Brown – Tom Pyatt – Nikita Kucherov
Ryan Malone – Nate Thompson – B.J. Crombeen
Victor Hedman – Sami Salo
Matt Carle – Radko Gudas
Mark Barberio – Eric Brewer
* – To spell “Valtteri Filppula: “One L, Two Ts, One R, One L, Two Ps, One L. The 1-2-1-1-2-1 rule.”
The Leafs and the Lightning drop the puck in Tampa tonight at 7:30 p.m. on Leafs TV. For those out-of-market viewers on GCL, the Lightning broadcast is actually kinda good.