Against the Kings, the Lightning all look like All-Stars

by Gary Shelton on January 4, 2019 · 0 comments

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Point must win a fan vote to get into the All-Star game./TIM WIRT

Friday, 3 a.m.

Maybe they should put them all in the All-Star game. Every single player.

Hey, this isn't just about Nikita Kucherov and Steve Stamkos, although they both scored goals in Thursday night's 6-2 spanking of the Los Angeles Kings. It isn't just about Brayden Point, who has to survive the last-man-in vote to get to the team.

It's about the rest of the NHL's best team (so far). It's about Ryan McDonagh and Matthieu Joseph and Andrei Vasilevskiy and Victor Hedman and the rest of the streaking Bolts, who have points in 16 straight wins.

It was the  16th straight game in which the Bolts have earned a point, two games shy of their 18 game streak in 2003-2004.

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Mathieu Joseph scored his 10th goal./STEVEN MUNCIE

"When things like that are happening, you have to ride the wave a little bit," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "You have to make sure arrogance doesn’t sneak into your game. The guys are doing the right things on the other side of the puck. The big goal with this team: We’ve got to lower our goals-against (goals given up) a little. "

Hey, against the Kings, the Lightning looked like an all-star team in itself. They scored three goals in the first period and never slowed down.

For the Bolts, Ryan Callahan also scored.

 "The goal is to score more goals than the other team," Cooper said. "When you’re playing spring hockey, it’s not as much of how any you score but how many you keep out of the net. It starts with odd-man rushes. When you don’t give those up, you’re probably taking away some scoring chances. They’ve tightened up defensively. But it all starts in the offensive zone, the way you’re tracking back, making sure we’ve got more numbers than them on the way back and they’re working hard. When you do that, usually good things happen.”

Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 28 of 30 shots to improve his record to 16-3-2 on the season. He's 7-0-1 since returning from his injury on Dec. 13. Vasilevskiy has given up two or fewer goals in 13 of 21 starts.

“It’s fun," Stamkos said of his team's streak. "It’s fun to come to the rink. It’s fun to go out there and play and be with these guys. It’s obviously something that a lot of us haven’t gone through at this level is this many games with a point or this many wins or this type of stretch. Guys are coming in and playing the right way. We’ve had some ups and downs. We’ve found ways to win.

"At the end of the day, when we’re coming to the rink, we want to get better. Before these two games, we were giving up too many chances, too many goals. The last couple games, we’ve really had the puck more and defended a lot better.”

Stamkos tried to explain why the Lightning is playing so well.

“We have a pretty unique nucleus in terms of guys that have been here for a while and then you add in the skill set, you add in the leadership qualities that are within this room, it’s one of the best I’ve ever played with," Stamkos said. "You put all of those things together and you just don’t get complacent, especially when you’re on a stretch like this.

"It can be easy to say, ‘Oh well, we’re not going to win them all. Let’s go out and see what happens.’ We want to win every night. We just have that belief on the bench that no matter what happens, if we’re down a goal or two early, we’re going to find a way. If we’re up a goal, we’re going to hold on and play well. We’ve found different ways to win throughout this stretch, and we just want to continue it. It’s not easy to win in this league, but when you have the skill set that we have and then you have the work and the will to get better, you can go on stretches like this.”

The Bolts have been sharper defensively lately.

“I guess redirecting focus is a good term to use," Callahan said. "It’s just getting back to what makes us successful. Through an 82-game schedule, there’s going to be dips and flows and not be great some nights. I think the quicker you nip it and the quicker you realize the areas you need to improve in even when you’re winning, the better off you are as a team and we’re doing that.

“It’s just a confident group and we’re having fun with it. Guys are enjoying coming to the rink and working hard and winning these games. We’re not overthinking it. We’re evaluating our game. There was a stretch there where we weren’t happy with our defensive play even though we were winning hockey games. We fixed that, and I think we’ve been better defensively and we continue to win, which obviously is important.”

One of the night's most dynamic goals came when Joseph scored his 10th on a speedy rush to the net, beating Drew Doughty down the ice.

“With every game, he’s getting more jump," Cooper said. "He’s got Doughty there. Doughty, he had to pivot and Jo had a little bit of a head start. What I liked is he kept after it though. He didn’t fear the situation, and he came out like a rocket.”

The Bolts, now 32-7-2 and an on a streak of 18-1-1, travels to San Jose on Saturday. The puck is scheduled to drop at 11 p.m. Eastern.





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