Radko Gudas has been crucial to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s success early in 2013. And yes, being tied for first in the Eastern Conference with an 8-3-0 record constitutes success in the National Hockey League.
But one thing that was evident during the Bolts’ 4-3 shootout victory against the Florida Panthers on Sunday was how crucial Gudas is to the team. Sure, Ben Bishop’s strong performance or the addition of Valtteri Filppula’s puck-handling skills may be the most commonly cited reasons for Tampa Bay’s great start, but the importance of having Gudas in the lineup became quickly apparent against Florida.
Gudas provided some much-needed energy early on against Florida, taking four shots and scoring a power play goal (his first of the year) before being ejected midway through the second period. The 23-year-old defenseman also helped keep things fresh, with the Bolts pushing through the second night of the season’s first back-to-back.
Losing Gudas against the Panthers left the Bolts with five defensemen to cycle through the rest of the game, and they wore down by the end of it, allowing two third-period goals before escaping with the shootout victory.
About that ejection. Gudas was given a slashing minor, 10-minute misconduct and game misconduct after an incident with Florida’s Scottie Upshall left Gudas swinging his stick at the Panthers’ bench. Gudas had wiped out in front of the bench, and Upshall sprayed a water bottle at him. Gudas reacted angrily, slashing the top of the side boards and breaking his stick in the process.
Maybe Gudas overreacted, but his response certainly wasn’t out of character. He has taken on the Lightning’s “tough guy” role in the early-going, and his physical presence has helped Tampa Bay create the identity head coach Jon Cooper had in mind at the beginning of this season. They have been a resilient, hard-nosed team who won’t back down from anyone. Sure, they fight a bit too much — Tampa Bay is tied for the second-highest mark in the league with 10 major penalties — but I think that will dissipate with time and increased maturity.
What’s Gudas’ role in all this, you ask? Well, he leads the Lightning and is tied for sixth in the NHL with 40 hits. He also leads the Lightning and the league in penalty minutes with 53 (in large part thanks to the 22 minutes worth of penalties he received on Sunday). Granted, that second stat may not be a great thing, but it comes with having a young player on a young team who’s learning to set the tone.
And losing Gudas on Sunday gave the Panthers new life. In fact, it almost cost the Bolts the game. Who’s to say what would happen if he missed an extended period of time?
- Cooper played with Tampa Bay’s lines a little bit on Sunday, putting Teddy Purcell with the second line of Filppula and Alex Killorn while sending Richard Panik down to the third line with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. Panik has played with Filppula and Killorn on the second line for most of the season.
- Defenseman Matt Carle was a workhorse for the Lightning on Sunday, leading the team with 29:24 of ice time.
- The Bolts will be nationally televised on Tuesday, when they travel to play the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center. The game will be broadcast at 7:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports Network.
What did everybody else think?