Lightning Shaking Off All-Star Break Rust at the Right Time

Breaks are generally good. The Tampa Bay Lightning snapped a losing streak by winning three straight games when they received an unexpected break in December due to a major snowstorm in Buffalo. This time, a break due to the NHL All-Star Game has not produced the same results for the team. After losing their first two games after All-Star Weekend, the Lightning finally got back on track and shut out the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche 5-0 on Thursday night (Feb. 9).

This was not only a much-needed win, but the team avoided many of the issues that led to those first two defeats. In their first game, the Lightning came out flat and uninspired, falling 7-1 to their cross-state rivals, the Florida Panthers, on Monday (Feb. 6). While one could chalk this poorly played game against the Panthers to rust, the same cannot be said for the contest against the San Jose Sharks the following night (Feb. 7). In their 4-3 overtime defeat, the Lightning jumped out to a 3-1 lead but could not hold on for the win, something they had done very well during their recent home winning streak.

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However, as they have done so many times, the Lightning turned things around on Thursday and played one of their better games of the season. The issues that had plagued them in their last two losses were addressed in dominating the short-handed Avalanche, who were without star defenseman Cale Makar. Taking care of the issues that caused their poor play could not have come at a better time as the team heads out for a four-game road trip starting Saturday.

Lightning’s Special Teams Improved

Many issues led to the loss to the Panthers, but the Lightning’s special teams didn’t help. The power play did not score in two opportunities, while the Panthers converted on one of two. Their special teams struggled again against the Sharks, a game head coach Jon Cooper described as one in which “we lost the special teams game.” San Jose converted on two of their three power-play opportunities, while the Lighting only mustered a Brayden Point goal in six opportunities.

Tampa Bay Lightning Nikita Kucherov Brayden Point
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov celebrates his goal with center Brayden Point (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The Lightning’s special teams were much better on Thursday night. The team got power-play goals from Point and Corey Perry in three opportunities, and they prevented the Avalanche from scoring on their two power plays. Just as important, the Lightning avoided taking unnecessary penalties. Now they must take advantage of the momentum built from the Avalanche victory and channel it for their four-game road trip, playing like a team that is among the best on special teams.

Vasilevskiy Shakes Off Bad Loss

The Lightning’s star goaltender doesn’t give up seven goals too often. The former Vezina Trophy winner came back nicely from the loss to the Panthers and, somewhat surprisingly, recorded his first shutout of the season. After the game, Cooper talked about that oddity. “It’s weird. Some years, you get a ton of them, and some years they get broken up late, and it happened to him a couple times this year.” Vasilevskiy’s 29th career shutout was the first since blanking the Seattle Kraken on Nov. 26, 2021.

Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The 28-year-old is 11-0-0 at home since December and became the second NHL goalie to post multiple 11-game win streaks, joining former Montreal Canadiens Hall-of-Famer Ken Dryden. In picking up his 24th win of the season, Vasilevskiy is tied for second in the league behind Boston’s Linus Ullmark. It might seem odd that he went 85 games between shutouts, but as Vasilevskiy said after the game, “I know how many wins I have this season. That’s the only thing that matters.” His spectacular play, especially on the few mistakes the Lightning made, kept the Avalanche from getting back into the game when the score was close.

Lightning Take a Lead and Keep It

In picking up a point in their last 14 home games, the Lightning had been able to take the lead into the third period and use their smothering defense to propel them to victory. While that did not happen against the Sharks, it did against the Avs, as Anthony Cirelli, Brandon Hagel, and Alex Killorn limited Colorado’s top line that features Nathan McKinnon.

Alex Killorn Tampa Bay Lightning
Alex Killorn, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“We played great, especially against a team that has so much offense and plays so well,” Killorn said after the game. “I think it was one of our best games from start to finish. They had a couple of shifts where they had a lot of zone time, but we bent. We didn’t break.” Not only did this group put the Avalanche’s best line on the defensive for most of the night, but they outscored them with Hagel’s two tallies.

Related: Lightning Ready for Avalanche Rematch

The turnaround in play and effort could not have come at a better time. After starting their road trip with a nationally televised game against the Dallas Stars on Saturday (Feb. 11), the Lightning will see the Avalanche again on Tuesday (Feb. 14). These two teams are considered by many to be the front runners to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final this year, so the Lightning need to continue the top-level hockey they exhibited on Thursday night.

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