The Tampa Bay Lightning played a historic game on Thursday in their 9-3 decimation of the New York Rangers, and while it was a great night for Lightning fans, the question on their minds was, “How are they going to respond?” Well, they got an answer that, given the start of this season, some might have expected.
The Lightning took a tough 4-3 loss against the Winnipeg Jets Saturday afternoon in a game where they came out flat. They began to pick up steam in the second period, but after giving up a goal and losing a coach’s challenge, they were down two goals in a matter of 21 seconds. After their most dominant showing of the season, this loss stung just a bit more.
As a whole, it was a positive week for the Lightning, but there’s no doubt they wanted at least three points out of a possible four. Let’s see what went right and wrong for the Lightning this week.
This one needs little explanation since the Lightning scored 12 goals in two games, but it just so happens they had nine in one game. Against the Rangers, 14 out of 18 skaters had points, including six with at least two points. Alex Killorn, Yanni Gourde, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman each had three points, and Nikita Kucherov one-upped them with four points. This was the kind of offense the Lightning have been waiting for all season.
The Lightning scored a lot, but they did things that were necessary to get those high-danger scoring chances. They won puck battles, won faceoffs and were strong on the forecheck. They also threw a lot of pucks at the net, out-shooting the Rangers 45-23. Even against the Jets, the Lightning held the edge in shots, but they were badly beaten in the faceoff dot and on the forecheck, for the most part. But, they still were able to put the puck in the net and their skaters should have a lot of confidence after this week.
The Lightning power play was electric against the Rangers, going five for eight and scoring in a few different manners. Although they were held scoreless in their only two chances against the Jets, they killed off three of four penalties, and the shorthanded unit for the Lightning was perfect against the Rangers. Both the power play and the penalty kill have seen massive improvements since the Global Series against the Buffalo Sabres.
The Lightning scored on their first four power plays against the Rangers and their five power play goals matched a franchise record set in 1995. Including the game against the Jets, the Lightning are 7-for-13 in their last three games. Before the Jets scored a power play goal, the Lightning killed 16 straight penalties, a drastic improvement from their first 15 games this season.
The special teams should be confident in their abilities, and that has become more noticeable over the last three or four games.
The 400 Club
In the third period of the Lightning game against the Jets, Stamkos was in his office when he received a pass from Hedman. He loaded up, fired and beat Connor Hellebuyck on the blocker side to score the 400th goal of his NHL career.
Stamkos is the franchise leader in goals and continues to grow that record as the Lightning captain. The two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner has 20 points in 17 games this season and has been a strong leader for the team during their tough stretches. He joins some pretty elite company as a member of the 400-goal club, but now the road to 500 goals begins. Congrats, Stammer!
It’s hard to say the Lightning had a bad start against the Rangers since they scored the game’s first four goals. However, against the Jets, they looked flat, almost like they were on a back-to-back (which they weren’t). The Jets won the first six faceoffs of the game and beat the Bolts in the faceoff dot 8-4 in the first period. That helped the Jets control the puck and the pace of play, and when that happens, it’s hard for the other team to adjust mid-period.
Their first period against the Jets wasn’t all that bad — as a whole, the team looked sluggish. They did head into the second period in a 1-1 tie and were playing well until giving up a goal and losing a coach’s challenge (more on that later). Their starts this season have bounced back and forth between fast-paced and controlling to flat and sluggish, and this week was no different.
When they were in Sweden facing the Sabres, the Lightning consistently had a high-intensity, fast-paced start. It was like that against the Rangers as well, but they took a step back against the Jets.
Responding to Coach’s Challenge
This is an outlier from the rest of the season specifically because of how impactful it was on one game. Jets forward Jack Roslovic scored to break a 1-1 tie midway through the second period. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper thought there was a high stick 18 seconds before the play, but the call stood and the Jets went up 2-1. The Lightning were given a delay of game penalty and 21 seconds later, Nikolaj Ehlers made it 3-1.
“We wouldn’t challenge that unless we were 100 percent that it was a high stick,” Cooper told reporters after the game. “Apparently you have to be 110 percent. We don’t challenge just by chance. Everybody thought that was a high stick. They didn’t see it that way. No big deal.” Like many things, Cooper handled the situation calmly and the game went on. The Lightning failed to respond until late in the third period and gave up the fourth goal with a minute and a half left in the game.
The negative part here isn’t losing the coach’s challenge but how the team responded after. It’s a tough spot to get scored on and then go right back on the penalty kill, but the best teams respond to that kind of adversity with tenacity. The penalty killers were a little scattered but defended well — they just gave Ehlers a little too much time and space, and he made a perfect shot.
As a whole, the Lightning played good hockey for five of the six periods this week. They had some unfortunate breaks against the Jets and got robbed by Hellebuyck multiple times, but they shouldn’t be disappointed with their efforts.
Coming up, they have games against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, Nov. 19, the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday, Nov. 21 and the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday, Nov. 23. The Blues will test the Bolts’ physicality, but if they can win two of those three games, they should be in good shape heading into a tough stretch at the end of the month.