Game 12: Tampa Bay Lightning at New Jersey Devils

Jeff Zelevansky

A New Jersey Devils team that features more than a few greybeards made the Lightning look like the old, slow team as they downed the Bolts in regulation.

For at least one night, the Tampa Bay Lightning were back to their old ways.

Crippling turnovers at their own blue line. Poor defensive zone coverage. Sloppy first passes out of the zone. Lack of sustained offensive zone time.

Doesn't sound like the 2013-2014 edition of the Tampa Bay Lightning, does it?

Maybe it was the off-ice activities in New York or maybe the Lightning just took their opponent for granted. Then again, maybe New Jersey isn't as bad as their record would indicate. For one night at least, the Tampa Bay Lightning looked like a paper tiger undeserving of their 8-3 record heading in.

The first period was fairly even, a standard "feel you out" period as these teams met for the first time this season. Neither team managed too many grade A scoring chances, though the Devils did carry the play throughout what ended up being a relatively fast, up-and-down and penalty-free opening frame.

An interference penalty on Anton Volchenkov put the Lightning on the power play near the start of the second period, and after being outshot 10-4 in the first the man advantage seemed like a good place to start building momentum at 5v5. But New Jersey was stifling and aggressive at the same time on their penalty kill. They challenged passing lanes and the puck carrier, prevented the Lightning from entering the zone with control and setting up their umbrella formation. As is often the Achilles' heel with that alignment, the Devils were also able to use their speed to set up 2 on 1 break after Matt Carle's lazy pass to the half wall was blocked away by Adam Henrique, who finished the ensuing break for a 1-0 New Jersey lead.

Later in the second, with the Lightning fighting to keep the puck deep in New Jersey's end, Martin St. Louis rotated back to the left point with the puck but flubbed a lateral pass in Eric Brewer's direction, then fell to the ice. That sprung 41-year old Jaromir Jagr -- not exactly the fastest player in the world -- on an unhindered breakaway from the red line in. With the puck magnetized on the end of his stick, he lifted one over Ben Bishop and into the back of the net for a 2-0 lead.

Tampa Bay got back into things with Steven Stamkos' 9th goal on the year after a weak shot from the left half wall ended in a goalmouth jam with both Stamkos and Ryan Malone involved. Stamkos eventually pushed the puck past Martin Brodeur to make things 2-1.

Unfortunately, that's as close as things would get. The Lightning came up empty on their other 3 power plays to finish the night 1/4 on the man advantage and were denied some 6v5 time with a too many men penalty late in the third period. The story of this one? Lack of discipline with and without the puck and a glaring inability to consistently move it into dangerous scoring areas, against a team that entered play tonight near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

Game Notes

  • Pierre-Cedric Labrie was only on the ice for two shots against in his 7:16 of time on ice. One went in -- Jaromir Jagr's breakaway goal in the 2nd period.
  • I don't often put much stock in so-called "real-time stats", but the Lightning were charged with 9 giveaways by the New Jersey statskeeper and that might have been generous. (The Devils were charged with only 1.) Neutral zone play was mostly a mess and the Bolts generally struggled to move the puck all night long.
  • Obligatory Steven Stamkos faceoff update -- he finished the night 40% on draws. Not good enough. (Although the normally reliable Tyler Johnson and Valterri Filppula were both sub-50% as well.)
  • Ben Bishop stopped 20 of 22 shots (.909 save percentage) but considering the two goals allowed were a shorthanded 2 on 1 and a clean breakaway from the red line in after a bad giveaway it's hard to find anything to criticize in Bishop's game. (That didn't stop the NBCSN broadcast crew though...In fairness, every goalie looks like a bad puckhandler against Martin Brodeur. And Marty had one gaffe in particular where Valterri Filppula picked his pocket behind the net and almost created a goal for the Lightning.)
  • The Lightning fired just 13 shots on Martin Brodeur at even strength tonight, which is pretty terrible. For a goalie who entered the night with a save percentage below .900, how is the old "put more pucks on net" cliche not in full effect? Credit to New Jersey for suppressing shots, but shot generation and puck retrieval to create second and third opportunities continues to be a big issue for this club.
  • New Jersey maintained a substantial puck possession advantage throughout the game, even after gaining a 2-0 lead but the gap was certainly widest in the second period.

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