While year-over-year, winning percentage in one-goal games seems to be mostly based on luck, so far, the Lightning seemed to have changed theirs from a season ago, as they defeated the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in OT to take 4 out of 6 possible points on the season-opening 3-game road trip. They now head to the friendly confines of the Tampa Bay Times Forum for a 7-game homestand.
After getting manhandled by the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday, the Bolts came out of the gate a lot stronger in the first period, controlling the puck for long stretches and peppering Sabres goaltender Jhonas Enroth with shots. He finished the opening frame with 10 saves as Tampa Bay outshot Buffalo 10-3 in the first, a marked difference from the first period against Chicago where Tampa Bay was held without a shot on goal. (It also makes you cringe thinking of when Buffalo has to play Chicago ...)
The first period also served as an introduction for these two teams as new Atlantic Division rivals, as Radko Gudas dropped the gloves with Marcus Foligno following a bit hit on Valterri Filppula and Victor Hedman engaged in his fourth career NHL fight in a bout with Buffalo Sabres agitator Steve Ott after Hedman took offense to a hit during/after an offsides call as Hedman entered the Buffalo zone.
The second period saw things settle down a little more as Buffalo started to get more pucks into the Tampa Bay zone, eventually drawing a hooking penalty on Pierre-Cedric Labrie that sent them to the power play. Matt Carle, playing in front of Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop, blocked a shot from Buffalo Sabres defenseman Jamie McBain that bounced straight to Cody Hodgson at the side of the net who put it behind a helpless Bishop for a 1-0 Sabres lead.
The Lightning answered right back after Sabres forward Drew Stafford left the ice on a lazy line change with Victor Hedman starting a rush from below the faceoff dot in his own zone. Hedman gained speed, unchallenged through the neutral zone as Grirogrenko came on for Stafford behind the play, and fed the puck to Ondrej Palat on the left wing who quickly moved it back to Hedman in the middle on a brief 3 on 2 rush. Hedman managed a nifty spinning pass to Tyler Johnson alone on the right wing who sent the puck right past Jhonas Enroth's ear and into the net to knot the game at a goal apiece.
As is fairly common for Jon Cooper-coached teams, however, the Lightning are prone to taking penalties, and a late-period hooking call on Eric Brewer sent the Sabres back to the man advantage with a chance to take a lead heading into the final twenty minutes. On the ensuing power play, a missed opportunity to clear the zone led to a quick 2 on 1 that Victor Hedman had to dive to break up -- unfortunately, he sent the puck straight into open ice between the circles where Jamie McBain was waiting to fire it past Ben Bishop who was screened by Hedman on the play.
The Lightning answered with more solid 5v5 play in the third, nearly missing on a few excellent chances to tie the game when a bizarre play ended up negating an apparent Buffalo goal by Sabres winger Thomas Vanek. Vanek was called for a high-sticking penalty, and referee Paul Devorski put his arm up to signal the delayed call -- but the Sabres touched the puck seconds later and Devorski allowed play to continue, apparently unaware that it was Buffalo who had the puck. Vanek then scored on a tip play off a point shot, but the goal was immediately waved off. Video replay showed that Matt Carle was hit in the face by his own stick, so to say that the Lightning got lucky in that moment is a bit of an understatement.
Rather than heading to center ice for a face off now down two goals on the road, the Lightning were still down by only one with a power play and an offensive zone draw, which they won, quickly setting up their power play with a triangle formation on the right side. Ryan Malone, from the side of the net, played catch with Martin St. Louis on the half wall with Teddy Purcell looking for room to shoot in the slot. After a few passes to soften up the penalty killers, St. Louis moved the puck quickly to Malone who fired it straight to Purcell's stick. Purcell wasted no time snapping it behind Enroth to tie the game and send the Buffalo fans into a booing frenzy.
With the game tied, the Lightning started to put more and more pressure on the Sabres at even strength, threatening to win it outright in regulation a few times before the horn sounded to end the third. In overtime, 4v4 hockey (like 5v5) again favored the Lightning as they victimized two of the top young players for Buffalo in Tyler Myers and Cody Hodgson, both of whom were caught flatfooted and out of position as Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer glided around behind the Buffalo net and fanned on a shot attempt, leaving the puck for Alex Killorn right in front of the net. Killorn hesitated, drawing Enroth into full-on desperation save mode, and calmly deposited a backhander into a mostly empty net to claim the bonus point for the Bolts.
- Ben Bishop, drawing his second straight start after a superb performance against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday, was near-perfect yet again. He stopped all 16 shots he faced at even strength, raising his current ESSV% up to a ridiculous .979.
- Both goals allowed by the Bolts were on the power play against a team that had struggled mightily with the man advantage coming into the game, but there's little cause for concern with regards to the penalty kill. Tactically, the Lightning played the kill well, but gave up a couple goals off of broken plays where pucks bounced to open space and Bishop could not react.
- Richard Panik was scratched in favor of Tom Pyatt. That shifted the lines a bit and seemed to help Panik's usual linemates Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, who were really, really, really good at possessing the puck after being thoroughly dominated by Chicago. Palat, Johnson, and Teddy Purcell got more than 14 minutes of time on ice in this one and managed not to be on the ice for a Fenwick event against the entire game. Yes, that means those three players controlled 100% of all unblocked shot attempts while they were on the ice at 5v5.
- Unfortunately, Tom Pyatt suffered a broken collarbone and is out indefinitely, per Erik Erlendsson. Broken collarbone is typically an injury you measure in months, not weeks, so expect Panik to get back into the lineup for Thursday's home opener against the Florida Panthers. If GM Steve Yzerman decides to recall a forward from the AHL Syracuse Crunch, my guess is it would be Dana Tyrell, a versatile wing/center who can kill penalties, retrieve pucks, and offers more NHL experience than anyone else, particularly in a bottom-6 role.
- Less than a week after coming out in favor of a game misconduct penalty for any player who engages in a fight, Steve Yzerman's club got into three on Tuesday night. How "convenient".