The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Winnipeg Jets 4-2 at MTS Centre on Friday night, improving to 3-1 on their current road trip as they head to Minnestoa. But as they pile up standings points, they also pile up injuries.
Add J.T. Brown and Brett Connolly to a growing list of injured players for the Lightning, who converted on a handful of early chances with Ondrej Pavelec in net for the Jets and managed the rest of the game, the first of another road back-to-back set.
There wasn't much going in the early part of the first period until Jets blueliner Grant Clitsome made an ill-advised pinch while out against the Jonathan Drouin, Steven Stamkos, Valtteri Filppula unit for the Lightning that debuted in Calgary and started the game in Winnipeg together again. Drouin and Stamkos worked a speed rush to the front of Winnipeg's net punctuated with a tap-in goal for Stamkos off a nice pass through the crease by Drouin as he was being hooked in the hands.
After the goal, the period really belonged to Winnipeg -- J.T. Brown got crushed in the corner by Chris Thorburn and didn't return to the ice in the first. The Lightning power play was uneventful and the Lightning ceded a handful of quality scoring chances that Ben Bishop stopped as play returned to even strength. The new trio of Cedric Paquette, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Nikita Kucherov gave the Lightning their best offensive shifts in the back half of the first but failed to capitalize.
Later in the period, a pair of questionable holding calls on Filppula and Matt Carle landed the Jets a 5-on-3. Jon Cooper opted for some atypical usage on the two-man-down kill: Brian Boyle, Tyler Johnson, and Jason Garrison were the three penalty killers. Using two forwards is certainly non-traditional, but it seemed to work well enough as the Lightning got a few clears and killed the two-man (and one-man) advantage.
Winnipeg, however, went right back to work in Tampa Bay's end at 5v5, leading to an icing call against the Bolts. Jon Cooper elected to use his timeout to alleviate some of the pressure and the Bolts basically survived the end of the first with a 1-0 lead.
In the second period, Jonathan Drouin's first NHL goal, assisted by Nikita Kucherov from behind the net, gave the Lightning a two-goal lead -- but only for a moment. A scrum in front of Ben Bishop resulted in a scrap between Radko Gudas and Dustin Byfuglien, with Gudas getting the extra minor penalty and sending the previously anemic Jets power play to work. They had not yet scored a power play goal on the year -- but Bryan Little ended that drought off a feed from Tobias Enstrom to bring the Jets within one at 2-1.
Much of the middle frame was spent on special teams, as the referees inserted themselves into this one with borderline calls going both ways. An Vlad Namestnikov deflection power play goal from Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov restored the two-goal lead. Palat then scored off a set-play from a center-ice faceoff that sprung him and Tyler Johnson on a 2-on-1 which they finished nicely to extend the Lightning lead to 4-1, in spite of a 30-18 shots on goal deficit through 40 minutes of play.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice pulled Pavelec at the second intermission, replacing him with rookie Michael Hutchinson to try and give his team a spark. They got it in the form of a fluttering turnaround shot from Blake Wheeler that found the far corner behind Ben Bishop to draw the Jets within two goals again about halfway through the third period, but Tampa managed the rest of the final frame and coasted to a 4-2 win while looking ahead to the Minnesota Wild tomorrow night.
- Defending the crease against crashing forwards has been a point of concern for Lightning fans for a few years now, one we even highlighted in the big SB Nation NHL preview. I think it's fair to say Ben Bishop was glad to have Radko Gudas back in the lineup. Gudas' second period fight with Dustin Byfuglien was a clear instance of the rugged defender challenging an opponent who got too physical with his netminder.
- J.T. Brown and Brett Connolly both went down in the second period. They were held out for the rest of the game:
- Given that both Brown and Connolly are typically right wingers, one would expect a call-up from the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL sometime tonight or early tomorrow. The best guesses are Mike Blunden, who was already with Tampa Bay on this road trip, or Jonathan Marchessault, who stuck with the Bolts basically until the final cuts out of training camp. Even if the injuries are short-term, being held out for the rest of tonight's game makes both Brown and Connolly very unlikely to play tomorrow in Minnesota.
- Ben Bishop stopped 38/40 and was generally speaking, spectacular again, particularly in the first period. The Bolts penalty kill still relies a bit too much on Bishop, but for the most part he was outstanding yet again. He did seem to lose track of the puck on Blake Wheeler's goal but technical mistakes by Bishop are, right now, few and far between. What you'd hope for is a better defensive game in front of him moving forward to limit shots and chances.
- Ondrej Pavelec was in net for all four Tampa Bay goals -- he finished with a putrid .778 SV%. Hutchinson stepped in and made a number of quality stops, including a one-timer in the slot from Valtteri Filppula, to keep the Jets in the game. He finished the evening with 9 saves on 9 shots faced.
- On a night with the bench shortened by two forwards very early (both Connolly and Brown played fewer than 5 minutes), Vlad Namestnikov still only saw 10:48 of total ice time, including over 2 minutes on the power play. While he impressed in camp and in pre-season action, one the Lightning are fully healthy he might become the odd man out. This point is moot, however, as the forward injuries continue to pile up for the Bolts.
J.T. Brown has an upper body injury, Brett Connolly has a lower body injury, neither will return to tonight's game for #tblightning— Erik Erlendsson (@erlendssonTBO) October 25, 2014