The Tampa Bay Lightning have had an auspicious start to the 2014-15 campaign, but the Chicago Blackhawks are still the class of the NHL. There are some positives to build on for the Bolts moving forward, but a 3-2 loss in the shootout at United Center serves as a reminder to the amount of work they still need to do to be considered among the league's elite.
There's no shame in losing a road game to a tough opponent, but the Bolts needed some terrific play from Ben Bishop early to even hang around as the Hawks had their way early. Don't let the final score fool you -- the Lightning were whitewashed early. Play that first period 100 times and the game is 1-0 Tampa fewer than 10. The good news is the Lightning have a goaltender with enough skill to make a few tough saves and keep his team in it over short stretches.
The early going was, like a season ago against the Hawks, all Chicago. The Blackhawks are a very good team overall and outstanding at 5v5, and they showed it early, swarming the puck, clogging the neutral zone, and pressuring the Lightning at every opportunity.
Ben Bishop needed his best stuff in the first period, and the Lightning got it as he made 19 saves to keep the Bolts in it long enough for Cedric Paquette to cash in on a shorthanded 2-on-1 rush to give the Lightning an unexpected and undeserved 1-0 lead.
Unfortunately for the Lightning, getting hemmed into your defensive zone with regularity and merely hoping your goaltender can keep you in it isn't exactly a winning strategy, especially not on the road. The Hawks finally broke though with a goal from a former member of the Lightning, Brad Richards, who snapped the equalizer home as Kris Versteeg fell into Ben Bishop after getting pushed in the back by Anton Stralman.
The non-call for goaltender interference caused a bit of a hubbub, but the push from Stralman was pretty clear so it's not difficult to understand why the goal was allowed -- though questions of the consistency of that call are certainly fair.
Even after Chicago tied the game, the parade to the box continued for the Bolts as they were called for four minor penalties in the middle frame. A brief 5-on-3 for Chicago sandwiched between 5v4 power plays for the Hawks tested what has been a maligned Lightning penalty kill of late, but in spite of numerous shots and scoring chances the Bolts somehow (mostly due to Ben Bishop) kept the Hawks off the board to keep the game tied heading into the final stanza with some carryover power play time for Chicago.
The Lightning managed to kill the remainder of the penalty, but the Hawks took a 2-1 lead after the penalty expired when Marcus Kruger tipped home a long shot from Niklas Hjalmarsson early in the third.
The Lightning played a little better after falling behind -- chalk that up to trailing for the first time all night, perhaps -- when Tyler Johnson took a strong crosscheck to the ribs from Brent Seabrook as the Lightning center looked to glove down an aerial puck. Seabrook went to the box on the play and the Lightning had a few dangerous scoring chances immediately following but they couldn't fine twine to tie the game.
Some line shuffling from Jon Cooper following the Johnson injury gave the Bolts a bit of a spark, as Steven Stamkos found himself centering two elite playmakers in Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin. Aided by a hobbled Johnny Oduya giving the Bolt a pseudo-power play, that line moved the puck adeptly around the offensive zone and capitalized with a Kucherov tally to tie the game 2-2.
Both teams traded chances in the waning minutes of the third period, with particularly good looks coming on individual efforts from Jonathan Toews and Steven Stamkos, but neither team could find another goal in regulation.
Ryan Callahan created a few good looks around Corey Crawford in the overtime session, and nearly potted a deflection off a nice saucer pass from Andrej Sustr, but the Lightning couldn't put one behind Crawford and the game would head to the skills competition to find a winner.
Callahan went first for the Lightning and tried the same move that won the shootout for Tampa Bay against the Detroit Red Wings, but he was stopped this time. Ben Bishop stopped Jonathan Toews and Brad Richards, but Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos failed to convert while Patrick Kane scored on a slick backhander to win the extra point in the standings.
- There is no immediate update available yet on Tyler Johnson's apparent chest/rib injury following the crosscheck from Brent Seabrook, but he did not return to the ice tonight. One would expect Valtteri Filppula to be moved back to center to accommodate any absence for Johnson, who has been outstanding centering Tampa Bay's second line with Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat.
Cooper had no update on Johnson, other than he is being evaluated— Erik Erlendsson (@erlendssonTBO) November 12, 2014
- Another option for Cooper would be moving Vlad Namestnikov up the lineup. He's looked good in sheltered minutes, and moving Filppula seems like the easiest and safest move, but don't count Vladdy out yet, particularly if the Johnson injury will be weeks/months and not days, a detail we simply don't know yet.
- The Tampa Bay Lightning earned 5 of 6 possible points on the road trip and now head back to the Sunshine State for home tilts against the San Jose Sharks (who dropped a 4-1 decision to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday) and New York Islanders (who blasted the Colorado Avalanche 6-0).
- In spite of 13 minor penalties called in the game, neither side converted on any power play opportunities. Tampa Bay was 0/2 and Chicago was 0/6.
- The Bolts out-hit the Hawks 34-12, which is nice and all, but really more indicative of how much defense they were playing, particularly through the first 40 minutes.
- Acknowledging the tough opponent, Jon Cooper was very careful with his forward usage. Jonathan Drouin saw 100% offensive zone deployment, and as a result was on the ice for just one unblocked shot attempt for Chicago and 8 for the Lightning (88% Fenwick).