Entering play tonight in Buffalo, the Tampa Bay Lightning were leading the entire NHL in team shooting percentage at even strength (9.90%).
Some good things don't last forever.
An inefficient first period coupled with a great effort in net from Jhonas Enroth (and some bad shooting luck in the second half of the game) kept the Lightning from extending their winning streak. They did, however, manage to earn a loser point in the standings after beating the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden a night ago.
The Lightning and Sabres played to a scoreless tie through the first forty minutes of the game, with Buffalo jumping on a tired Lightning squad early and outshooting them 7-2 in the first period. Even given the game played the night before against the Rangers, there's little excuse for the Lightning to start a game so poor against any team, especially not this one. Fortunately, whatever Jon Cooper said in the locker room during the first intermission seemed to set in for the second period where the Lightning were dominant.
The Bolts outshot the Sabres 16-4 in the middle frame and peppered Enroth with shots and scoring chances, getting down low into Buffalo's zone with ease, cycling the puck, shooting off the rush, and retrieving loose pucks in the corners and and around the net to keep long offensive shifts alive. Only the play in net from Enroth kept the Sabres in it after the second period.
The beginning of the final frame went much the same way as the second, with the Lightning pressing their advantage and trying to break through Buffalo's defense. They finally did with a nice feed to the front of the net off the stick of Tyler Johnson, who found Ondrej Palat for the game's first tally and a 1-0 Lightning lead midway through the third. The game opened up a bit after that, but, unlike in recent games, the Lightning weren't able to close out the third period lead. Zemgus Girgensons flipped a rebound chance in the low slot over a sprawling Evgeni Nabokov to tie the game in the final minutes and send it into 4v4 overtime.
Both teams traded chances in the extra session -- Tampa carried the balance of play but had to survive a handful of dangerous counterattacks from the Sabres, notably Tyler Myers who flourished with the extra space. Neither team found a goal, though, so the shootout was needed to award a bonus point. Nabokov allowed goals to the first two Buffalo shooters in Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis, while Enroth stopped Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan to earn the win for the Sabres, who have now won 6 out of their last 7.
- The puck possession hero tonight for Tampa Bay? Would anyone have guessed Brett Connolly? His 5v5 time on ice continues to be low, but the Bolts were dominant with him on the ice tonight, controlling over 84% of all 5v5 shot attempts with Connolly on the ice, best on the Lightning by a wide margin. He's put together a very nice stretch of games since his return from injury.
- Evgeni Nabokov's final numbers for this one were quite good (21 saves on 22 shots, .955 SV%) and for the most part, at 5v5, the Lightning defense as it is currently composed was able to limit the chances against and keep Nabokov in manageable situations. In the skills competition, though, he was exposed. Hodgson and Ennis scored with relative ease in the shootout.
- The Lightning scratches were Brenden Morrow, Andrej Sustr, and Jonathan Drouin. With Eric Brewer traded to the Anaheim Ducks, that meant the Bolts' 2nd defense pair tonight was Matt Carle and Jason Garrison. While Jon Cooper has been inclined to stick with L/R defense pairs this year, the experiment seemed to work overall. Anton Stralman and Victor Hedman gave the Lightning a solid effort as a top pair and Carle-Garrison were quite good as a second pair and much better than Sustr-Garrison or Carle-Gudas have been in recent memory.
- Tampa's bad-luck night shooting the puck was summed up pretty well with time in regulation expiring -- Steven Stamkos turned the corner off the left wing side and ripped a wrist shot past Enroth and square into the post behind him. The puck bounced off the bar and hit the Sabres' netminder in the back of the arm before settling in the crease for Enroth to cover.