It's not time to hit the panic button yet, but the Tampa Bay Lightning certainly have some things to figure out after yet another loss on the now-concluded road trip.
The Bolts spoiled a spectacular effort in net from rookie netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy, who stopped 45 of 47 shots faced but took the 3-1 loss after Nikolay Kulemin's empty-netter to seal the game.
The Lightning were chasing the puck all night, routinely getting hemmed into their own zone and generally speaking looking out of sorts in all three zones. On those nights, you need a remarkable effort from your goaltender to try and steal two points, and Vasilevskiy nearly did it.
The Islanders had the Lightning on their heels almost from the get-go with a few extended shifts in Tampa's end in a row before the Brett Connolly's bad angle shot and a scramble in front appeared to end with a game-opening goal for the Bolts. After further review, however, it was clear that Brian Boyle kicked the puck in behind Jaroslav Halak and the goal was rightfully disallowed.
In spite of the early territorial advantage favoring the Islanders, the Lightning played a solid defensive game in the first, limiting shots and chances for the Isles, who went a 10+ minutes stretch with no shots on goal and didn't record their first scoring chance until 6:30 remaining in the the 1st period. Both teams seemed to play cautiously in the first, unwilling to commit too much to the attack, and very much concerned with controlling play in the neutral zone. That resulted in a lack of quality scoring chances, though Frans Nielsen was stopped by Andrei Vasilevskiy on a shorthanded 2-on-1 rush with a great opportunity to score and Vasilevskiy had to come up with another big save on John Tavares after a bad giveaway by Matt Carle on an attempted spinning backhand zone exit.
The Islanders had a few more chances on a late power play off a penalty to Brenden Morrow, and finished the first with a 12-5 shot advantage but a 0-0 score.
The second period saw things get much worse for the Lightning. They went to the penalty box twice and spent most of the middle frame chasing the play, mustering just four total shots in the second while the Islanders fired 17 on target. Vasilevskiy stopped them all to, somehow, give the Lightning a shot to win the game outright in the third.
Things didn't improve much in the third, though, even as the Lightning tripled their shot output from the second and somehow backed into a 1-0 lead on a Brett Connolly redirect of a Tyler Johnson centering feed. The period, like the game, was still all Islanders, and they eventually broke through to tie the game when John Tavares slipped through the defensive coverage in the slot and fired a wrister past a screened Vasilevskiy. Anders Lee put the Islanders in front for good just seconds later with a nice deflection of a seemingly harmless point shot by Travis Hamonic.
The result, though, reflected the process -- the Islanders earned their bounces and deserved the win. Two points for Tampa Bay would have been grand theft, and if Andrei Vasilevskiy sticks around with the Lightning a bit longer, you'd absolutely like to see the team in front play better for him. He was outstanding all night long. It'd certainly be nice to see how he looks behind a skater group that didn't play the night before.
- Jason Garrison left the game with about two minutes remaining in the second period and did not return, forcing the Lightning to finish the game with just five blue liners. His status as of right now is unknown; also unknown, whether the Lightning will need to call up a defender from the 9-game winning streak having Syracuse Crunch of the AHL. (Luke Witkowski?)
- The Jason Garrison injury plays into this, but Mark Barberio skated a season-high 22:29 on the blue line. If Garrison will miss any time, Barberio becomes very important to the Lightning in the immediate future. With Radko Gudas seemingly still fighting off his eponymous stomach flu, Barberio might right now be the 4th best defender the Lightning have healthy. Trading Eric Brewer was still a smart decision -- assuming the organization trusts Barberio to handle these minutes moving forward.
- In two NHL appearances (both starts on night 2 of back-to-backs), Andrei Vasilevskiy has allowed just 3 goals on 71 shots (.958 save percentage).
- The play in back-to-back games is always going to be different shades of sub-par, but the Islanders played last night too, started their goaltender on consecutive nights, traveled further, and still dominated the game. There's no "tired" excuse for the Bolts tonight, who were flat and undisciplined much of the evening.
- Shoot more, score more. THIS IS EASY GUYS.
Stamkos now at 12 games w/o a PP goal after tonight's match. His longest drought since 2010-2011, when he had stretches of 15 and 12 games.— Mike Gallimore (@mikegallimore) December 21, 2014
- Another concern: neutral zone play. It has, so far this year, been a strength for the Lightning. But Michel Therrien's game plan from last year's playoffs -- stingy neutral zone play, pinching defenders and a third high forechecker to jam up middle-lane outlets and Tampa Bay's trademark speedy controlled entries -- those things are still working against Tampa, and smart opponents are using a similar style of play with great success. At one point in the second period, the Islanders forced 10 consecutive Tampa Bay dump-ins at 5v5. It's hard to generate offense when you're constantly chasing play, and it's hard to get anything going in the offensive zone if you're forced into a dump and chase style game.